IN THIS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW, SWEDISH ARTIST PALLE TORSSON TALKS ABOUT DOOM, THE HISTORY OF IDEAS, AND THE INEVITABLE FALL OF HUMANKIND.
Palle Torsson's Free Fall is curently 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?
Palle Torsson: I received a Master of Visual Arts in 1998 from the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm. As part of my education, I interned at White Columns Gallery in New York in 1996 and I was an exchange student at Hochschule der Kunst in Berlin in 1995. Prior to Graduate school, I studied the History of Ideas, Aesthetics, and Philosophy at Uppsala University. Several years later, I pursued a higher vocational track in Agile Web Development and Programming.
GVA: Can you name some influences - not necessarily artistic ones - that played a key role in your evolution as an artist?
Palle Torsson: Concretism, Surrealism, Dadaism, The Situationists, The Spectacle, Tactical Media, Guerrilla Girls, Kraftwerk, Public Enemy, Twin Peaks, The Internet, www, IRC, The demo scene, Richard Stallman, The Piracy Bureau, Hacker ethics, Occupy, Donna Haraway, Alan Turing, Python, Raspberry Pi, and Mika Rottenberg.
GVA: When and why did you begin using video games in your practice?
Palle Torsson: That would be 1995. Doom started it all. This game allowed artists to create expressive works by using an alternative set of tools and a different iconography. It basically spawned an autonomous sphere of action within - or outside - the established art world.
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?
Palle Torsson: Video games have the potential to operate as an autonomous playground and a space to address such questions as the logic of systems, the matrix, network boundaries, functional objects, algorithmical worlds, and the tension between user immersiveness and control. I think their aesthetic possibilities point to an agency of interaction that has a certain theatrical potential, that is, a narrative-performative potential. This means that video games could, potentially, revolutionize society. Alas, in most cases, they simply promote dull, commercial stereotypes. This failure is related to market-driven imperatives that favor quantity over quality, crass profit over ideas. Something that cast a shadow of the real nature of things. That being said, what is done in the commercial context is often fantastic, open to interpretation, and can always be hacked and transformed into alternative forms of expression. The interstices between exploration and mutation are my true passion. This grey area is where I conduct my key investigations and experimentations.
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?
Palle Torsson: The user can take control over the possibilities of reality. To think about reality as a simulation and vice versa can become a powerful tool to change the ontology of things and/or activate all its hermeneutic possibilities. My work is situated on the edge between reality and simulation and it addresses the elliptical nature of seeing.
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 art form?
Palle Torsson: I think fair use should be expanded beyond copyright because it is more compatible with the logical digital networked: let’s face it, we live in a modification culture in flux. Thus, remixing art should not be simply a way to create additional layers of property. The paradox is nothing more than the side effect of intellectual property’s abstract nature. To make the ecology of mutations possible, the commons must be expanded to include a space of difference. In short, the opposite of stereotypes.
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?
Palle Torsson: I think machinima exemplify how digital tools in general have democratized the art making process but how they also created new situations of stalling that must be overcome. For current generations, machinima has become an important expressive tool that is close at hand, connected to identity-making processes, and parody.
GVA: How do video game aesthetics affect the overall impact of your work? What comes first, the concept or the medium?
Palle Torsson: The medium is the message in many respects. I like the specific qualities of video games and how the medium shines through between 2D and 3D graphics, for instance in texture mapping. I guess the medium comes first, in most cases, and becomes a starting point to be actualized. Wherever there is a Pong, whenever a certain affordance of creativity occurs, a vision becomes clear.
GVA: In your artwork Free Fall how and why do you use this particular video game?
Palle Torsson: I have been working with several different game engines through the years. The reason why I choose the game editor to Half-Life 2 is purely technical: I needed a game editor with a large height axis, z-axis, to produce an extended falling of the bodies. To prolong the falling I used a “teleporter” in the middle of the game sequence. The first-person view is needed to move to another section and the fall is prolonged.
GVA: In your opinion, is Free Fall a metaphorical reflection about the condition of a directionless society?
Palle Torsson: I think it can be seen as a metaphor of many things. For instance, of the perpetual free fall of our societies, stock markets, and the specific ecology that we inhabit. Moreover, this work alludes to the super structures which we may ascertain and recognize, but act like black boxes upon which we have little or no agency. When the act of seeing becomes a game, a destructive entertainment activity slowly drains the world. The rabbit hole ends in a flat line.