In this exclusive interview, Italian artist Marco Mendeni talks about video game epiphanies, creating machinima, and living in Berlin.

Marco Mendeni's r_lightTweakSunlight01 is currently on display in the GLITCH level of GAME VIDEO/ART. A SURVEY.

This interview was produced by the students of Master's Degree Program in Arts, Markets and Cultural Heritage at IULM.

GVA: Can you briefly describe your education?

It all began in my father’s studio. I still remember the plaster and the smell of glues for the frescoes… These materials that would mutate into something else was my first true artistic experience. Then, I studied painting at the Accademia di Brera in Milan. My clothes were always stained with paint. Suddenly, I dropped everything and I stopped my painting practice. One day, though, I had an epiphany. I blame an old iMac, a digital piano, a Sony PlayStation 2, and a JVC mini DV camera. I was living in a small flat in Brianza with my current partner. It took us days to finish Alien Hominid in co-op mode. Then I enrolled in the New Technologies for Art Program at Brera.

GVA: Can you name some influences - not necessarily artistic ones - that played a key role in your evolution as an artist?

Marco Mendeni: Alan W. Watts, Marcel Duchamp, long sessions at Resident Evil 2, Jean Baudrillard, a Joan Leandre’s exhibition at DAM Gallery in Berlin, all those nights spent recording and watching crazy dudes on PlayRoom, Techgnosis on my bedside table for months, Ryoji Ikeda, Mario Canali’s classes, I Ching, Nam June Paik, Tarkovskij’ Nostalghia in a classroom at Brera, in the middle of July with Franco Baresi, Marshall McLuhan, Sao Paolo’s surveillance and security systems , my conversations with Paolo Rosa about video games, spending whole days in an internet café in the Turkish district of Berlin surrounded by kids swearing in unintelligible languages while playing Warcraft and many more things…

Live gameplay extract from "I'm not playing", audiovisual performance for hacked video game and real-time sampler. Video: Marco Mendeni Sound: Bob Meanza

I’m not playing is an audiovisual performance that talks about the relationship between the videogame medium and the culture of simulation in the digital era. Through the years, video games have influenced our perception of space/time and our concept of identity, and we have now reached a point where real and virtual worlds are merging their borders. In this process, the videogame as a container of ideological power cannot be underestimated. I’m not playing addresses all this through a war videogame played every day by millions of people: COD4. During the performance, COD4 is played in real time, but the visual and sound landscapes of the game are transformed. Thanks to a hack of the graphic engine, the game shows us real and virtual battlefields at the same time, fragmented among islands of disturbing hypnotism. The audio track is also de-structured in real time, through a script that assigns new sounds to the original sound effects, which is controlled live during the performance.

GVA: When and why did you begin using video games in your practice?

Marco Mendeni: At one point, painting became boring for me. When I discovered video games and new media in general, I experienced a sense of excitement and rapture that I had not felt in years.

Marco Mendeni,  FOV 1 , 2012, installation view 

Marco Mendeni, FOV 1, 2012, installation view 

GVA: Why did you specifically choose a video game to make art? What do you find especially fascinating about this medium? Its interactivity? Agency? Aesthetics? Theatricality?

Marco Mendeni: More than any other medium, video games allow us to live an artificial reality: this is the aspect that truly fascinates me. Videogames are extraordinarily malleable because they are constantly evolving and, over the years, they have appropriated the features of other media and somehow reinvented them all. Thus, video games are a kind of meta-medium. Consider the imminent introduction of virtual reality displays like the Oculus Rift et similia. How they will affect our understanding of the world? Will we get used to live in another reality? I find this possibility both terribly exciting and scary at the same time. It looks like we are headed in this direction, that is, coexisting in multiple planes of reality. The video game - what a seemingly innocuous name! - is now becoming quite real… A few years ago Facebook seemed a fun thing to do but today we recognize it for what it truly is: a monstrous mechanism. I wonder if the same will happen with video games…

MENDENI'S NOT PLAYING GAMES. FOR REAL. Short critical video by Matteo Bittanti, 2013

GVA: Digital games often create parallel, alternative experiences for its users. How do you relate to the complex relation between reality and simulation? How do you address this tension through your work?

Marco Mendeni: The fulcrum of my artistic practice is a careful study of the parallels between reality and simulation. This is a very complex issue. The truth is that we were unprepared for the technological transformations that we unleashed. Thus, our biological failure forced us to build a tailor-made world. Reality and simulation have become an integral part of ourselves. This is what fascinates me the most ... In short, this process of constant reinvention of reality is our history, our nature.

Marco Mendeni,  CimSity , digital processing on concrete, 2013

Marco Mendeni, CimSity, digital processing on concrete, 2013

GVA: Do you agree that machinima has democratized the art making process? Has it lowered the entry barrier for creators of video art, as some critics argue?

Marco Mendeni: Definitely. Any artist is often faced with an insurmountable obstacle: the economic cost of a new project. I hit so many brick walls in the past. But with machinima, all one needs is a personal computer, a game, and electricity. In this case, the true limit is not technical or pecuniary. The only limit is the artist’s imagination.

Marco Mendeni, FOV2, 2013

GVA: Can you describe the creative process behind r_lightTweakSunlight01?

Marco Mendeni: Unlike my previous works, r_lightTweakSunlight01 is not a mod of a commercial videogame, but a form of direct hacking of a software used to make video games. Specifically, I hacked a 3D engine. I liked the idea of exploring a virgin territory, without a clear destination or itinerary. I felt the need to go deeper and to let the randomness of the process be my guide. It was a very demanding process, I was experimenting with tools I did not know well. It was physically strenuous as well: I remember at one point I wore sunglasses in my studio and lowered the screen brightness to a minimum because my eyes would hurt constantly. I spent hours and hours wandering in virtual spaces. Building and deconstructing had become almost an obsession for me. Finally, what came to light was a non-place, an almost magical place, mysterious even. It’s a place that does not exist and yet it is terribly real.

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