Matthias Fritsch is an independent artist from Berlin, most well known for his work Kneecam No 1—the live video that brought Technoviking to the internet. Over a decade after he uploaded the clip that went viral, Fritsch now is enduring a long legal battle with Technoviking himself, who sued for the reproduction, proliferation, and unwarranted use of his likeness. In response to the process, Fritsch is making The Story of Technoviking, a crowd-funded documentary that aims to shed light on the legal issues surrounding viral images. Below, Fritsch talks about what it’s like do battle in court with a viking, the ownership of images in the internet age, and hopes for his current project.
My Life Without Technoviking—since the trial began, Fritsch is no longer allowed to use images of the plaintiff's face.
DQ: Matthias, I'm of course curious about the video that originated it all. What was, for you, Kneecam No 1 (2000) before it became an internet meme? Why did you upload it to YouTube? Were you expecting such a viral reaction? What did you think when it happened?
This text has been written for the proceedings of the international conference "New Perspectives, New Technologies", organized by the Doctoral School Ca' Foscari - IUAV in Arts History and held in Venice and Pordenone, Italy in October 2011
The "portal" designed by Antenna Design to show net based art in the exhibition "Art Entertainment Network", Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2000. Courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
In the late nineties and during the first decade of this century the term “new media art” became the established label for that broad range of artistic practices that includes works that are created, or in some way deal with, new media technologies. Providing a more detailed definition here would inevitably mean addressing topics beyond the scope of this paper, that I discussed extensively in my book Media, New Media, Postmedia (Quaranta 2010). By way of introduction to the issues discussed in this paper, we can summarize the main argument put forward in the book: that this label, and the practices it applies to, developed mostly in an enclosed social context, sometimes called the “new media art niche”, but that would be better described as an art world in its own right, with its own institutions, professionals, discussion platforms, audience, and economic model, and its own idea of what art is and should be; and that only in recent years has the practice managed to break out of this world, and get presented on the wider platform of contemporary art.
It was at this point in time, and mainly thanks to curators who were actively involved in the presentation of new media art in the contemporary art arena, that the debate about “curating new media (art)” took shape. This debate was triggered by the pioneering work of curators – from Steve Dietz to Jon Ippolito, Benjamin Weil and Christiane Paul – who at the turn of the millennium curated seminal new media art exhibitions for contemporary art museums; and it was – and still is –nurtured by CRUMB - “Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss” - a platform and mailing list founded by Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook in 2000 within the School of Arts, Design, Media and Culture at the University of Sunderland, UK. As early as 2001, CRUMB organized the first ever meeting of new media curators in the UK as part of BALTIC's pre-opening program – a seminar on Curating New Media held in May 2001.
In the context of this paper, our main reference texts will be CRUMB-related publications, from the proceedings of “Curating New Media” (2001) to Rethinking Curating. Art After New Media (2010), a recent book by Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook; and New Media in the White Cube and Beyond, a book edited by Christiane Paul in 2008. Instead of addressing the specific issues and curatorial models discussed in these publications, we will try to focus on the very foundations of “curating new media”, exploring questions like: does new media art require a specific curatorial model? Does this curatorial model follow the way artists working with new media currently present themselves on the contemporary art platform? How much could “new media art” benefit from a non-specialized approach? Are we curating “new media” or curating “art”? ...
The following excerpt comes from the final chapter of my book Media, New Media, Postmedia, recently published in Italian by Postmediabooks, who kindly gave Rhizome permission to republish it in English. The book is an attempt to analyze the current positioning of so-called “New Media Art” in the wider field of contemporary arts, and to explore the historical, sociological and conceptual reasons for its marginal position and under-recognition in recent art history.
the following happened this night to me... sorry for submitting a personal case, but I think it can be significant.
This night I've been killed by Google. When I woke up, I tried to enter my Google Account as usual, but what I got was only a short message:
«Sorry, your account has been disabled.»
“This fucking password!”, I thought, and I retyped it. Same message. At the end of it there was a question mark with a link. I clicked on it, and this is what I read:
«If you've been redirected to this page from the sign in page, it means that access to your Google Account has been disabled.
In most cases, accounts are disabled because of a perceived violation of either the Google Terms of Service or product-specific Terms of Service.
Google reserves the right to:
* Suspend a Google Account from using a particular product or the entire Google Accounts system if the Terms of Service or product-specific policies are violated.
* Terminate your account at any time, for any reason, with or without notice.
If your Google Account has been disabled, please review the relevant Terms of Service before attempting to create another account. For guidelines on a specific Google product, please visit the product homepage for a link to its Terms of Service.
If you believe your account has been disabled in error, please contact us so that we can assist you.»
“Terminate your account at any time, for any reason, with or without notice”? Wow! If God exists, probably he is more democratic than Google. But, well, of course it's a mistake. So, let's fill the form.
I did it, and this is what I got:
«Thanks for contacting our Google Accounts team. Please note that we'll only reply if we have additional information to share about your disabled account.»
I take a cigarette. “Hope is a good breakfast but a bad supper”, I think. Tons of emails, two blogs, about one hundred images, videos, documents, web pages, presentations, two years of work lost for... what? Because I believed in a fallible God.
I don't believe in God, actually. That's why I always have to understand what happens to my life. So, I start making some research. Google invites you to put your whole hard disk online. If you have a Google account, you can check your email, but you can also run one or more blogs. Picasa lets you share your pictures, and since Google bought Youtube, you can create and access a Youtube channel with the same username and password. Google Documents is a kind of Microsoft Office. You can create and share word documents, spreadsheets, Power Point presentations, databases. It's far but easy to fascinate me, but if I find something useful, I use it. So, I run two blogs, I have a Picasa account, a Youtube channel, and several documents online - most of them being material I use for teaching, and that I share with my students. All under the same Google Account.
So, let's check if everything is working. My email doesn't work anymore. R.I.P. My blogs are still online, but I don't have the right to edit, delete or update them anymore. Actually, I'm not the owner of these sites anymore. They are still there, but they aren't mine - they belong to Google. I realize right now that they always did. As for my Youtube videos and my documents, the same as above: only Google can decide if my students can go on studying what I teach. Finally, I look for my Picasa channel: it's gone.
“You asshole!”, you may say. “You are boring us with your fucking story, and it ends up that you uploaded some sex images or copyrighted material.” I didn't. What I put on my Picasa account are just my photos: some holiday pictures (as private albums, accessible only to me - and Google of course) and some pics related to the exhibitions I organized up to now (as public albums). I go through the terms of agreement about one hundred times, and what I understand is that I didn't violate any rule. Maybe the following one?
«4.5 You acknowledge and agree that while Google may not currently have set a fixed upper limit on the number of transmissions you may send or receive through the Services or on the amount of storage space used for the provision of any Service, such fixed upper limits may be set by Google at any time, at Google’s discretion.»
I don't know how many megabytes I used - unlike for Flickr, there were no upper limits for Picasa till yesterday. Maybe I used too much disk space and they decided to kick me out?
I don't know. Probably, I'll never know. Since this morning, I wrote about 10 emails to Google, but I got no answer. I can just look back to my dead account and wonder: is it dead because God decided to kill it or because it violated some stupid rule?
Of course, I will migrate on other platforms. I'll do even if my Google Account comes back from hell. Nothing is really lost, besides my time. But don't forget: if it happened to me, it can happen to anybody, at any time, everywhere. Everything is there, in the contract you signed with God - or it was the Devil?:
«4.3 As part of this continuing innovation, you acknowledge and agree that Google may stop (permanently or temporarily) providing the Services (or any features within the Services) to you or to users generally at Google’s sole discretion, without prior notice to you.
4.4 You acknowledge and agree that if Google disables access to your account, you may be prevented from accessing the Services, your account details or any files or other content which is contained in your account.»
Training to live in a new reality
Catalogue text for the exhibition H Y P E R L U C I D - Prague Biennale 4, May 14 - July 26, 2009. More infos:
Reality is no longer what it used to be. The media are increasingly infiltrating it, filling our dreams, which usually come when our eyes are open. Wide open. In the context of “Expanded Painting”, H Y P E R L U C I D is an exhibition of works born on the invisible edge between two different levels of reality (actual reality and media reality), and documenting the continuous transition from one level to the other. The boundaries are increasingly porous, and sometimes even the most lucid among us can't help but wonder which level of reality we are looking at in a given moment. We all experienced this feeling when confronted with the 9/11 pictures. As Slavoj Žižek wrote in 2002: “Virtual Reality [...] provides reality itself deprived of its substance, of the resisting hard kernel of the Real [...] Virtual Reality is experienced as reality without being one. However, at the end of this process of virtualization, the inevitable Benthamian conclusion awaits us: reality is its own best semblance.” 
Instead of dealing with the virtualization of the real, H Y P E R L U C I D explores the actualization of the virtual. Media reality is reality. Media no longer produce simulacra: they produce events, history, life. The map doesn't precede the territory, as Jean Baudrillard claimed ; the real still exists, and the map is now part of it. The media overwhelm us with icons, brands, pixellated images of torture, wars, outrages. The hardest fight happens there. They help us to construct new levels of reality, both abstract and hyperreal, and to get used to them. Videogames and virtual worlds are our training grounds: there, through increasingly complex social and narrative dynamics, and through a photorealism which exceeds our playing needs, we forget how to recognize simulation, and we exercise our brains for the next step: the one in which, between tangible reality, simulated reality and media reality, there are no barriers anymore, but only the translucent, easily penetrable sheets of shadow theater. We took the last train to the world of Perky Pat, and there is no way back .
It is no surprise that videogames and virtual worlds play such an important role in H Y P E R L U C I D. It is hard for a visual artist today to escape their fascination. Eva and Franco Mattes, who were able to escape their Second Life, recently started to fight for a Half Life. If in the stylish, visionary world created in 2003 by the Californian Linden Labs they focused on identity, subjectivity and virtual life, in the ultra-violent first-person shooter (FPS) developed by Valve Software in 1998 they discovered the astounding beauty of the virtual landscape. When the spectator faces these silent “topographies”, which call to mind the sublime landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich, as well as the urban atmospheres of Edward Hopper and the Magical Realism of the Twenties, she could hardly imagine that to attain this peace the artists had to fight off hundreds of aliens and human enemies. In a narrative, the scenery is usually functional to the story, and videogames are no exception. Yet, in recent games they have acquired a life of their own; or, in other words, they are no longer sceneries, they are worlds that may - between one fight and one other - surprise the virtual hero for their gratuitous beauty and seamless existence.
Unlike the Mattes, Gazira Babeli can't escape Second Life. She was born there, and there she will live her avatar life till the end, playing the role of the virus in the system - or Neo in the Matrix - with her Keatonian sense of comedy. Gazira Babeli is the living proof that the separation between the so-called “virtual” and the so-called “real” is just an error of perspective, and that we can live just one life, the second, without appearing any less “real” for that. As she says, “My art consists in experimenting in an ironic and 'pop' way with the complementary and often contradictory aspects of a 'whole world' which, despite being inhabited by 'puppets', hosts at least a million people. Real people.” Her movie Gaz' of the Desert (2007) is the mythological, almost hagiographic transcription of her life, which in the series of prints “painted d'après Delacroix” exaggerates the romantic, bituminous light of Second Life, ironically playing with the cultural stereotypes her world relies on.
A similar irony can be found in the recent work of Miltos Manetas, which turns Will Wright's recent masterpiece, Spore (Maxis 2008), into an ambiguous garden of delights populated by hybrid creatures, apparently generated by the marriage between Walt Disney and Hieronymus Bosch. The naïveté of these images, the pale, light colors adopted, and even the special technique used by Manetas in these and other prints (vibracolor print on super glossy paper) call to mind the delicate paintings of the Primitives, such as Beato Angelico and Van der Weyden. In the series Gino De Dominicis (After Spore), these implicit references mix with a declared one, to the paintings of Gino de Dominicis; while the verticality of these images - actually self-portraits - and the precarious instability of the figures on their plinths, make them similar to the saints portrayed in the side panels of a polyptych, while their snouty noses and inscrutable ambiguity place them among the strange creatures portrayed by the Italian artist.
There is no irony, on the contrary, in Gerhard Mantz's work. For years, the German artist has used software to generate synthetic landscapes able to withstand the closest scrutiny. But don't talk about hyperrealism, baby. Hyperrealism is reproduction, 3D modeling is production. Mantz's sunrises and sunsets belong to a world that was entirely created by him. They are too beautiful to be real, too realistic to be crafted. They remind us of the romantic landscape, but also Windows' custom wallpapers; Sturm und Drang meets Vista on these big canvases. As he wrote: “My starting point is never a landscape seen in reality, but an abstraction, a constructed calculation of archetypal space. This construct is then transformed step-by-step through simulated light, atmosphere, water, terrain, flora and fauna to conjure memories that translate as complex emotions rather than a specificity of place.”
But H Y P E R L U C I D is not about videogames, 3D aesthetics and so on; it is about an irritating awareness of the reality we live in, the unfriendly ability to penetrate its multiple layers. The term “irritate” is not used by chance here. The Surrealists wanted to “irritate” our perception in order to make the unconscious come to the surface. The artists featured in H Y P E R L U C I D do the same with our visual culture, in order to make these multiple layers visible. Alterazioni Video's tapestries are irritatingly similar to Alighiero & Boetti's ones, in a way that make them appear a simple work of appropriation, which they aren't. Here, Alighiero & Boetti is not referenced in a postmodern way, but is used and abused as a medium. One of the first and most dangerous computer viruses appeared in our mailbox as a romantic love letter; in a similar way, these tapestries are extremely dangerous because they are friendly and easy-to-get. They look like the same old shit, yet they are vehicles of the forbidden. Produced for an exhibition in China, they have censored information encrypted under their reassuring surfaces - information that can be decrypted using the right cultural code, or the right technical device. In the QRCODE series, for example, in order to access the information you just have to photograph one of the embroidery carpets with a smartphone and send this image to a specific decrypting software which can translate it and decodify the hidden information: and voilà! access to pornographic web sites, contact information for political dissidents and activists, lists of forbidden words.
In the project Superenhanced (2009), the Austrian duo UBERMORGEN.COM address torture and its present use in both democratic and non-democratic countries, apparently presenting and promoting it with a striking visual campaign for the brand new service of “enhanced interrogation”. In the series, various forms of enhanced interrogation are played out directly by the artists and their daughters, in a kind of Kamasutra of torture that recycles media imagery directly from Guantanamo and other supermax prisons, glossing over the violence and replacing it with glamorous advertising aesthetics.
Lastly, Damon Zucconi and Shane Hope belong to a younger generation of artists interested in the vernacular of the Web, in the subcultures of techno-freaks that gather online, even though they reference them in very different ways. Damon Zucconi's works can be described as “meditations on contemporary visual culture”. He appropriates found material of any kind, usually through simple, almost fatuous means. In Morris Louis; Dalet Kaf (Horizontal and Vertical blur), for example, he appropriates a painting by Morris Louis, probably found on the Net, applying a simple editing filter to it and then printing it out quarter-scale. Pole Shift (2008) is a video which treats a landscape photograph as a three dimensional space, deforming it in a slow, hypnotic movement; in Slow Rave (2006) he slow down the video of a rave party in order to mimic its participants’ altered perception of reality. Sometimes Red, Sometimes Blue (2007) is exactly what the title says: a web page conceived as a “color field”, which changes randomly at every access. Trained as a sculptor, Zucconi is interested in what lies under the surface of our visual culture: an “underlying problem” that a little manipulation of the surface brings to the fore.
With an almost opposite take, Shane Hope seems to look for a complexity that doesn't even exist yet, belonging to a possible future or a parallel universe he may have visited... in his dreams, we would have said in the age of Samuel T. Coleridge's Xanadu; through his laptop, we should say today. The artist has developed a personal, hybrid language full of misspellings, scientific jargon, and new kinds of slang in order to describe a reality made of materials, technologies, cults and possibilities not yet explored. In his work (which he usually describes as “speculative vernacular”) he mixes molecular prototyping and assemblage, miniature sculpture and animation, futurology and retrocomputing. His Speculativernacular Blog Botherings are paintings - outsourced to Chinese painters, of course - depicting blog posts written in a kind of alien English. Because a new reality deserves another language, and another stage in the evolution of man: bringing us a human with a hyperlucid gaze on a layered reality, whose language is a man-machine hybrid slang, and whose “mother is open source.”
Even if it is part of Expanded Painting, H Y P E R L U C I D does not gather paintings in the literal sense. Here, painting is not a medium, but a cultural frame, a context of reference for the new generation of image makers. The artists collected here no longer paint, even if they sometimes still do: they shoot, they manipulate, they code, they make scripts, sometimes they fight with other virtual characters. Yet, in the end, they produce images. Images where all the layers of reality collapse. Images that, like a Photoshop image, are made of different layers. Images to be looked through. They are not about reality, like a painting by Courbet. They are not about media reality, like Andy Warhol's Car Crashes or Richard Prince's Cowboys. They are not about the map, or the territory. They are about both, because the two have become one and the same thing.
 Slavoj Žižek, “Welcome to the Desert of the Real”, in The Symptom, Issue 2, Spring 2002, available online at the address http://www.lacan.com/desertsymf.htm.
 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacres et Simulation, Galilée 1985. Simulacra and Simulation, University of Michigan Press 1996.
 Philip K. Dick, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Doubleday, 1965.
Training to live in a new reality
Curated by: Domenico Quaranta
For: Prague Biennale 4
Karlin Hall, Thamova 8 - Praga 8
May 14 - July 26, 2009
Directors and General Curators: Helena Kontova and Giancarlo Politi
General Editor / Curatorial Advisor: Nicola Trezzi
Official website: http://www.praguebiennale.org/
ARTISTS: Alterazioni Video; Gazira Babeli; Shane Hope; Miltos Manetas; Gerhard Mantz; Eva and Franco Mattes; UBERMORGEN.COM; Damon Zucconi.
Reality is not the one we were used to anymore. Media infiltrate it more and more, and fill up our dreams, which usually come when our eyes are open. Wide open. In the frame of ÒExpanded Painting
MACHINE ANIMATION & ANIMATED MACHINES
The following text about Eddo Stern has been published in the catalogue of the exhibition Eddo Stern: Flamewar, curated by Ilana Tenenbaum at the Israeli Haifa Museum of Art (January 24 - June 20, 2009). The book also features texts by the curator and by Ed Halter. Enjoy!
MACHINE ANIMATION & ANIMATED MACHINES
In the beginning, there is life. Or, better, another level of life. It's the kind of life you can live on a screen, where your face and body change from time to time, according to the adventure you are playing at the moment. It's a kind of life that implies gestures such as pressing furiously the buttons of a keyboard, speaking into a microphone, teaching all your muscles how they have to behave in order to make the movement of a joystick more fluent and responsive; and in which these gestures are translated into shots, curses, jumps, fights, runs. It's a kind of life that usually has a soundtrack. It's a kind of life that can be very similar to our daily life, or slightly different; but that, in both cases, mixes with the latter in a way that our brain, programmed for one life at a time, has some difficulties in making a clear distinction between the two. For example, if you are a soldier, it may be difficult for you to distinguish between your last mission in Afghanistan or Iraq and your last session of America's Army.
Mixing two levels of life does not mean that, as an avid player of GTA, you would feel a irrepressible need to take a bat and walk down 5th Avenue smashing everything you find on your way; nor that you are going to experience performance anxiety because your Second Life avatar has a bigger penis, or your virtual partner seems more excited than your real one. It just means that probably, talking with a friend, you will sum up your last adventure in World of Warcraft with the same words, and the same enthusiasm, you would use for a real event; and that probably feelings, anxieties, fears and passions related with your real life experience will change the way you live your life on the screen.
I don't know what Eddo Stern, who served in the Israeli army before moving to the States, feels when he plays a war game. What I know is that Sheik Attack (1999), Eddo Stern's first machinima film, is probably the best take on Israel's bloody history I have ever seen. One of the very first art videos using game footage to build up a narrative, Sheik Attack shows up an extraordinary maturity if compared with the novelty of its genre. The narrative of the Zionist utopia, from the dream of rebuilding the state of Israel up to the current tragic situation, is told through a soundtrack of traditional Israeli songs and the editing of a series of scenes shot in games such as Sim City, Delta Force, and Command & Conquer. The low-resolution footage is in stark contrast to the strong emotional impact of the soundtrack. Stern manages to transform the expressive limitations of the tool - the repetitive nature of the gestures, the lack of dialogue - into a powerful medium in itself. This transformation can be understood if we look at the way Stern uses the cinematics of the first person shooter: the main character’s point of view, used with some caution in traditional filmmaking, here is chosen to make the spectator identify simultaneously with the player and the narrative’s main character, making him co-responsible of their atrocious actions. So, when the tragically polygonal sheik's wife, resting on her knees, is assassinated without a blink of an eye, we hold the gun in our hands.
Machinima is just a medium, neutral as any other medium. Yet, as any other “remix” practice, it has an enormous potential that emerges when the existing material is used to convey a meaning that conflicts with its own source. The video becomes a kind of prosthetic narrative, which extends the game's narrative in an unpredictable direction. And that, sometimes, rejects the body it was designed for. From cut-up theory to culture jamming to Nicholas Bourriaud's “postproduction” model, many great theorists have discussed this potential: what is interesting to me is that, when it comes to games, your appropriation is not only dealing with “existing cultural material”, or with a medium, but with your own life, the life you lived inside the game. In other words, making Sheik Attack is different from, let's say, shooting October or a masterpiece of plagiarism such as Negativland's Gimme the Mermaid (2002). The main difference is that Eddo Stern is, in the same time, the soldier who shot the helpless sheik's wife and the documentarian who reports the crime.
Both Vietnam Romance (2003) and Deathstar (2004) display this kind of potential. In Vietnam Romance Stern forces us to take part in a war that we know very well, but just from one single point of view: the one adopted by Hollywood in a steady stream of movies, from Apocalypse Now to Platoon, from The Thin Red Line to Full Metal Jacket, from The Deer Hunter to Forrest Gump. American movies that, even when critical towards the war and the way the US conducted it, share a similar atmosphere and articulate a common imaginary, that has become, through these movies the imaginary we all have come to share. Videogames remediate this kind of imaginary; but at the same time, force us to see the war through the eyes of the American military, and remove the critical filter that cinematic narrative provides. In videogames, the Vietnam War becomes, in Stern's words, “as clear cut as World War II”. The story is simple: you are the good (American) guy who has to kill all those dirty (Vietnamese) rats. With the complicity of a soundtrack that resamples the famous hits of the Sixties and Seventies into electronic MIDI tracks, Stern re-appropriates this material and uses it to create a melancholic “romance”, full of nostalgia for an age and a cinematographic genre that seems irremediably lost. The opening scene is phenomenal, with a prostitute parading through desolated outskirts on the notes of Nancy Sinatra's These Boots are Made for Walking.
Deathstar (2004) is a video in which the violence enacted against a single body, Osama Bin Laden's, is so up and close as to seem abstract. The work edits a series of sequences shot in different games devoted to the assassination of the public enemy number one, together with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ soundtrack, as if trying to compare two different - yet strangely similar - versions of the iconography of violence and pain.
If appropriating game footage can be subversive, appropriating the game engine in order to force it to tell other stories can be even stronger (though it usually isn't). Again, a feature of more recent videogames is turned into a powerful instrument of criticism by the very way it is used. Landlord Vigilante (2006) is a video that uses the engine of such games as GTA San Andreas and The Sims in order to do what games seem completely unfit for: design a character, give her a credible psychology and tell her story. The story of Leslie Shirley, is inspired by the artist's former landlady, translated into a script in collaboration with the artist and writer Jessica Z. Hutchins. Ms. Shirley is a cynical and strong woman who, driving a cab in Los Angeles, has been saving a good sum of money in order to buy some real estate to rent. Persuaded that tenants are “defective human beings”, Leslie Shirley - the name chosen for her reassuring landlady’s mask - capitalizes on their “dirty habits”, trying to get the most from her investment. Stern and Hutchins use different games in order to exploit their peculiar aesthetics for the construction of the character and her environment: The Sims is used to design Leslie's “kind old lady” mask and her comfortable, traditional, tidy “country cottage”; while GTA San Andreas puts the “real” Leslie - an old witch hardened by life - in her natural environment - Los Angeles' slums. In the chapter “Mirrors”, Leslie describes her complex relationship with her own body - that is, her interface with the world - in front of a mirror, while holding a camera as if it was a gun and shooting a picture of herself. Referencing the iconography of first person shooters, Stern and Hutchins illustrate the psychological process of identity deconstruction and construction, using the game to talk about real life.
The same strategy is adopted in Stern's more recent “machine animations”, Best...Flamewar...Ever: Leegattenby King of Bards v. Squire Rex (2007) and Level sounds like Devil: Baby in Christ vs. His Father (2007). The first of which is a two channel 3D computer animation diptych recreating an online flame war about degrees of expertise around the computer fantasy game Everquest. If in this case the contention focuses on the “shifting codes of masculinity”, in Level sounds like Devil... the discussion involves a teenager and his father, who believes that World of Warcraft is evil and tries to make him stop playing. Being himself a Christian, BabyInChrist contacts an online Christian forum for guidance in understanding if his father is right or not, and the community tries to help him, sometimes pointing to the differences between virtual and real, sometimes quoting the Holy Bible, and sometimes suggesting him to lie to his father. The faces of the characters are mapped with fan art and textures coming from online fantasy games such as Everquest and WoW, and become something in between an Arcimboldo allegory and a medieval standard. In this way, the characters become hybrid identities, summing up a way of life in which the two levels we described are no more separated - as, probably, they have never been.
I call these videos “machine animations” because this expression, more than its portmanteau “machinima”, makes clear what is at stake. If videogames, through photorealism and immersion, employ considerate effort to make the player forget the machine, Stern returns the machine to the forefront. This could be unpleasant for both gamers and non-gamers, but it's the only way to escape the magic of so-called virtual worlds and start making works that are critical or self. As Eddo Stern, who spent 2,000 hours in World of Warcraft, knows quite well, the machine is the only frame between you and the game reality, and the only way to break the illusion is to make it more visible, in your face. So, if his videos can be described as prosthetic narratives, his installations can be described as prosthetic machines; both of them introduce a feeling of alienation, the first using the games in ways they a not meant for and inserting reality into them, the latter bring the games to reality, in a way that makes their fictional constructs apparent.
This alienating element can be seen in action even in Waco Resurrection (2004), a game designed by Eddo Stern together with the c-level team (Peter Brinson, Brody Condon, Michael Wilson, Mark Allen, Jessica Hutchins). Waco Resurrection is a “classical” first person shooter, at least in the way it is designed: immersive, violent, photorealistic. The main novelty lies in the narrative, evoking the Waco siege, and the point of view, that of the Branch Davidian's leader David Koresh. While, in-game, a sense of alienation is created by the non player characters, which have the names and faces of the real individuals involved in the siege, it becomes stronger when the game is played in its installation version, wearing the voice activated, surround sound enabled, hard plastic 3D skin reproducing David Koresh. The player, through the Koresh skin, can hear Koresh's voice singing or delivering a sermon. This device brings the player back to reality, and forces him to think back to the real event, with all its complex political implications.
In a similar way, works such as Runners (1999 - 2000), Tekken Torture Tournament (2001), Cockfight Arena (2001) and Dark Game (2006) provide the player with such “heavy” interfaces that one can not ignore and ever forget “reality”: head-gears, costumes, shocking arm straps, a triple mouse.
But it is in Stern's self-standing installations that this alienating factor becomes more patent. In the God's Eye series, Stern refers to a practice, quite common among avid gamers, of customizing their computer console, changing it into a unique piece of furniture - revealing something about their taste and personality. Here, computers are visible, yet integrated into huge sculptures that can be seen as monuments to the neo-medievalism so common in most fantasy games. Crusade (2002) transforms a computer ‘tower’ into a windmill. Alongside is a monitor on which we see, advancing towards us, five knights and a dragon (all to the accompaniment of a midi version of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir). The aggressive nature of western civilization is here cut down to size by the irony of these five strange avatars and a clear reference to Cervantes’ Don Quixote. This irony returns even more powerfully in Carnivore’s Cathedral: Whose Child Is This? (2003); “a neo-Christian Karaoke machine”, as Stern calls it. This time the customized PC becomes a cathedral, complete with gargoyle waterspouts which move to the rhythm of an imperial motif. USS Dragoon. One God to Rule them All … And in the Darkness Bind Them (2003) is an imposing installation of a modern warship guided by a computer that stands proudly at the helm. Along the bridge, crowded with knights in battle-dress, runs a text in Gothic Elven script, whilst the prow is adorned with two majestic dragons. Finally, Fort Paladin: America’s Army (2003) is a computer in the guise of a medieval castle complete with hexagonal towers, crenellation, banners and even openings from which to pour down boiling oil onto enemies. In the façade of the castle, the space that would normally be occupied by the drawbridge is taken by a computer monitor, which introduces us to the authorized violence of America’s Army, the videogame freely distributed on the American Army’s website for training cum propaganda purposes. The game is played by the machine itself, which sends a series of messages to a system of pistons that press down directly onto keys on the keyboard.
According to Stern, neo-medievalism is the last incarnation of what he calls “An American pathology”: that unceasing search for a glorious past, which in the United States goes hand-in-hand with the nation’s increasingly imperialistic aims. And again, this criticism is developed by leaving the game, bringing its aesthetics and iconography to the real world and building up monumental, heavy, aggressive interfaces that can't be forgotten. When you hear Fort Paladin's pistons banging and watch them control the virtual soldiers of America's Army, looking at a game’s reality as a separate “level of life” becomes more and more difficult.
Difficult, but not impossible. Eddo Stern is, and probably will always be, an avid gamer. His criticism doesn't prevent him, nor us, from enjoying and playing the game, and is not articulated towards this end. Stern's work is meant to explore the complex dynamics between reality and media, and to improve our understanding of both - not to explain to us why we should not play America's Army or World of Warcraft. So, his last series of “animated machines”, as described in the press release written for their first public presentation, mine “the online gaming world at its paradoxical extremes: on one hand, an untenable perversion of everyday life spent slaying an endless stream of virtual monsters, on the other, an ultimate mirroring of the most familiar social dynamics. The struggles with masculinity, honor, aggression, faith, love and self worth are embroiled with the game world’s vernacular aesthetics.” In works such as Narnia, Again (2007), Lotusman (2007), Man, Woman, Dragon (After World of Warcraft) (2007) and Tsunami (2007), Stern updates a technique with a long tradition: the one adopted in Chinese shadow plays and other proto-cinematic forms of spectacle. His Plexiglas, computer-controlled kinetic shadow sculptures use lions, dragons, snakes, Chuck Norris, and kung-fu to talk about conflict, violence, masculinity, fantasy, and cultural stereotypes. But also play, play, play, with all its pleasures and contradictions.
Reconstruction, Re-enactment, Re-reporting
curated by: Domenico Quaranta
Stari trg 21, Ljubljana, Slovenia
25 March - 17 April 2009
Presentation of the book: 25 March 2009 at 19:00
Exhibition opening: 25 March 2009 at 20:00
Featured artists: Lucas Bambozzi, Vaginal Davis, Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Eva and Franco Mattes (aka 0100101110101101.ORG), SilentCell Network (Mare Bulc, Janez Janša, Bojana Kunst, Igor Štromajer)
Galerija Škuc is proud to announce “RE:akt! Reconstruction, Re-enactment, Re-reporting”, the exhibition of the works realized in the last three years within the platform “RE:akt!” produced by the Slovenian cultural institution Aksioma.
During recent years the term re-enactment and the practices it refers to have enjoyed increasing success in the artistic context. On one hand, the success of re-enactment appears to be connected to a parallel, vigorous return to performance art, both as a genre practiced by the new generations, and as an artistic practice with its own historicization. On the other hand the term re-enactment accompanies two phenomena that at least at first glance have very little in common: re-staging artistic performances of the past, and revisiting, in performance form, “real” events - be they linked to history or current affairs, past or present.
“RE:akt! Reconstruction, Re-enactment, Re-reporting” tries both to research on the complexity of this concept and to get rid of it, approaching re-enactment not merely as “live action role-playing” or “living history” but rather as a strategy for cultural critique, analysis and artistic expression. “RE:akt!” - meaning not only “to act again” but also “to respond to / to react upon” and “Regarding: act!”- confronts current ideological and intellectual canons, power structures, policies, and distribution channels by re-enacting selected historical and culturally relevant events. Through processes of analysis, deconstruction, re-enactment and re-reporting, the intermedia research and presentation project “RE:akt!” examines media’s roles in manipulating perceptions and creating postmodern historical myths and contemporary mythology.
Thus, “RE:akt! Reconstruction, Re-enactment, Re-reporting”, curated by the Italian art critic and curator Domenico Quaranta, will collect ten different approaches to the concept of enaction: from Ich Lubbe Berlin! (2005, SilentCell Network), a take on the 1933 burning of the Reichstag building in Berlin, which explores the contemporary meaning of symbols such as the Reichstag itself, and of concepts such as “communism” and “terrorism”; to Das KAPITAL (2006, Janez Janša), a performance which re-stages the 1968 occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces with the languages of popular street artists; from C'était un rendez-vous (déja vu) (Janez Janša in collaboration with Quentin Drouet), a project that plays with the paradigmatic history of a well known artwork, the film C'était un rendez-vous by Claude Lelouch, from “cinema verité” to “media fiction”; to VD as VB (2007), a series of actions in which Vaginal Davis, the “grande dame” of the queer underground in Los Angeles, dialogues with Vanessa Beecroft's performances. In Mount Triglav on Mount Triglav (2007), the three artists Janez Janša, Janez Janša and Janez Janša re-stage a well known performance of the OHO group from the late Sixties, recently appropriated by the IRWIN group for their Like to Like Series (2004), performing it on the Mount Triglav itself, and then translating it into a monumental golden sculpture; while in Slovene National Theatre (2007), Janez Janša translates an infamous fact of recent racism against Gypsies - known in Slovenia as “the Ambrus case” - into a piece of theatre, re-invoicing it as it was featured by the mass media. In their Synthetic Performances (2007), Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG reenact on the virtual platform of Second Life a series of historical performances that are all but virtual, raising issues such as body, violence, sex and pain, thus exploring the meaning of these very issues in a virtual world. In SS-XXX | Die Frau Helga (2007), Janez Janša (in collaboration with Dejan Dragosavac Ruta) again adds details and proofs of evidence to an “urban legend” recently circulated on the Net and mainstream media, concerning the presumed creation of a cyber-sex doll by the Nazis. Thus, performance and reenactment are far from being the only strategies adopted in “RE:akt!”, which also involves strategies such as documentation, remix, re-invoicement, reconstruction and remediation (such as in the project The Day São Paulo Stopped 2009 by Brazilian artist Lucas Bambozzi), and media such as photographic print, video, media installation and even architecture (such as in the project Il porto dell'amore, by Janez Janša (in collaboration with Bor Pungerčič), an homage to Fiume as an example of pirate utopia).
On Wednesday, March 25, Škuc will host the presentation of the book RE:akt! Reconstruction, Re-enactment, Re-reporting featuring the co-editors Janez Janša, artist and director of Aksioma and the italian theoretician Antonio Caronia. The book was published on March 2009 by FPeditions and includes contributions by Rod Dickinson, Jennifer Allen, Jan Verwoert, Antonio Caronia and Domenico Quaranta. More: www.reakt.org/book
On Saturday, March 28, SS-XXX | Die Frau Helga (2007), by Janez Janša will be presented in a solo show at the Fabio Paris Art Gallery in Brescia, Italy. More: www.fabioparisartgallery.com.
On May 22, the exhibition will travel to MMSU - Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka (Croatia).
FREE IMAGES FOR PRESS and MORE INFO:
Aksioma - Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana
the European Cultural Foundation www.eurocult.org
the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia www.mk.gov.si
the Municipality of Ljubljana www.ljubljana.si
the Italian Cultural Institut in Ljubljana www.iiclubiana.esteri.it/IIC\_Lubiana
The programme of Galerija Škuc is supported by the Ministry of Culture of Republic of Slovenia and the City Council Ljubljana-Cultural department.
Aksioma - Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana
Neubergerjeva 25, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenija
gsm : +386 - (0)41 250 830