(Recent) History Class: Paul Ryan Interviews for Grey Room

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“Cybernetic Guerrilla Warfare Revisited: From Klein Worms to Relational Circuits” In an interview by Felicity D. Scott and Mark Wasiuta for the Summer 2011 issue of GreyRoom, artist and writer Paul Ryan talks about the time he spent working with Marshall McLuhan, the early days of video art, and his work.


“At that moment [1967] I thought of myself as a writer. I was holed up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan with my typewriter, trying to write, and I heard McLuhan on the raso saying, ‘of course, in this electronic age of computers, satellites, radio, and television, the writer is no longer somebody holed up in his garret pounding a typewriter!’ It stopped me cold. I had to find out what this guy was about.”


Ryan gives a fascinating account of video art in the 1960s, from the Howard Wise Gallery, to securing money from the New York State Council for the Arts for video art at a time when no such funding was readily available, and tells the story of meeting the heir to the IBM fortune who admired McLuhan and wanted to give him two Sony Portapaks that both ended in Ryan’s hands to “experiment” with.

 

Artist book based on the Triadic Tapes, 1976 (via the Smithsonian Archives of American Art)


Ryan wrote extensively about video art, cybernetics, and technology; his work was then featured in some seminal exhibitions, such as “TV as a Creative Medium” at the Howard Wise Gallery (1969) and “Primitivism in Twentieth Century Art” at MoMA (1984). (Here's a 1969 letter by Ryan to Howard Wise.) 

“I would avoid the term visual to describe video. You can see a bottle of perfume, but sight is not the sense it really affects. You can see video images but their effect is primarily kinesthetic or proprioceptive when you see yourself. Video is about perceiving events with the nervous system, not visualizing in a pictorial way.”

 

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Yoshi's Fauvist Island

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In Kill Screen, Kyle Chakra finds the plumb line from Fauvism and Yoshi’s Island:

Fauvist pictures burn into your retinas. Derain’s The Turning Road at L'Estaque (1906) is a dusky mix of reds and oranges, but the shadows of the trees set into the road cast deep-blue shadows, tinged with green. It’s the light of an intense sunrise or sunset.

The favored technique to create this burn was to set two complementary colors against each other. The classic combination is red-orange on blue (clearly apparent in The Turning Road referenced above), but any opposites on the color wheel—pink and green, yellow and purple—all pack the same punch. Derain’s same technique is clear in Yoshi’s Island: check out Level 1-1 and see the yellow hillsides dotted with cool-blue rock outcroppings, jutting out into a pale-blue sky and clouds tinged subtly with orange and pink. The trees of 6-1 are bright orange-red, but their shadows, silhouetted in the sunset, are deep blue. In 3-2, yellow leaves stick out against a dusky purple background. The palette is strikingly similar to that of The Turning Road.

It’s not just the game’s colors that recall Fauvism. Yoshi’s Island’s aesthetic is painterly, displaying individual brushstrokes. Neither the paintings nor the game display a need for gloss or perfection; they’re messy, embracing a loose sense of serendipity, colored collisions. Shigeru Miyamoto, the iconic Nintendo designer who has noted the influence from Impressionism on his games, pushed Yoshi’s Island to look hand-drawn, emphasizing the scratchy crayon strokes that make up the game’s backgrounds and the rough outlines around its sprites.

Gamers don’t need to just take my word for it that Yoshi’s Island was influenced by Fauvism and its contemporaries. Just ...

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