Further lessons from magical kingdoms

In which we draw some technical conclusions.

Sanity Clause.

Before going deeper it’s worth a sanity check, in that the finances of our test subjects are beyond our reckoning. The rides described here cost around $100 million to create – and a whole land such as Universal’s Harry Potter is estimated at half a billion. What can we small makers learn from their construction?

Your short film is not going to be Star Wars – but the expensive failure of the latest Star Wars film Solo is lesson that resonates with any level of storytelling*. The successes and failures of giants still provide lessons for the rest of us.

3D video isn’t viable.

There’s a period from around 2010 to 2016 where Universal used 3D technology on rides such Transformers and the Simpsons – around the same time that cinema took on the format. The obvious Great Disappointment comes in 2016 when the Harry Potter ride was upgraded to remove 3D projection. Notably the more recent DreamWorks Theatre uses no 3D.

Meh

Meh… too dark

The reasons are familiar to any 3D cinema goer – I found the 3D glasses to be clumsy, dirty and to cut out light, making for a dark and distant experience. Instead Potter and DreamWorks use HD screens that wrap around your field of view, and frankly you don’t notice the missing depth.

http://www.leparcorama.com/2013/04/20/wizarding-world-of-harry-potter-and-the-forbidden-journey-universal-orlando-islands-of-adventure/harry-potter-and-the-forbidden-journey-fully-exposed-4/

Taken from http://www.leparcorama.com here is the Harry Potter ride, giant screens at the left and giant robot arm at right. Look at the curvature on that telly.

Seeing as we’re working on a smaller scale this brings up the question, which I think has moved from “is VR failing?” to “in what way is VR failing?” The parks are finding that glasses are not as effective as real world set building, and VR helmets are even less appealing. Notably Google is moving into something called “VR180” on the basis that almost no one actually looks behind them. It can be experienced on a helmet but will probably end up being a domestic ‘very wide screen’ projection system. This would represent an enormous retreat from the all-seeing 360 eye of VR.

And so they mix video and physical sets.

The latest rides use flat or curved video framed in built sets. No one believes that the video is actually part of the set, but so long as the two are designed to collaborate on story, the effect is accepted. Projection mapping is definitely a key skill as is set design.

Wall panels with video screens placed at the top. You can see at the top left a screen pretending to be one of the panels below.

But motion beats just about anything.

When you are being thrown around by large forces you’re immersed. In fact, some of the rides – Guardians of the Galaxy, The Mummy, and to a certain extent Space Mountain, rely on absence of visual cues. Motion simulators and motorised theatre seating is a proven and effective way to grab people, and no wonder some cinemas, even in Australia, are installing 4DX technology for feature films.

This is terrible news for the small designer, who’s unlikely to have access to this kind of effect. No matter how effective a VR headset may be, it can’t compete with motors. I can imagine some technology that would talk directly to your vestibular system, but not this year or the next.

Cheer Up: That we enjoy so many films without physical effects just comes back to the fundamentals – make us care and we’ll watch.

Except sound. Sound everywhere.

Sound is never neglected by the big players. The usual rig involves multiple speakers positioned on a ride car to provide a surround image for the riders. The sound stage for King Kong 3d uses a 22-channel mix, delivered on 16-speaker ‘clusters’ spaced along the stage. Disney places multiple speakers, as much as one per sound, so that they remain invisible to the audience.

Speaker arrays are beyond the reach of most small practitioners, but ambisonics has reached mainstream DAWs in 2018, and every sound designer now has the ability to produce a 3rd order image that can be subsequently mapped to speaker arrays if and when a specific project becomes available.

Haunted Houses.

Most of our vacation was spent being chased by scare actors in Halloween Horror Nights. Definitely something for a select audience, but something that could be expanded into a wider entertainment format.

Not so spooky in the daytime, but you can see the set building.

Not so spooky in the daytime, but you can better see the set building.

HHN includes a set of physical mazes, each about the same size as a small house, ground floor only. A queue of people goes in the front, weaving their way around in near darkness. Some parts of the house open up into wider rooms with set pieces – for example some sequential scenes from the old Poltergeist movie. The corridors are filled with hidden openings out of which pop scare actors, people in costume that pretend to stab or grab you as you go by. The noise level is intense – the Stranger Things house sounded like a plane taking off.

But a couple of things stop these from being scary. Most of all you’re one of hundreds of people flowing through these mazes at fast pace. The constant flow of people means you’re never in a state of apprehension, as tension is rarely allowed to build. If there’s a girl that screams in front of you, every scare actor will go for them and hide again by the time you get there. Lack of room means that the actors can only make repeated motions, although some of the better mazes had enough space for variation (the Universal Monsters maze was best for this).

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There are also scare zones in which the attacks are more free form and creative. They work better because the actors have creative freedom, but are harder to define and market. I think these are models for something new where a ‘swarm’ of characters gather you up into events, the way that massive online gaming works. And yes, I have no idea how you would do this. Yet.

* Don’t extend your population of characters so far that you need an encyclopedia. There’s only so much care to share.

Treasure Map 2

I am exhibiting a virtual world called Treasure Map 2 for Unsound Krakow. This is now in production and it’s time to go behind the scenes and see what’s coming your way late October.

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Come on in!

The first Treasure Map was part of the Rhine album – it includes 5 video ‘beacons’, a world map and a set of lyrical clues. I’m not surprised that the meanings are still hidden – life was never meant to be easy. In creating the new Treasure Map I’ve made things much more immediate – it should take you a few minutes to find your first milk bottle and start dying.

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That was some party. A real killer.

If you played HH which came with Adelaide Festival 2013, you’d recall there was an underground bunker, and a back story about a ‘princess’ trapped in there, exploited in a dream like manufacturing process. You can get the whole back story here. TM2 is a riff on this story – a side show. Let’s say much much later people started to dig up these bunkers for the explosive energy they contained. Let’s say they piped out this ‘witches milk’, put it in silos, put it in bottles to power things. And of course there’s trouble when you do that sort of thing.They desperately tried to seal it up again, left signs and barriers and scarecrows.

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A perfect place for a picnic.

But any place where there’s trouble, there’s treasure. People still come for the ‘milk bottles’, people like you who have no idea what they were once for. You can wander around the island as much as you like, see the sights. Eventually you’re going to find a milk bottle. Drink it, you may as well. Or you might find where the milk comes from. That’ll kill you too. Some things will heal you and if you’re careful you might get to drink all the milk.

It’s essentially a music album, fuelled by toxic ‘witches milk’. You drink to hear the music, then try heal yourself enough for the next batch.

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Maybe you could – but it would take you a long time to get there.

Two months out from launch the island is built, the wind blows and the water ripples. There are structures, warning signs, signs of previous visitors, who have left you some warning information. Milk vats and bottles are spread around the place, only a few have milk in them. I just scripted the effects of drinking one – impaired vision, music, a big drop in health. Once tested on a single bottle it gets copied to the rest. The healing places are not yet built. Underground corridors are in their early stages. The ‘witch house’ is made but needs much more detail, although you won’t live long enough to see much of it.

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We use only natural wind power to pump our toxic sludge.

Very likely it’ll be a version 1.0 that gets out in October, with additions later on. For one person to get this going is hard work and there’ll be bugs. But anything that gets away from playing music from 30 years ago is worth all the late nights.

Why must art students learn coding?

I’m not opposed to it. I’m actively organising it for my particular barrel of monkeys. But the opinion seems to be much stronger than the reasoning and I would be glad to hear a well formed argument as to why Mary has to put down the paintbrush and start to type…

… what? That’s the other thing. This expert wants Processing. That one is all for Max. Is Max coding? There’s Python and Objective C and snapping blocks together Scratch style. Sometimes I hear that such and such is only scripting which isn’t coding and well that just won’t do!

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Look, when I was a teen I bought one of the very first home computers (the Trash 80) and sat down and learned how to code. I exhibited my nasty machine code hacking of a C64 in public way back in the early 80’s and have tried very hard to keep up with developments since. So I’m not swayed by platitudes like ‘coding is just like sketching and artists need to sketch ideas’. Excuse me, it’s nothing like sketching and anyone who says that should write their own paint software from scratch as punishment (I did that once, it sucked).

I am grateful for any considered opinion from people who have actually coded. Please no philosophers. Why is coding something that art/design students should learn?

Also: http://workfunc.com/differences-between-programmers-and-coders/

Superfractalisticextracrappyatrocious.

mandelbrot

Deep in the neo-hippy outbreak of the early 90s, I wrote a rude article about Mandelbrots, describing them as multicoloured bird shits. I stand by that description, with one concession over two decades: the nature of fractal art is to look like multicoloured bird shit, the art is in elevating it from that nature.

That’s something I’m desperately trying to do.

Why are cassettes like Marxism?

This is a part of redeeming video synthesis, which shares fractal art’s innate tendency to shitness. In the 1980’s it was hard/cool to make wiggles on a video screen. In the 1990’s it was hard/cool to render complex geometry on a computer screen. Once a new media difficulty curve is overcome the pioneers and tinkerers move on, and lacking any other virtue, the new wave quickly rots into excuses. As happened with punk music, abstract expressionism and telephone poetry.

In the 21st century many old things are coming back to life, but for some reason with little or no insight or refinement. The explanation is sometimes given as nostalgic purity – that only the ur-form is authentic. Cassettes and Marxism are both to be unsoiled by revision.

The way I see it, video synthesis addressed some limitations in music, but then introduced further limits which were solved by fractals, which then introduced limits which are still in need of solving. Instead of which we careened off into minimalist grey and little ticking noises. That we have arrived back at the aesthetics of 1980 something shows how little the 2000’s contributed to the dialogue.

But I’m not here to go into that – this post is about positive steps I’ve made and information about what is available to the next lot of tinkerers.

First, let’s be clear about synthetic visuals. Networks of simple calculations leading to apparently complex, and therefore ‘natural’ results. A Mandelbrot is a single shape with an infinitely complex edge (actually so is a circle, that’s just not as interesting). Most of the control is in shading the exterior of the shape according to rules; such as how far you are from the edge of the formula.

by Diane Cooper. Not sure I like it, but she’s got the right idea.

The initial excitement in fractals was that nature – weather, flowers, landscapes, could possibly have a simple mathematical basis. The 90’s neo-hippies strived to wed the apparent power of the home computer to nature and thus gain magical insight. Rendering a Mandelbrot was a contemplation of this potential (as was all things virtual). The colours were hot primaries because they had symbolic meaning a la chakras. As with Futurism, the art itself was beside the point, the manifestos were the thing.

My personal interest is in trying to take the facility of video synthesis, the organic confabulation of fractals and impose some kind of painterly discipline that will create synthetic audiovisual work that doesn’t rely on sleeve notes. I’ll then use these to demo my thesis a few years from now.

Mandelbrots are only one of many complex forms – the Julia set is less predictable and more interesting. And Perlin Noise is an example of very different recipe, of boxes within boxes each with a random shade. All are useful in breaking up synthetic images into the detailed dirt and fuzz of the real world.

Experiments in bird poo Abstract video.

Coming from 3D, I first tried tools for texturing 3D models, for example Genetica. These have a good palette of procedures for noise and organic patterns, as 3D has a tradition of naturalism. But Genetica is aimed at creating repeating square tiles and looping animation, so most of what I got was very cyclic and contained.

I thought about software that makes infinite 3D landscapes. In reading the history of Bryce I was reminded that it was created by Eric Wenger, who made Metasynth and a program I’d forgotten – Artmatic. Now if you wanted to plot the epicentre of neo-hippydom, Artmatic is it. Brightly coloured space vomit was the domain of Wenger, Kai Krause and MetaCreations up to the great wizard collapse of 1999. But a lead is a lead and so I came to the site where 1990 lives forever – U & I software. Holy Shit, that site.

It's 1999 and the future is HOT GREEN

It’s NINETEEN NINETY NINE and the future is HOT GREEN

Who would have thought that Artmatic would reach version 5? And further, that it would develop into a broad system for animating synthetic visuals? Though the interface still yearns to be run at 800×600 pixels and the iconography is inscrutable, Artmatic has taken on a potent range of outcomes beyond the original aims of the software and I can recommend it as one of the few really versatile algorithmic visual tools.

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Take a space and shade it in grey scale from -x to +x and -y to +y. Distort that shading with snippets of formulas that link up in a chain of icons. Colour and light the grey scale with complex gradations. I don’t fully know how to run it. The man who wrote it doesn’t fully know how to run it. But I’ve started to get enough skill in guiding it where I want to go.

Cross platform poo Abstract art.

So this was all very good, but while the Mac was grinding away at some watery thing I had a bunch of PCs lounging around and not earning their keep. There’s no Artmatic for PC, what could I find?

Again I started at the end & wound back through a history. I found Chaotica on this site which seemed promising, but then read that “Chaotica supports all Apophysis / Flam3 features”. What are these? It turns out that there’s been a tribe of people making fractal flames since Scott Draves specified the algorithm in 1992. For example, Apophysis is an open source tool that if anything makes Artmatic seem straightforward.

(Trigger warning – the Mac tool mentioned in this video will crash your Mountain Lion based OSX machine for some reason).

Apophysis is designed to be hard to predict – that would be fine if 90% of the results weren’t fairy floss, so I went looking for more control. I discovered someone had ported the code to After Effects in 2002, which may as well have been under the rule of Richard the Third in computing terms. No it doesn’t run in AFX CS6. It does run in AFX 4.1. which I make no apologies for finding online – hell, it’s a wonder that 11 year old software runs in Windows 7 at all. But what you get is a whole heap of inscrutable sliders. Not good.

After much fussing with open source I settled on buying Ultra Fractal. This is the ultimate multicoloured bird shit creator of all time, and it took a lot of Gin to bury my misgivings and hit the PayPal. But then, it’s a challenge: try to make something that isn’t found on the side of a Kombi van. And then I came up with the answer!

Garfield without Garfield.

Seeing as the goodness is all in the way you colour the field in relationship to the edge of the fractal, the answer is obvious: just don’t include the fractal. Show only the effect of the fractal in disturbing the space. The bird shit is gone, leaving an abstract colour field.

The example here is nowhere near what I want yet, I just like how it looks like one of my migraines. I still need to add grit and dirt. But it’s getting closer to something I can work with. The way Ultra Fractal handles formulas is a bit raw and nasty, lots of folders full of crowd sourced snippets. I’ve just found the Perlin noise code and have some early results; it could be good. Meanwhile Ultra Fractal can import flames, so I can put away the 11 year old After Effects.

This post is already way long, so maybe another time I can talk about Studio Artist – quite a different kettle of synthetics.

Oops sorry I arted again.

I swear I’m done, beaten, bushed, worn out. Surely 2013 was productive enough to fill my research bingo card for at least a while? Please?

Last gig was to produce an animation to accompany Saturn from Holst’s The Planets. Nine and a half minutes, or 14,500 frames if I rendered every one and I very nearly did. At this moment the orchestra is grinding through the whole show over and over again, sobbing as they cope with the weird timings of the assembled animati of whom I am but one. I’ve never been told who else was working on this project. I hope it wasn’t anyone too good.

About Holst. He was a Theosophist of course. Every artist of the 20th Century seems to be one.

So there’s a bunch of clocks, which decide to assemble themselves into The King of Clocks. (A particle system which tracks a human form, animated by motion capture).

long walk above

He gets the red carpet treatment for a while and is enthroned. But obviously time passes and he gets a little bored of sitting around for ever. (Manually animated this bit).

boredman1

And so he acts up and there’s a bit of a punch up. (Particle EXPLOSIONS!)

big bang3

Which gets way out of hand.

atom_1

And everything gets destroyed. Our hero dies, and through heavy application of After Effects, becomes an island covered in plants that took an annoyingly long time to render. (Used Vue3d. Some of this bit took 24 hours per 20 seconds)static_1

Now a giant tree grows out of his navel. Everything so far makes perfect sense but I guess the giant tree is a bit of stretch. So in the tree there are perched… guess what? (To hell with this bit – had to take scenes from Vue and integrate them with Cinema 4D).

clock5

And you see this is how clocks get made. Or something. They fly out of tree and then … oh OK, yeah well it’s art. So.

So this gets performed next weekend here.

Then it goes on tour, and is shown on outside screens all around the world. I’ll announce where it goes next on twitter, because obviously it doesn’t need a whole blog for each showing.

So maybe now I get to sit around? Doing nothing? After work? Please?

Throw a brick at my head.

You happen to have a brick and nothing much to do with it.

single-brick

“If only I had somebody to throw this brick at”, you say. And like magic I bring meaning to your masonry. Yes, several opportunities to use that brick. But here’s the deal – you have to wait until I say “analogue digital nexus”. The moment I say that you can hurl away and the entire room will applaud you for stopping that shit right there.

BRICK 1: SUNDAY 9TH JUNE 1PM at the MUSEUM of CONTEMPORARY ART

This panel session looks at the retrieval, revival and remediation of old technologies and media. In a world of pervasive digital technologies and media, there is a growing nostalgia and fascination with old technologies and media artifacts such as old photographs and analogue sound technologies. Everything old is new again as it is recuperated and given new meaning.

If you know me, you know I am going Opposition on this debate. Lucas Abela and Ross Gibson are maybe in favour of old boots, in which case I will start throwing furniture.

But actually it’s those two words ‘fascination’ and ‘nostalgia’ being equated here which is going to need some surgery. ‘Fascination’ is a positive, the other not so much.

BRICK 2: FRIDAY 14TH JUNE 3PM at Ancher House Gallery, 86 River Road Emu Plains

Part of the NOISE exhibition where they have musicians working from paintings. Because I am extra smug I did a video of the music of the painting and I am being punished by making a presentation. I think my first point will be how people who make paintings call an exhibition of music ‘noise’, and what the hell is it with that? Followed by a drunken brawl between the musicians and painters. The musicians will win because the painters are all dead.

BRICK 3: SATURDAY 15TH JUNE around 11AM onwards at Campbelltown Arts Centre

So here you will meet:
Troy Innocent & Benjamin Kolaitis
Stephen Jones & Pia van Gelder
Wade Marynowsky & Michael Candy
Linda Dement & Kelly Doley
Tom Ellard and Paul Greedy
Note how I have carefully placed myself near the end of this parade so that very likely some other artist will say ‘analogue digital nexus’ and you will brick early. If that doesn’t work then I’m going to say it, run like hell and let Paul catch it.
Not sure what I am going to talk about this time. I thought maybe I could stare fixedly and agitatedly at some point on the ceiling until everybody else starts doing it.

So what is the ANALOGUE DIGITAL NEXUS?

You use ‘old’ tools, you use ‘new’ tools. Actually you just do whatever works and somebody decides that the world is a better place if we divide things into categories based on some mythical event. No one really knows what this event is, but it doesn’t stop the research papers pumping out.

Is it computers? Nope – old computers are old tools, the word analogue is waved around quite a bit but it often gets mixed up with digital primitivism. Considering I was doing public art with a computer in 1983 (a Vic 20!) and that’s definitely Ye Olde Times it’s not computers per se.

The unknown mythical event seems to be the last time ISEA came to town in 1992. That would indicate it’s an issue of respect; the 1992 ISEA was about paying respect to the new tools. The 2013 ISEA has come to bury them. ‘Oh man, I can’t believe I used to like The Monkees’.

Makedo_Robot_Costume_1

There is a difference in tool worship – these days we are supposedly indifferent to tools because other people can use them overseas for less money. I always wonder what that has to do with art, although I notice that quite a few ‘artists’ don’t actually do their own work. But anyway that difference can easily be questioned by robots. Whereas computers are supposedly uncool, robots are everywhere. Because robots are cool.

The nexus is a supposed ‘dialogue’ between the supposed categories. If that discussion was conducted on two tin cans and a piece of string. Held by ROBOTS.

Arting

You are no doubt enjoying the quiet. Sorry this won’t take long.

I am arting quite a bit, exceedingly arting right now and this alongside the tedious administration at work, leaves not much time to run the newspaper. (I do tweet but it’s not very satisfying, like when you microwave something because there’s no time to cook a real meal.)

Anyway, what’s going on:

clavilux

This is Mr. Paul Greedy who is seen tickling my tablet, connected to our (mostly his) nearly finished Clavilux. This fine mechanical contraption is about to go off to Campbelltown Art Centre to be part of an exhibition called Catching Light. Paul took care of the physical side and I took care of the spiritual in the form of software to paint the colours according to Theosophical thought forms.

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Ralph Balson similar to the one that I did the video to the soundtrack to painting. Book rights still available.

Apparently the NOISE exhibit is going on the road, including my video of my soundtrack of a Balson painting. At least I have to get over to Penrith to make a speech about something arty. Actually I got a bunch of speeches coming up. Cask wine, I am ready for you.

saturn_rubens

My main worry is a commission to create an animation to accompany a live orchestra that’s banging out Holst’s The Planets in August. I was given Saturn although of course I went for Uranus. Saturn goes for about 9 minutes. That’s only 13,500 frames. Of course I am not panicked. After all, only 1000+ people worked on Fantasia.

I’ve decided to make something roughly like my The Ant Can See Legs video, except with the particle system forming an old man rather than a young woman. After all, that was  about 4 minutes, so it seems doable. Thing is we have a motion capture system at work and so I can probably get somebody to act out the role of Saturn for me, maybe even eating some children. Then it’s just computers. Lots of computers.

 

How Now?

It’s Easter! According to plan the ABC will soon bump out the game and the snot video to make way for others, and rightly so. The Australian Screen and Sound Archive will then archive it all, as well as sevcom.com – which I find I little disturbing as it makes the same sound as a coffin lid being nailed shut. From the inside.

I don’t know how that will work, it’s not like archive.org which does a small snapshot – they will acquire the whole thing, as it stands, and are unlikely to revisit it. This might be for the best as it forces an end point. I do like to improve and tinker 🙁

2-Wilfred-clavilux

Then Paul Greedy and myself are working on a new model of Clavilux. This device belongs to Thomas Wilfred, and full credit to him. There is however scope to build some new bits into it – we intend to keep everything that is better analogue and revise everything that is best done by computer. I am very aware that Wilfred was a Theosophist and the machine will follow the visual music as set out by his religious beliefs. The device will be on display as part of ISEA.

I’m personally amused the initial brief was for the ‘old artist’ (me) to guide the ‘young artist’ (Paul) in ye olde art techniques. As it is, Paul is much better at analogue design and I am more interested in the software. To the extent that I’m building a software version as well (or at least trying). It also (thank the gods) aligns with my much neglected doctorate.

Coming up soon an exhibition of music paintings – I have made a Ralph Balson as music, and a video to go with it. Can’t show you that until the show is run. If you are in Penrith then:

Noise_invitation

Visual artists love the word NOISE for some reason. I guess they fear the fighting that goes with MUSIC.

Maybe after these are done I can get a bit of a break. The day job is howling for attention.

But actually, well, I’ve been thinking about HH. You see, I’m not disappointed but I have to admit that the alternative worlds presented by that game were a bit too geometrical. A game built in 3D software has rigidity, it stands up and makes sense. You can render absurdity, but (at least I) can’t quite manage that in real time modelling. When trying to get HH made one theory was to use panoramic photography, and I think that is still the best way to create a more exotic realm, with music.

The music is attached to the photographs and so it’s not mobile or interactive unless I find a way to combine photography and 3D. That is the current research screwing around which I will henceforth call H3. Yep, another game. In the meantime an update on HH is underway.

Andy Warhol’s Mother

This evening the first level of [H.H] is running! Only the bare bones – the main furniture and architecture, with none of the sound toys installed. But you can walk around and explore and the big Universal Time Machine is spinning and announcing the minutes and … other things. Feeling like I might be making the deadline!

I’ve been thinking a great deal about creativity and curation over the last weeks. I’ve always excused my curmudgeonly ways because despite all my vocal distaste for everything – I still create, still add to the cultural storehouse. Only those times when I can’t create does it seem unhealthy.

My acidic views get applied to myself first and usually get the desired effect – more effort. I’ve more often murdered my own trash than let it defame me. Only if there’s no remedy in critique do I back off. This is natural to me but seems others work better on praise and sugarplums.

That creative bargain doesn’t work if you’re curating other people’s efforts. You have to like something or there’s no show. You have to justify the positive to get it included, talk it up, smooth the concerns even if you have them. You can’t just fake it, you really have to warm to things.

If I am ever going to curate, then I have to analyse the negative.

A fundamental problem I have with most art is that it works backwards. It should work like this:

  • Internal necessity demands expression (Kandinsky).
  • Exploring the means of expression over time brings a solution.
  • The artwork is birthed in a passion of creation. It takes struggle.
  • An audience is taken by surprise by this personal act and slowly comes to respect the work even if it doesn’t suit their tastes.

But usually works like this:

  • A deadline is set for exhibition or assessment by some money keeper.
  • The artist or curator, who has political ambitions, finds out the current tastes of the audience.
  • They concoct something that suits the meanest expectations of the event.
  • Everybody gets paid and the audience feels slightly amused for a short time before wandering off to the next thing.

Just about everything I pick on comes from this principle: mindless projection mapping, 8 bit graphics on iPads, Krautrock reunion tours, skateboard ballet and so on. Take for example projection mapping, which starts from having a landmark building to project onto and works backwards to any plausible idea that can be excused for doing so. To find something praise worthy – Amon Tobin’s current light show to the extent that it is supposed be a cubist aeroplane that’s he’s flying – which is a fun idea – but not when the space is just being filled with coloured blocks.

There’s always something recent than you can do, which leads to people that do it in the vague hope of finding a point to it. That was New Media. It died.

Around 2006 I was asked to participate in an exhibition of mobile art – phones and GPS and that sort of thing. I thought about it for a week before I said no, because honestly I had nothing worth saying about mobile phones. The organiser was amazed – that had never stopped anyone before.

Another principle which I find important is that the artwork be bigger than the signature. Take for example a great video that an honours student identified the other day:

It’s a visualisation of human DNA replication that has been done with a great deal of accuracy and artistry by Drew Berry – which has been commissioned by Bjork with the condition that her face be inserted into it around the 4 minute mark. “Oh look this is beautiful! But it will be even more beautiful with MY FACE whacked in there!” Actually, no. There was something that was unique, and then become the equivalent of a Thomas Kincade painting of Jesus in seconds flat. It didn’t need to be made so obviously a vanity project.

Artists will find a trademark and then be terrified to move away from it in case the audience turns on them. In fact finding a trademark – whether a slow motion skateboard or a monochrome Joshua Tree – and being branded for life like a prize steer is the ambition of ‘artists’. Again this is a reverse of the way it should be, where popularity directs the artist like a puppet show. and climbing into the cage is their heart’s desire.

These and other concerns are all to do with the politics of art, and that the art that we get to see most is that which has played the politics. Go to an exhibition and you’ll see the work of the self promoters, the glib tongues and crowd pleasers. The people you really want are invisible. What to do?

Don’t fund art, so that only the passionate will be involved. But that leaves the wealthy, and punishes the poor. It shouldn’t have anything to do with money, plus or minus. Try again.

Only exhibit when there is something to show. That’s better, although a multitude of arts administrators are not going to put up with that. They get a wage from putting things on, as much as possible. Also, there is a public benefit to exhibiting, in that it may bring some joy. So they need to be told.

Get rid of arts administrators. It has a certain charm, but why not get rid of art academics as well? If I am going to get rid of something, then lead by example. (Actually there’s a possibility that I’ll be unemployed soon, so check this space).

Refuse to be involved in the art scene. Um, yeah, that just leaves the toadies. That’s pretty close to doing nothing at all. If you care, then better to be heard than be silent.

These are all bold and not very precise. We can do better.

Make an exhibition which reveals and publicly opposes these problems. Now you’re politicking! First of all, don’t let people know they are in the exhibition. Swoop in and take them by surprise the night before opening. If they think they’re in, they’re out.

Make sure that every second exhibit is actually bought from a service station and pay people to write lavish essays about them in the catalogue. Or actually hold the exhibition in a service station.

If you’re dealing with a known artist refuse their trademark and force them to do something else, for example, the tuba. Make them anonymous. Have every work in the exhibition signed by Ethel Schwug. Or swap tags.

Force everyone to make something called “Piss Christ”. Make everyone work on one single object called “Piss Christ”.

I’m feeling more confident about this curation business already.

 

Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist

…and other mind fucks. Happily for me while compiling a list of weird games for a lecture, a discussion opened up on Something Awful on that very topic. Pleased to see that I had already nominated some of the finest, and also to learn of new wonders to behold.

First: this promo for Octodad is something I will forever treasure in my heart. Video art.

The game itself simulates an octopus in a suit attempting to convince people that it’s a completely normal dad; mind numbingly difficult, pathetic and wonderfully spiteful. I’m more into their using a messed up ’tilted cart’ version of  the game as the sales pitch –  it instantly holds an unreasonable position.

Randy Balma probably started just as a simulation of repeatedly driving a school bus into oncoming traffic high on mushrooms, but as the high highs higher it launches a rocket propelled Big Ben into collisions with space junk. Messhof (Mark Essen) has followed an Art Game path since graduation in 2008 – his latest Nidhogg won big in the 2011 Game Developers Conference. But to my mind he’s lost that intense distaste for all life that marked Randy Balma’s contribution to civilisation. Which I share.

I hadn’t heard of The Adventures of D. Duck before. Apart from appearing to be designed by a traumatised 6 year old it’s a reasonably standard point and click adventure starring grossly deformed animals.

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But if you are going to truly Adventure, then go straight to the obsessive compulsive side of the field – the outsider Role Playing Games. Queen of the pack is Dream Diary, hatched by ‘Kikiyama’ in 2005. Like nearly all such outsider RPGs it’s built on RPG Maker, a Japanese authoring kit for depressingly similar landscapes of castles and armed dwarves. Dream Diary, or Yume Nikki probably first gained praise for eschewing all dwarves – which grew wildly when players realised that the AUTHOR IS PROFOUNDLY DISTURBED. Maybe.

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Definitely.

For a game where you spend most of your time lost in an 8 bit pixelated nightmare it’s created a rabid community of fans who are obsessed with every aspect of the hero girl Windowed (‘is she a transexual?’), her tiny apartment that she can only leave when asleep (‘post traumatic stress’) and the vaguely threatening wildlife that live in her dreams. Like the ‘Bird People’:

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All of whom look like Julia Gillard, but are said by fans to represent childhood tormentors. They’re harmless unless you stab them in which case they’ll confine you to dreams where the only escape is to wake up. The subject of most fan obsession is a cross eyed piano player who looks a little like Michael Jackson meets Ryuichi Sakamoto who crash lands a space ship on Mars so …

Hell, it’s too complicated. Just watch this small bit.

I don’t particularly like RPGs (not into dwarves) but I’m currently working through a French one called OFF. This one has more traditional heroes and battles, but your main character is a baseball batter, aided by angelic hoops and guided by a pretentious cat judge. I managed to get through a city made of meat fountains and fought against a giant bird which lives inside another cat. I’m told it’ll all make sense if I can get to the end of it. It’s that promise of hidden knowledge that drives me on (and probably why people become Scientologists). I’m just a bit tired of fighting whales in the shopping centre.

Normally I choose peaceful stories, like The Woodcutter.

Should have sent a poet.

Then there are the Art Games. LSD Dream Simulator is a Playstation title allegedly based on 10 years of dreams had by a lady called Hiroko Nishikawa. If so, the poor thing dreamed in very blocky low resolution graphics. Walk around blocky streets finding blocky animals floating in the sky, or blocky corpses on the ground. Touch something and another dream starts. They get more dour and morose over the 365 days of game time. Sometimes a bad thing may happen. That’s about it.

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Since the days of LSD the graphics have got better but the attention whoring and lack of genuine engagement remains the sure sign of an Art Game. There’s a common texture to Yume Nikki and LSD but the differences are most helpful. Whether it’s a prank like Randy Balma or a warped world like Yume Nikki, it’s the insularity of the game that makes it appealing, the complete disregard for audience. They’re a personality you have to engage as the Other, as you do with real people you first meet.  Art Games want to be agreeable – LSD even comes as a coffee table book. That’s too comforting and controlled, like small talk with a celebrity*.

The phrase Inscrutable Energy popped into my mind today (the birds** are busy at the moment.) I think it requires that the appeal of a work is a bipolar force – the positive is represented the sweet, brightly coloured game like Angry Birds. The negative is much harder to create and to define but it’s equally powerful in inspiring playfulness.

I’ve a couple of projects looming for 2013 in which I’m being asked to justify a theme appropriate for the art of this moment – a hard thing (deservedly hard) for anyone as old and cynical as me. The New Aesthetic is not it. I really think it’s The Inscrutable. Only the inscrutable can withstand the forces that would apply metrics to art and devolve it into recipes and academies. The only power that can defeat Research is The Inscrutable. That should be our goal.

* For reasons I won’t go into I shook hands with Kevin Rudd today. He spoke to me like The Queen addressing a Commoner. I bet it was as tedious for him as was for me.

** It’s hard to answer when somebody asks about sudden inspiration. I tend to say that ‘the birds put it there’ because that’s how it seems to come, and the image is (hopefully) less offensive than claiming to be inspired. Sometimes the birds get too busy – right now a month or so of depression has lifted and the manic chattering of birds is driving me a bit nuts. It’ll end with a bang in about a week from now.