IN THIS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW, ASHLEY BLACKMAN - THE YOUNGEST ARTIST FEATURED IN GAME VIDEO/ART. A SURVEY - DISCUSSES HIS FASCINATION FOR FALLOUT 4, IN-GAME PHOTOGRAPHY, AND THE WEATHER-AS-A-CREATIVE-CATALYST IN ENGLAND.
Ashley Blackman’s Clouds (2016) was featured in the NEW DIRECTIONS screening, a collateral event of GAME VIDEO/ART. A SURVEY on May 25, 2016.
GVA: Can you briefly describe your education and upbringing?
I’m currently studying Fine Art at Falmouth University and previously I studied a Foundation Degree at Bristol School of Art Queens Road where I also studied Fine Art.
Ashley Blackman, Future /.Bodies. 112 v.1, 2016
GVA: When and why did you begin using video games in your artistic practice?
It’s not much of a sophisticated or serious answer but I have only just recently, in the last few months begun using video games as a major part of my practice, I was in a sort of rut at some point not knowing where my work was going and I decided to sit down and think about what I enjoy in general to my personal life and one of those things was video games. there wasn’t any particular artists that influenced the work it was more me thinking “What if I take my artistic processes of making work and do that in the video game”. Luckily for me I have a game called Fallout 4, a huge open-world role-playing game that I could explore and create work.
GVA: Why did you specifically choose video games to make art? What do you find especially fascinating about this medium? Its interactivity? Agency? Aesthetics? Theatricality?
As bad as it sounds I think it was down to my laziness at the time and the rubbish English weather not wanting me to go outside. It got to a point where I was getting bored of playing the game and I put the controller down and the camera started circling around my character and the more I looked at the image the more hypnotic it got. The game had created its own film; with its main character at the centre of this desolate yet tranquil setting of a coastal metropolis surrounded by a dead countryside, and it got me thinking that the work was there already made, and I just had to capture what was happening.
GVA: Digital games often create parallel, alternative experiences for their users. How do you relate to complex relation between reality and simulation? How do you address this tension through your work?
I don’t necessarily address any form of tension but I do try to create work that the viewer would perceive as "real". For example I’ve started a SnapChat series where I use video game imagery in the context of humorous social media conversation where I copy captions from my friends ‘snapchats’ and recreate the image in-game with the caption.
I also have an ongoing photography series where I go around the video game taking photos of expansive landscapes and cityscapes and professionally printing the image and with this presentation the viewer could assume the photo was taken somewhere in the real world, so I guess I do address a form of tension through the viewers's reaction to the work.
Ashley Blackman, Swings, 2016
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?
I view the copyright issue as appropriation: It’s a complicated issue, one that can be argued from both sides. However within my work I view the video game as another art space to explore my practice, in certain situations it is appropriate to gain permission from the developers depending on the type of work and if it’s being sold. Richard Prince is a good example of how extreme things can get with appropriation if massive amounts of money are involved, but with his Instagram series the people who posted the images lose ownership because it’s on a platform where that image can be taken by anyone. Video games on the other hand always will be the developer’s game, the game was meant to be played not appropriated.
GVA: Would you agree that machinima has democratized the art making process, as some critics have suggested? Has it lowered the entry barrier for creators of video art, as some critics argue?
I do agree that machinima has democratized the art making process in its lowest form by that I mean you just have to buy the game to create work. However to create machinima it requires another level of creative drive; you have to have a conceptual idea and then you need to understand how you can create that within the boundaries of video games. But in its simplest form, yes, machinima has democratized the art making process.
Ashley Blackman, press any button to start, 2016
GVA: How do video game aesthetics affect the overall impact of your work? What comes first when developing a new project: the concept or the medium?
The post-apocalyptic world in Fallout 4 holds an aesthetic landscape that’s still recognizable to the audience as real life. By not incorporating the main factors of the game within my films, such as the main story line, I’m masking the true identity of the game. By creating the work I’m giving the audience more to relate to from a non-virtual standpoint; recreating real life themes in a hyper realistic setting.
GVA: What do you find fascinating about Fallout 4? What prompted you to start filming in virtual environments?
My first encounter with the virtual space was when I started creating work looking into online activity and how much time I spend on ‘the net’ and not necessarily for work purposes but more for procrastination. A lot of my work was looking at the overload of information we intake online for example: I would have one video crammed full with multiple videos all playing aloud with web pages popping up randomly all at once to give you an understanding of how much we interact with the internet on a daily basis. The reason I started using Fallout 4 was probably because I was bored of looking for work to do in the real world, as bizarre as that sounds and probably because I enjoy playing video games a lot. Fallout 4 can give you an expansive world that can idealize aspects from real life but also gives you the controlled randomness of the NPCs (Non-Playable Characters) you interact with and the ability to film whatever you want to express or show without there being any restrictions.
Ashley Blackman, crows, 2016
GVA: Can you describe the creative process behind the production of your recent videos?
For most of my videos the process mirrors that of my work before I started using video games. My work was in the style of Richard Wentworth’s photography, looking at aesthetics and coincidences within objects and the area they are located in. to make the work it was down to my preference of what worked well as a whole composition and having to walk around a lot observing everyday life but trying to see things from an artistic viewpoint. So taking all of the factors that go into creating that work into the virtual space seemed simple enough, and it worked because like I’ve stated before; the video game is just another space to explore.