This interview took place in March
of 2010 via email and it's part on an ongoing series written by Mathias
Jansson on the key events in the history of Game Art (for
additional information, check the links at the bottom of this entry).
In 1999, Josephine Starrs & Leon Cmielewski deeloped an artistic modification of Bungie's first-person shooter Marathon titled “Bio Tek Kitchen”. The modification was originally presented at “Cracking the Maze”, a seminal exhibition curated by Anne-Marie Schleiner.Josephine Starrs, "Bio Tek Kitchen", 1999
GameScenes: Was “Bio Tek Kitchen” your first game-based artistic intervention?
Josephine Starrs: I made "Bio Tek Kitchen" in 1999 with Leon Cmielewski, my collaborator on several media art projects. Before that, in the early 1990’s I was a founding member of VNS Matrix, who launched the Cyberfeminist movement with our Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century, and explored the language and structure of the early computer games in our artworks. As cited by Rachel Greene in her book Internet Art, our artwork predated the vogue for game art. We began by making up game narratives around our female protagonist All New Gen. This was before Lara Croft, when no-one thought it was possible to have a female hero in a computer game. We created game stills for light boxes, narrative sound and video works and interactive art installations. We received enormous positive feedback from young women, both gamers and non-gamers from many parts of the world. It became obvious that loads of women were really pissed off with being actively excluded from game culture and were doing something about it.
GameScenes: In “Bio Tek Kitchen”', the player is attacked in a kitchen by mutant vegetables engineered by a ruthless corporation whose only purpose is to take over the entire food chain. The player has to defend himself with the aid of weapons such as dish cloths and egg flippers... Do you think the videogames could be an effective means to tackle serious issues, for example the genetic modification of crops?
Josephine Starrs: Yes, why not? Humour and play have always been strategies that artists have employed in their work to create meaning; the Surrealists for example. Digital gaming has become as much of a cultural force in our world as cinema. In the same way that experimental film and video has grown alongside the mainstream film industry, game art has emerged in the past two decades, often drawing on digital game concepts, formats and narrative structure. Themes such as war, biotechnology, the cyborg, and dystopian futures are common themes in mainstream games. I don’t think any subject should be off-limits to media artists.
Leon Cmielewski and I created Seeker an interactive video installation that was playful in that it encouraged participants to map their own family migration history. It also explored relationships between conflict commodities like tantalum, which power our mobile culture, and the tragic deaths of people seeking asylum in new countries. This is an important artwork that won an Award of Distinction at Ars Electronica in 2007.
GameScenes: “Bio Tek Kitchen” has been showed around the world since 1999. Was the programming challenging?
Josephine Starrs: We have made many interactive works over the years, documented on our website. We maintain former hardware and software systems to support our artworks. Unfortunately museums in Australia are not interested in collecting and archiving this kind of work yet. "Bio Tek Kitchen" is a Marathon Infinity mod and runs on Macintosh OS9, so it can only easily be seen as a short machinima we made called "Kitchen Carnage".
GameScenes: Australia was among the earliest catalysts for Game Art. Aside from your work, one cannot forget Rebecca Cannon's seminal Select Parks or ground-breaking modifications and "indie" projects, like “Escape from Woomera”. Why?
Josephine Starrs: Australia has always been very hip when is comes to new media art. We are often early adopters of new technologies, but we are also innovators and are not afraid to critique the establishment. Who knows, that irreverence could be the influence of our Indigenous culture, and perhaps the Irish convict culture.
GameScenes: One thing that struck me is that several Game Art pioneers are women. It surprises me for at least two reasons. One, because Game Art is a niche genre in contemporary art. Second, in the mid-Nineties there were relatively few women playing or developing videogames, unlike today...
Josephine Starrs: One reason for this is that the games industry ignored women and girls for more than a decade, perhaps fearing that if they market games to girls the boys would be unhappy about losing their no-girl zone. So even though women were often excluded from the mainstream game industry, female artists could have fun making their own games, hacking the game engines, slashing the dominant game narratives and critiquing the content and structure of mainstream game culture.
GameScenes: Do you believe that Game Artists specifically, and, in general, artists working with videogames have somehow contributed to a broader socio-cultural acceptance of videogames as an artistic medium?
Josephine Starrs: Yes, to a certain extent. There are many games that are great works of art, but it might take a new generation of art curators to convince our cultural institutions of that. Also, mainstream culture has always had a history of taking ideas from artists for commercial gain no matter what the medium. And artists love mashing up mainstream culture to create fantastic art.
All images courtesy of the artist.
Link: Josephine Starrs
Text by Mathias Jansson
GameArtworld: The Early Years: Interviews