Recently X-hibiting at Melbourne’s Game Trigger X-hibition of computer game inspired art, were the dynamic duo behind www.reconnoitre.net. Rather than spring naked out of a soy cream cake with chicken masks on, Tom Corby & Gavin Bailly chose instead to present one of their popular Uk creations: Gameboy_ultraF_uk.
Can u describe Gameboy_ultraF_uk?
The project is a renderer of the type you can download to play old arcade games like asteroids. What we’ve done is re-write or modify an open-source gameboy emulator. The changes in the code mean that the rendering of the games is unpredictable.
How’d u mangle the gameboy (emulator)?
Game entities mutate into background and interface elements, or appear as fragments of the games binary code. Memory is blitted into sections of the screen, as the inside of the game seeps to the outside. Variations in the rendering behaviour are triggered by user game play and manipulated by a Cellular Automata ‘metabolism’ giving rise to inter-related rendering symptoms. We call this “bit rot”.
What drives the desire for ‘digital dirt’ ?
To paraphrase filmmaker Robert Whitman “we just want to understand what we’re being threaded through.” We tend to work with and against conventions concerning interface, interactivity and productivity in order to highlight, how software/code hugely affects the way we access and exchange information and thus perceive a highly mediated world. Software code isn’t neutral, it’s socially formed, it’s production is a ripe area for artists to colonise.
What is Gameboy_ultraF_uk like to play with?
Obviously it problematises the playing of the game as it deconstructs the interface, foregrounding the fact that the games are ultimately made up of code and that the interface is a site of language. In this sense it’s fundamentally anti-immersive, as it denies the transparency of the interface (the supposed goal of “good” interface design).
U.V made your own browser too. Why?
Reconnoitre (1998) is a 3D browser that performs a kind of “cut-up” technique to the web pages loaded into it. It explores alternative metaphors for describing/ navigating the net. Rather than present the web as a homogenised, corporate and over designed “McWeb”, it re-purposes the information it finds to highlight the net’s hidden structure, it’s programming languages, links and other protocols… The web is an intricate ecology, a thing of beauty in it’s own right, we thought that should be celebrated.
What inspires u to play with code as an artist?
Understanding code and being able to use it, puts artists in a very powerful position. Being able to code means that you can work at a very deep level. This really opens-up the creative process and allows the generation of new artefacts/ideas/possibilities. You have much more control over what you’re making because you’re not reliant on other people…or programs for that matter. By code, we don’t mean shockwave or flash. Pre-packaged authoring packages like these, can lead to pre-canned work. Flash/shockwave forces you to work within a narrow band of possibilities, i.e. those allowed by the designers of the program.
What attracts you to open source software?
Old fashioned virtues of collaboration and participation as opposed to corporate obsessions with control and the implementation of closed proprietary systems (Flash/Shockwave). It’s highly political, it’s visionary and very exciting. Strictly speaking gameboy_ultraF_uk is “Free Software” and falls under”copyleft”. Everyone has permission to run the program, or copy and, modify the code. They can distribute it in any manner they like but don’t have permission to add restrictions of their own. Everyone benefits, as the code is freely available in all its versions.
Information wants to be free, but artists, musicians and coders want to be fed. How do you see the next generation of creatives being fed?
For painters, film makers, musicians it’s getting tougher. Very few artists actually make a living from their work. The new generation of artists who code, are in a unique position, in that they have transferable and highly lucrative skills……you really shouldn’t have any trouble getting work to fund your practice. For everyone else I’m afraid it’s the same old story of struggle and fitting in studio time around (generally) badly paid jobs….I guess we’re lucky we can code.
Your advice for wannabe artist-coders?
Don’t disappear into the black hole of programming, read lots, go to exhibitions, take plenty of exercise and don’t forget to get out to see your mates!