18 December 2009 – 21 February 2010
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Part of a season of gaming at FACT, Space Invaders: Art and the Computer Game Environment is a group exhibition exploring the increasingly blurred boundaries between videogame spaces and real spaces. From the detailed, complex worlds of Grand Theft Auto to zen gaming and augmented reality, the exhibition brings together world renowned new media artists and innovative games designers who are pushing the limits of the medium.
Mark Essen (USA), a rising star of video game art, will develop a brand new commission for FACT. Essen’s brutal, lo-fi video games earned him a place as the youngest of the 50 artists in the New Museum’s “The Generational: Younger Than Jesus,” the international exhibition exclusively showcasing the work of artists 33 and under. Essen’s flat, low resolution work breaks open the conventional mechanics and aesthetics of gaming by distilling them down to their most basic elements.
A major highlight of the exhibition is a work-in-progress from internationally renowned media art figure Bill Viola (USA). Viola, who was instrumental in the establishment of video as a vital form of contemporary art, will showcase his first foray into the gaming format. An experimental, so-called ‘slow’ videogame, The Night Journey draws on Viola’s ongoing interest in spirituality, as the player moves through a poetic landscape using choices and actions to affect their enlightenment. The game is being developed with video game technologies, but attempts to stretch the boundaries of what game experiences may communicate with its unique visual design, content and mechanics.
Riley Harmon’s (USA) sculpture What It Is Without the Hand That Wields (2008) offers a dynamic take on the shoot ‘em up game. Hooked up to a modified version of the popular online first person shooter game Counterstrike, the sculpture responds to the player’s online deaths by dispensing a small amount of fake blood from valves down the wall, creating a compelling physical manifestation of virtual kills.
Amagatana (2009) by Japanese artist Yuichiro Katsumoto takes augmented reality to new levels by turning the everyday object of an umbrella and turning it into a samurai sword. As the player swings the umbrella a sensor measures the force and creates the sound of a sword hitting an imaginary blade, turning jousting into an endlessly entertaining form of independent game play. Meanwhile, artist-gamers Blast Theory (UK) bring computer gaming outdoors with Rider Spoke, a giant augmented reality game of hide and seek played out on bicycles.
Cao Fei, one of China’s most acclaimed young artists, presents film installation COSplayers (2004). COSPlay, short for ‘Costume Play’ captures this growing trend in Asian countries of bringing virtual battles to life. Set in the artist’s hometown of Guangzhou, the video follows a group of teenagers who act out an elaborate drama dressed in martial arts from their favourite computer games and animations.
Swedish artist Michael Johansson’s Tetris (2007) sculpture evokes a condition felt by obsessive gamers known as Tetris syndrome, where players begin to see the world around them as falling Tetris blocks. Blurring the limits between ‘real space’ and ‘game space’, Johansson’s piece encourages the viewer to ask questions about the influence video games play on our spatial memory.
In Ubermorgen’s Chinese Gold project (2006), a series of photographs chronicling the lives of Chinese ‘Gold Farmers’ who work long hours to produce in house currency, characters and equipment that are then sold to American and European gamers via Ebay.
Meanwhile, FACT’s Media Lounge becomes a magical, interactive environment where participants can experience the CuteXdoom world of Australian artist Anita Fontaine.
The exhibition also brings together playable commercial games from the high definition ‘zen’ game Flower to Grand Theft Auto. In public spaces, there will be retro games cabinets and a giant Nintendo controller to play.
Cao Fei – COSplayers (2004)