"Game Art Worlds: The Early Years" is an ongoing series curated by Mathias Jansson and Matteo Bittanti on the pioneers of Game Art. It features interviews with seminal artists that changed the landscapes of Game Art. Our goal is to illustrate the genesis and evolution of a phenomenon that changed the way game-based art is being created, experienced, and discussed today.
The conversation between Jon Haddock and Matteo Bittanti took place via email in July 2005 on (it was originally published on videoludica.com).
Jon Haddock is one of the most important game artists today. He became a worldwide sensation with Screenshots, a series of drawings from an isometric perspective, in the style of a computer game. “The subject of each drawing is the image, or images, that created a popular cultural event. Historical events (like the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel) are used interchangeably with fictionalized events (like the picnic scene from The Sound of Music).”
Jon Haddock’s next exhibit that will take place in October 2005 at Elon University, North Carolina, Usa. We met him to discuss his latest work.
GameScenes: The “Screenshots” series features “The Sims”‘ iconography in an attempt to represent both real and fictional events. This technique produces some sort of conflation and mystification of the two planes – that is, it becomes very difficult to distinguish reality from fiction. Do you agree with McLuhan that “The Medium is the Message”?
Jon Haddock: I do. But the difficulty in distinguishing reality from fiction is not unique to the Sims-style presentation. All electronic and print media present real and fictional events in essentially the same way. I think it is our relative unfamiliarity with the game format that creates the dissonance.
GameScenes: The Sims is much more than a piece of entertainment. It is a reality model or simulator that replicates while mocking the American capitalistic life style. Was the Screenshot series intentionally designed to criticize the U.S.A lifestyle, values and beliefs?
Jon Haddock: For many years I have dreamed of a perfect game, one that would approximate reality, with the exception of the player being granted “extra lives”. When I first became aware of the Sims, I thought a large step forward in that direction had been taken. I was immensely disappointed to discover it was merely a consumer simulation. My dissatisfaction with the politics of the Sims led to the creation of the Screenshots.
GameScenes: In another series, My Life in Comics, you represented your own life with comic books’ aesthetics. GameScenes: What happen when you look at yourself by means of this filter? And the man illustrated is you or only a mask?
Jon Haddock: Definitely a mask. The stories those images illustrate were stories I used to tell while drinking with friends – some are true, some happened to other people, some are complete fiction.
GameScenes: Many artists used popular media in their work. In the Sixties, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Oldenburg just to name a few drew inspiration from mass media and popular culture icons. What do you think about pop artists?
Jon Haddock: Growing up I loved Oldenburg and Lichtenstein, it was wonderful to see my world in that larger context. I was never attracted to Warhol in the same way, but his work is far more important to what I am doing now. He has some hand in almost everything I find interesting now.
GameScenes: I love your latest works, a series of drawings and sculptures which retold traumatic events in the style of early 1930′s animated cartoons, aptly titledCartoons and Violence. Why did you choose this kind of medium?
Jon Haddock: I choose to work in media that I have some appreciation for. Cartoons of that era are a great love of mine especially the work of Ub Iwerks. I am also a fan of Kim Deitch.
GameScenes: You wrote that even the even “blood and pain at a certain distance become really compelling and exhilarating. And the cartoons reference that necessary distance”. Animated cartoon, comics and videogames build their success upon the exciting and intense representation of violence and traumas. But don’t you think that the same holds for media such as newspaper, televised news, photograpic report?
Jon Haddock: Yes. I think the difference is that games and cartoons are thought of as escapism, and therefore presumed to be some what benign. News media is treated with more caution. I think some of the power of the Screenshots is because people remember the original photos and emotionally filter them as they reappear.Screenshots temporarily fool the viewer’s filtering mechanism, causing them to be seen again as they were the first time.
LINK: Jon Haddock
Text by Matteo Bittanti