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.

artdata.png

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/

 

Advertisements

Icon Magazine article on Videogames architecture

I wrote the cover article for this month’s issue of Icon magazine! Huge thanks to Priya Kanchandani for reaching out with this opportunity.

20180927_212228

The article is an overview of spatial narrative, with a particular focus on titles that have been included in the V&A’s big videogames exhibition, such as Journey, Kentucky Route Zero, and The Last of Us. It’s a good time for “games as architecture” readings, with Heterotopias zine having provided an attractive home for architecturally-inclined games criticism, and architects such as my friend Claris Cyarron doing good work in the field. I felt quite gratified bringing that kind of approach to a magazine with a strong grounding in architecture, that wouldn’t normally cover videogames.

I mention Henry Jenkins “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” in this article – this is a foundation text that you always want to have on your Games Studies conference bingo card, but I still wish I was hearing more games critics talk about “narrative architecture”, and a bit less of the “ludonarrative” chatter, which often amounts to a petty game of “spot the dissonance”. I don’t know if this imbalance comes down to videogames exceptionalism (“we need our own word, for that special thing that only happens in our medium”) or whether it’s about people feeling intimidated by architecture’s status as this ancient art that goes back to the dawn of civilisation, and not wanting to be in dialogue with that institutionalised behemoth.

Another piece that I mention in this article, which I will never shut up about for as long as I live, is Samantha Allen’s article on the Borderhouse Blog back in 2013, which discussed the design of game spaces and player-characters’ movement across them in terms of gendered constraints on the spatial possibilities of bodies in society. My affection for this article is only strengthened by the fact that you can’t even google it anymore, because the Borderhouse Blog is gone – you have to find the link in the Wayback Machine. Talk about the world having no space for you – marginalised writing on games has to fight just to exist on the internet. As I indicated in a Critical Distance post, this article is enriched even further by reading it in dialogue with another piece by Henry Jenkins, entitled “Complete freedom of movement“.

Claris Cyarron’s GDC talk on architecture is also well worth checking out. Claris is one of the world’s top experts on narrative architecture in practice: she’s formally trained in architecture, and has worked with a lot of game developers over the past few years to bring this narrative design approach to their projects.

Icon-Nov18-VideoGames

You can get this issue of Icon through the Pocketmags app here: https://pocketmags.com/icon-magazine

Or subscribe to the physical magazine here: https://www.iconeye.com/magazine

And please keep an eye out for it in your local bookshops or art museum shops – please send me photos if you see it somewhere!

 

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!

 

Freelands Artist Programme

 

In an amazing piece of good news, I’ve been selected for a new programme supporting artists in the UK! It’s a two-year residency that includes some financial support as well as mentoring, access to archive collections, and exhibition space in London as well as at the Site Gallery in Sheffield.

The other artists selected in Sheffield this year are Alison J Carr, Yuen Fong Ling, Sian Williams and Lucy Vann. We’re already starting to feel like a bit of a cohort, and I’m looking forward to us finding ways to work together and make weird stuff. In total, there will be 20 artists supported by this programme in Sheffield over the next five years, and another 20 in three other cities: Cardiff, Belfast, and Edinburgh.

More:

https://www.sitegallery.org/news/freelands-artist-programme-artists-announced/

https://freelandsfoundation.co.uk/freelands-artist-programmehttps://freelandsfoundation.co.uk/freelands-artist-programme

Rainbow Arcade Kickstarter

This winter, some of my work is going to be shown in the Schwules Museum in Berlin, the oldest and largest LGBTQ-related museum in the world! The show is really important, as it not only puts videogames in the context of queer history, but also is (if I have this right) the first time that Adrienne Shaw’s LGBTQ games archive will manifest in a public, physical space.

Today they launched a crowdfunding campaign for the exhibition catalogue, which would include essays by the contemporary queer games creators included in the exhibition, so that’s me, and some of my favourite games folks: Squinky, Robert Yang, and Naomi Clark.

There are lots of great reasons to support this Kickstarter, and I think the reward tiers are fantastic – the €70 tier comes with tickets to not one, but two museums in Berlin as well as a copy of the catalogue, the €100 tier comes with a custom avatar made by me using some of the art tools I’ve built in Pico-8, and the particularly remarkable €300 tier comes with a copy of Naomi Clark’s Consentacle, a lushly-illustrated game about negotiating sex with a giant tentacled alien, which you can’t buy anywhere!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/schwulesmuseum/rainbow-arcade-over-30-years-of-queer-video-game-h?ref=project_tweet

Creator Ikusei Residency for International Creators with Exploratory Projects in Tokyo, Japan

This is a little last-minute, but the residency programme in Tokyo that I took part in at the start of this year is taking applications until September 10th. You can learn more and apply here: https://creatorikusei.jp/en/application-guide-for-overseas-creators/

It’s not particularly common for me to come out of a creative development experience feeling positive and ready to recommend it to others, as I’m kind of sensitive to institutional inequities and the cult-like insider-group bullshit that surrounds creative fields. But this residency was just brilliant. I don’t think it could have gone better. I can’t recommend it enough – especially to anyone whose work is a bit weird.

I used this residency to start work on a project I’m calling “interactive portraits”, interviewing transgender people and turning those interviews into abstract, lo-fi, short-form interactive dialogues made in Pico-8, an 8-bit platform which is developed in Tokyo. I don’t think I can overstate how enjoyable and fruitful this residency was for me. I went in with tempered goals and expectations, and came out with much more than I dared expect – 13 recorded interviews with transgender people, carried out in two different locations in Japan, and lots of useful lessons learned from interactions and dialogues with artists and curators I’d met in various settings. The folks running this residency put a lot of work into connecting me with useful contacts so that I could achieve the goals I set out in my project proposal. Whenever I had an idea of something I’d like to do or somebody I’d like to meet, they had a way to help me to get there. They provide plenty of cash for day-to-day expenses, and there was even a travel budget to get me out to Kansai and get a comparative look at trans communities in different parts of Japan.

This two-month residency for overseas artists is sort of an offshoot built from a larger, year-long residency associated with the annual Media Arts Festival. It is a slightly odd one to explain to people, because although you’re an artist-in-residence, you’re not resident in a publicly-visible institution as such – people kept asking me what university I was with, so I just said I was on a programme funded by the Ministry of Culture. However, the organisers provide accommodation and studio space in the centre of Tokyo, and also allow residents to make use of their permanent office in Ginza if you want to bring someone to a fancy space for a meeting or interview.

The advisors are all extremely impressive people whom it has been a real joy to know. They all have their own interests and specialisms, and each contribute something unique to the programme’s selection panel, critiques, and events. This is not necessarily a programme that involves close contact with an advisor, though I think it’s something that you might be able to get out of it if it’s important to you.

Based on my cohort, and conversations I had with a couple of people, this programme seemed to be particularly good for the following:

  • Self-directed projects: This is not a program with a strict predetermined structure. Everyone set their own schedule and plans for the residency, and we were all very independent. There were only a handful of mandatory events – everything else was up to the artists’ desires and interests. The organisers sent along a lot of ideas and suggestions for outings and events though, and clearly put a lot of work into discovering and sharing things that might interest the artists – and when we had a specific request, they made all sorts of cool shit happen.
  • Critically-engaging work: all three of the artists in my cohort were making something that comments on contemporary society in a way that challenges conservative cultural narratives. There wasn’t really anything that reinforced traditional ideas about national heritage, or that served a market-oriented notion of innovative design – so this is a rare resource in the broader institutional landscape.
  • Specific connection to stuff happening in Tokyo: one of the staff involved in this programme told me that the panel were really looking for artists who had a clear reason why they wanted to come to Japan, and the application form seems to make that pretty clear. They don’t seem to want people who just want to experience Japan because it seems nice, there was a strong preference for projects that clearly needed to be done in Tokyo – specific names of institutions and artists to collaborate with, a plan for how to integrate the experiences in Japan into the final work, and a decent understanding of Japanese culture all seemed beneficial.
  • Maybe artist-researchers? Obviously this isn’t part of the description for the programme, so I might be overreaching, but research-led work seemed to find a good home here. Two out of three of the people in my cohort were carrying out ethnographic interviews as part of our creation process. Perhaps a research plan is a good way of demonstrating why the residency in Tokyo benefits the project, and maybe it also shows a readiness to engage critically with the context.