AMAZE Berlin events, including talk with Squinky!

I’ll be in Berlin next week for some cool events connected to the Rainbow Arcade exhibition at the Schwules Museum, as part of AMAZE festival. Come along and/or let me know if you want to hang out!

Rainbow Arcade meetup

Monday, April 8 • 14:00 – 18:00

Not sure I can get to this with my flight, but thought I would list it here anyway as it looks nice – details are on the Games Week Berlin website.

Something on Wednesday

To be announced, I guess?

Queer Gaming History chat

Thursday, April 11 • 19:00 – 20:00 (curator tour at 18:00)

I’m having an informal public talk thing with one of my favourite people, Squinky! Details on the AMAZE schedule page. Right before this is the curator tour, which they do every week – Details on the Schwules Museum website.

 

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Postmortem: Hanging textile for Interactive Portraits by Anne Smithies

In the post about Festival of the Mind Futurecade, I mentioned this collaboration with Anne Smithies on a gorgeous, huge textile to accompany my interactive portraits. I first approached Anne about this because of a chat I had in Tokyo with Zep, the maker of the Pico-8 platform that I’ve been working with to make these small software pieces – we were chatting about how a particular graphics feature he’d introduced to the platform a few months earlier was giving works a textile-like quality to them, as you could now build landscapes out of 4×4 repeating pixel patterns. When the Crossover Labs people asked me if I could think of some way to blow up the works to something large-scale that could take up more space in the room, the first thing I thought of was textile arts like crosstitch, knitting, or patchwork. I brought this to Anne, an artist who does a lot of work with textiles, has a giant quilting machine, and does a lot of mixed-media art depicting animals – an important theme, since most of the portraits take animal form. Anne suggested applique, which allowed her to combine repeating patterns with large circle shapes, which is a pretty faithful reproduction of how I’ve coded the portraits’ appearance.

The image I gave Anne to work with is the design for the portrait of Iriya. Iriya’s portrait is the first one I made that wasn’t based on an animal – I generally try to choose an animal that matches something related to a person’s story or a name they use online, but I couldn’t find anything in my interview with Iriya or in their online persona that corresponded to any kind of animal. Then I saw the Georgia O’Keefe painting shown above in an exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, and something clicked. I was really moved by the image of this small being with a huge aura, nestled in an imposing landscape. A lot of things changed when I translated this image into the circle-and-pattern-based system I’m using for the portraits, and I still wanted Iriya to have facial expressions like everyone else, so I made the little glowing being a bit bigger. Anne took this image, and re-inserted colour in the applique process, which ended up bringing it to a good middle spot between the stark black environment of that one portrait, and the very colourful appearance of some of the others.

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Photograph by Festival of the Mind

There are so many surprising little details that Anne incorporated into this piece that I won’t be able to remember them all. She took a load of old computer keycaps that I’ve been collecting and made them into buttons for the text panels, which are detachable – this way, as the interactive portraits tour spaces with different dimensions, the textile can adapt to fill the space differently. We had a whole conversation about which keys on the keyboard are a good fit for the theme, and which are too on-the-nose (we decided that the “shift” and “alt” keys were good, but “m” “t” and “f” were not). The character’s shadow is made of reflective fabric, so that when the textile is photographed with flash it seems to light up. Anne even made sure that her giant quilting machine would follow a route that resembled a circuit board, so that when seen from the back the piece still has interesting visual features that reference its digital origins. One of the most striking features is a result of Anne using vinyl printing to create a very rigid overlay with digital accuracy on the soft fabrics – I think that’s what really makes this piece look like a hybrid between pixel art and patchwork, and makes it into something that I never would have imagined.

I was attracted to the idea of a textile piece because I thought the traditional features of weaving textiles had an intrinsic similarity to the features of coding patterns in Pico-8 (a connection that was certainly inspired by Emilie Reed’s article on the historical link between weaving and coding) so to be honest, the idea of using vinyl printing made me slightly uncomfortable at first. I had this prejudice in my mind about it, like maybe printing is a bit contrived or inauthentic? But nothing Anne does is either of those things, so I trusted that she was onto something, and I am so glad I did.

One of the greatest joys in my life is letting go of my preconceived ideas, so that my eyes are open to something beautiful and fresh, that I could never have seen through my old conceptual goggles. The precision and flatness of the vinyl ended up being very important to this work, and made it into much more than a piece of textile art inspired by a piece of digital art. It’s actually something new, that clearly has a place in both mediums.

Mozilla Festival

My work is being displayed at Mozilla festival, for the Art + Data exhibition.

The Art+Data experience — part of the Mozilla Artists Open Web project — engages artists, designers, technologists, and researchers in an artistic exploration of a healthy web. With an online gallery (https://foundation.mozilla.org/opportunity/artists-open-web) and an exhibition during MozFest, Art+Data will also feature artists in residencies (on site and online) and creative, interactive sessions. Thirty-six art projects will be showcased, and all (including digital and analogue processes) will focus on data knowledge and usage. They also link to the five festival issues of privacy & security, digital inclusion, web-literacy, open innovation, and decentralisation.

They’ll be showing three of my interactive portraits of trans people in Japan – lo-fi experiences made in 8-bit fantasy console Pico-8 that represent real interviews that I carried out during a residency earlier this year. They were also displayed at Festival of the Mind recently, so to learn more you should check out my blog post about that. Also relevant to my interests is the Queering Mozfest experience, which brings together a number of pieces related to the queer internet.

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You can check out all of the exhibited pieces in person at Ravensbourne University London, near the O2 arena, 26 – 28 Oct 2018. Or, check them out online, along with the gorgeous exhibition catalogue, right here: https://foundation.mozilla.org/en/opportunity/artists-open-web/

 

Festival of the Mind

Last month, the first five of my interactive portraits were included in Futurecade in the Sheffield Millennium Gallery, as part of the University of Sheffield’s Festival of the Mind. These are kind of like a cross between Tamagotchi and an RPG dialogue system, and they present dialogue taken verbatim from interviews I carried out with transgender people in Japan as part of the Creator Ikusei residency. I’m going to make 13 in total, six of which are supported by Arts Council funding via the Making Ways project.

An estimated 10,000 people attended Futurecade over the course of a week (I’ll get final attendance figures soon), and it was really a thrill to see so many people encounter this work. It’s a difficult time for the public conversation about trans rights in the UK, so it seems more important than ever to put trans people’s stories into public spaces. One person remarked, “this is incredible! There are so many people I want to show this to … emotive and enjoyable and thought provoking.”

The installation looked more striking than anything I’ve done so far, and that’s because I got talented people to help me with it. Brendan Vance improved the UI, and overhauled the code for me so that the pieces wouldn’t crash in unpleasant or boring ways (mysterious glitches I can live with quite happily, and we left plenty of those in there). Jack Lyus built the plinths for me, out of e-waste sourced from local social enterprise Bitfixit, who also gave me three out of the five computers running the pieces. Making use of computers that would otherwise go into landfill is increasingly important to me lately, and Bitfixit were incredibly generous with the machines they’ve gradually accrued over the years that they haven’t been able to find new homes for. Jack is incredibly practical and creative, and did a great job giving the plinths a sculptural quality with a gallery-ready finish.

That incredible hanging piece you can see in the photos is a quilt made by Anne Smithies. I commissioned Anne to make a giant version of one of the characters, in part inspired by a conversation I’d had in Tokyo earlier this year with Zep, who makes Pico-8, the platform on which the interactive portraits are built. We were talking about how as it reaches its final release, Pico-8 is taking on almost textile-like qualities, because of the way it handles patterns. I’ve been playing up those qualities a lot in my design of the portraits, so I wanted to emphasise that even more by having the banner be a textile piece, rather than just a big digital print. Anne took that idea and ran with it in ways I couldn’t have imagined, and she ended up blending pixel art and traditional quiltmaking into something new that I’ve never seen before. Also, the character is made of reflective material, so if you photograph it with flash it lights up!

There are still many more portraits to finish, and more things that I want to finesse as they find new places to tour and be exhibited. Although I’ve set them up to use NES controllers, the simplest game controllers you can get hold of, these still require some knowledge of basic videogame design conventions to be used properly – people who have never played a videogame before are inclined to press the “start” button to start playing, and press the “select” button to select options on screen, both of which bring up a console menu that I don’t want them playing with. Having volunteers minding the exhibition helped, because the volunteers were trained in how to instruct people to use the pieces – and also, incidentally, in how to calm the pieces down when they start glitching out in ways that are expected behaviour, but still not ideal for usability. I like that aspect of the pieces needing minders, but it’s not always going to be realistic when in every situation they might be installed in.

There also weirder things that I want to do with this – in particular, building on the design style Anne has established with this quilt, and working together on more textile elements of the installation. I’m hoping to get funding to do something cuddly, that also solves the game controller issue, and provides an alternative to the big plinths and old desktop computers, which I won’t be able to transport very far!

 

Dublin Fringe Queer Oasis

This week I’m presenting work at the Dublin Fringe festival as part of the Fully Automated Luxury Gender Oasis by Trans Live Art Salon. I’m giving a reading of my chapter from the Queer Game Studies book on Friday, and I’m also exhibiting my interactive fiction piece “Elixir”. I’m super excited to be involved in a project that explicitly calls for utopian queer marxist world building! Here’s a piece in the Dublin Inquirer where they talk about it

The collective settled on calling the space “The Fully Automated Luxury Gender Oasis” as a nod to an imaginary future in which robots will do all the work and humans will live in luxury as a result.

“Once all work is automated there are two potential options for the future,” says McQuaid-O’Dwyer.

“Either ten people own all the robots and everyone else is starving, or fully automated luxury communism, where the robots do all the work and we all reap the rewards,” […] “It becomes fully automated luxury gay space communism,” says McQuaid-O’Dwyer. “Where all the gays and all the queers can go into space and set up their own luxury communist state.”

About the stuff I’m showing

Elixir

Elixir uses a constructed language to make players navigate the class boundaries and power imbalances of transgender health care… in hell! Play it here

Chaos and Community Histories

A short piece of writing based on a talk I gave at QGCon in 2013, in which I discuss the kinds of aspirations I had as a queer historian of games. It’s in this book by University of Minnesota Press

About the festival

The Trans Live Art Salon is hosting an inclusive space in the heart of the city with performances, readings, queer skill-sharing workshops, all served with tea and biscuits to keep festival-goers going during Fringe-time. Learn more here

 

Dublin Fringe Queer Oasis

This week I’m presenting work at the Dublin Fringe festival as part of the Fully Automated Luxury Gender Oasis by Trans Live Art Salon. I’m giving a reading of my chapter from the Queer Game Studies book on Friday, and I’m also exhibiting my interactive fiction piece “Elixir”. I’m super excited to be involved in a project that explicitly calls for utopian queer marxist world building! Here’s a piece in the Dublin Inquirer where they talk about it

The collective settled on calling the space “The Fully Automated Luxury Gender Oasis” as a nod to an imaginary future in which robots will do all the work and humans will live in luxury as a result.

“Once all work is automated there are two potential options for the future,” says McQuaid-O’Dwyer.

“Either ten people own all the robots and everyone else is starving, or fully automated luxury communism, where the robots do all the work and we all reap the rewards,” […] “It becomes fully automated luxury gay space communism,” says McQuaid-O’Dwyer. “Where all the gays and all the queers can go into space and set up their own luxury communist state.”

About the stuff I’m showing

Elixir

Elixir uses a constructed language to make players navigate the class boundaries and power imbalances of transgender health care… in hell! Play it here

Chaos and Community Histories

A short piece of writing based on a talk I gave at QGCon in 2013, in which I discuss the kinds of aspirations I had as a queer historian of games. It’s in this book by University of Minnesota Press

About the festival

The Trans Live Art Salon is hosting an inclusive space in the heart of the city with performances, readings, queer skill-sharing workshops, all served with tea and biscuits to keep festival-goers going during Fringe-time. Learn more here

Vancouver! Residency? Desk space?

  • Location: Vancouver, BC
  • Dates: 2 months between November 2016 and March 2017
  • Requirements: Desk space. Nothing else!

I’m currently making plans for a trip to Vancouver. While there, I would like to spend a couple of months embedded in a place where people do cool things. This could be a school, a startup, a community centre… I’m pretty open-minded about the form it would take. Maybe you have some random space that feels a bit dusty and unused. Maybe you’re curious about what might happen if someone was there working on cool things and available to chat with people. Maybe you want someone to bring in new ideas to help your team to think about things from a different perspective.

My main goals are:

  • be connected to things that are happening locally
  • create a feedback loop so I can learn from others and share my work

[su_box title=”Know someone who might be interested?” radius=”6″]Please put them in touch! A blurb about the general idea of the project can be found below. [su_spoiler title=”Contact me” icon=”chevron” anchor=”contact”]

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Alien Flora exhibition, part of The Artist’s Studio micro-residencies at Rotherham Open Arts Renaissance

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Embedded practice proposal

I am a PhD student in the department of Sociology at Lancaster University, UK, working with supervisors Lucy Suchman and Adrian MacKenzie. My research concerns mobile, social and indie videogames from 1998 onwards; more specifically, I am interested in the development of intimacies between and among people and technologies, and how game design reflects and constructs relationship dynamics. My work uses affect theory and queer theory alongside approaches from Science and Technology Studies. Outside of the PhD work, I work in the games industry as a historian, curator, linguist and writer.

I will be in Vancouver, BC from November 2016 to February 2017, and I am currently looking for opportunities to spend time embedded in a larger institution through a residency or some other appointment. I find that working alongside others allows me to integrate diverse perspectives into my own work, keeps my concerns grounded in the needs of a broader audience, and allows me to put what I learn into action by workshopping ideas and advising on the work of those around me. Examples of things I have done in the past include living with dance and bodywork artists in California, setting up an installation at an art space in a post-industrial English town, and taking a year-long cultural activities position in a small folk museum in Japan. I also have extensive experience with community organising activities such as running conferences, activist groups and running publications.

I am open-minded about the form that my engagement in Vancouver might take, but some examples of the sort of thing I have in mind are:

✺ A further education institution has some vacant space in a foyer, and would like an artist to come and show students something different; in return for use of that space for six hours a day, four days a week, I spend one afternoon a week leading seminars or supervising students.

✺ A start-up has moved into a new office space, which features a ground-floor window. Currently the window is a rather unappealing, dusty display that does not reflect the company’s dynamic, innovative brand. I come in to use the space as a micro gallery and studio, making the company look awesome and consulting with the team to enrich their work.

✺ An LGBTQ+ community project is organising a programme of art events. I join the project as a curator of digital art, bringing to bear my experiences as a queer transgender man and as a design historian to help create workshops and exhibitions.

It would be of great help to me if you could pass on this message to anyone who might be curious about the possibility of setting up a residency, or some other appointment that would involve integrating a researcher, curator or critic into their project.

Zoyander Street
rupazero.com

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