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?
It’s hard to describe this in such a short passage of text since there are so many facets to the answer, but if I could focus on one idea it would be a partial quote by Žižek from his book called The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema where, I think, he is talking about Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds and he says, “...when our space within the symbolic order is disturbed our reality disintegrates”. The cross overs in how we understand our relationship to reality and its bed partner, simulation, have the potential to behave in a similar way.
I often think about this when I revisit my experiences playing the game called Heavy Rain where you alternate between different game characters of different age, class, gender and subjectivities to solve a crime in order to save a kidnapped boy from certain doom. Throughout the game as you search and make narrative choices based on your own moral and ethical positions the boy is gradually drowned in a stormwater drain by the rain as its falls heavier and heavier across the city.
One of the disturbing scenes that you get caught up in as a player is a simulated home invasion involving one of the female game characters when your are in her role. Her name is Madison Paige who suffers from insomnia. During one of the scenes that is staged in her apartment, you help her shower in her bathroom by pushing the controller buttons to dry herself off with her towel in a very intimate and revealing way (yet another form of home invasion). She walks to her bed and is about to fall asleep in her underwear and tank top when suddenly, she hears a sound from the kitchen. The fridge door is ajar; she closes it and someone is hiding behind her in the apartment.
The intruder is a masked man in black wearing a balaclava who proceeds to attack her, choke her, tackle her to the ground, tries to knife her, as both she and you struggles with the man and his knife a second masked man appears from nowhere and the panic starts to set in – you’re not going to survive this. This simulated rape/abduction/murder scene took me totally by surprise. All of the object pronouns such as me, you, I, her, or us that generally have a clear and defined meaning became unimportant in those moments of traumatic struggle in fighting for one’s life, both ingame and out.
It was an incredibly disturbing scene with a sophisticated pre-setup by the game developers who manipulated the players own voyeuristic impulses beforehand, firstly by interactively representing the intimate relationship that can be shared between a player and their avatar, whom they have a degree of agency over and secondly, using their own sense of shared vulnerability and identification with the character. It was a great lesson in reminding us that virtual or filmic space is not a simple mirror reflecting information about ourselves back to us but an extension of that same reality.
GVA: The creative opportunities afforded by machinima are greatly constrained by existing copyright law, which prohibits many possible uses, including commercial purposes. What’s your take on the paradoxical nature of this artform?
As an artist I don’t worry too much about this issue of copyright, I mean I still think about some of Duchamp’s assisted ready-mades of 1919, a work called L.H.O.O.Q. where he took a reproduction of the Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and drew a moustache and beard on her in pencil. Machinima is just doing the same thing. It’s now in a contemporary digital setting; nothing has dramatically changed in terms of the procedure, except in the dramatic increases in power and influence that corporations can wield over private and public space – they’ve just got stronger as we’ve grown weaker.
GVA: Would 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?
I would not agree with the idea that machinima has democratised the processes of art making, because the question already assumes that all machinima is art. The problem is that not all machinima is video art because most of the producers of it are not concerned with contextualising it as video art or even care about the history of art which has everything to do with whether or not it's art or not, just like music videos are not video art because they belong to a sub-genre of music. Adding to the problem is that there are also curators, gallery dealers, collectors and artists who don’t consider machinima as video art even if you’ve invested your whole life in framing your practice in terms of contemporary art. I think I would describe its processes quite closely to how Rancière characterises politics and aesthetics as forms of dissensus. It forms a dissensual relationship to the processes of art creation and the institutionalisation of those processes which lead to one naming it as art. This is probably what continually makes it interesting and dynamic for me because it can cut across different hierarchies and sub-cultures, move between discourses and genres (both low and high) which seem incompatible, and yet it can also disrupt and re-orientate perceptual space because of the alternative narratives generated out of a highly controlled and corporatised space. I just feel that there is no consensual agreement as to the framing of it as a particular genre, therefore you can’t bring an idea like democracy into the mix.