GameScenes is conducting a new series of interviews with the artists, critics, curators, gallery owners operating in the field of Game Art, as part of our ongoing investigation of the social history of this fascinating artworld. Our goal is to illustrate the genesis and evolution of a phenomenon that altered the way game-based art is being created, consumed, and criticized today.
We talked to Pippa Tshabalala, who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. Pippa studied Fine Arts and always had an interest in animation and a passion for video games. She completed a Masters degree in Animation and after interning at a game development company she decided to go into teaching 3d animation. In May 2008, she started presenting a TV show called PlayR, on video games, and in December 2008, this expanded to another live show, called The Verge. She also does freelance art and design work, produced and performed live visuals and animation as part of a band called Soft Serve, and currently work as a Creative at Don't Look Down Productions. This interview between Mathias Jansson and Pippa Tshabalala took place via email in July 2010.
GameScenes: Your M.A. thesis was titled “Gaming in Art”. What was your research about? What was your main interest at that time?
Pippa Tshabalala: I was primarily interested in examining the crossover between video games and traditional fine arts, which was very small at the time I wrote the paper, in 2005. I wanted to examine the different "categories" of game related art that existed, particularly pertaining to experimental and socio-political mods. My case studies were JODI and "Escape From Woomera".
GameScenes: You also produced a series of Game Artworks, such as the fascinating photo series “Telling Death” which features pictures of dead characters from Grand Theft Auto. Can you tell me something about the concept behind this project? Is there any difference between virtual death and physical death, in terms of their aesthetic representation in paintings, photos, and sculptures?
Pippa Tshabalala: "Telling Death" branched out from another project called "Simulation". Whilst "Simulation" was a far less interactive work, more of a documentation piece, "Telling Death" attempted to engage with others. I was interested in how others perceived the deaths of these characters, and in the stories they invented for them. Virtual death on the other hand is very interesting for me because I've always compared it in my head to reincarnation - this concept of saving and respawning. Being able to change our actions in many ways gives us a "clean slate".
GameScenes: Which games, or genres, do you prefer to work with as an artist and why? Where do you find your main inspiration?
Pippa Tshabalala: I've tended to prefer the GTA series, but Rockstar in general makes their games very easy to modify and I think that is key. I don't want to have to learn a whole new programming language or circuit-bend anything because that's simply not my area of expertise. I'm often interested primarily in the process of playing, so I like tracking things over time, changing the experience and perceptions people have of something in order to comment on a point and on the viewers reactions.
Additionally I've always been interested in the transferral of video game media back into "traditional" media, which is why "Simulation" was exhibited as printed photographs as opposed to keeping it purely in the digital realm. I also do a bit of VJing and like to use retro aesthetics and gaming motifs in my that as well. I've played around with OpenEmu in Quartz Composer and really like the idea of using gaming emulators in performance.
GameScenes: What about the Game Art scene in South Africa? How would you describe the climate for videogame based art? Which are the leading artists, and which museum galleries are interested to exhibited this kind of art?
Pippa Tshabalala: It isn't very big as far as I'm aware, but as I recently came across a new piece by Nadine Hutton that I think is incredibly interesting.
Many of the smaller galleries are open to this kind of art. I've exhibited at David Krut projects in Johannesburg as part of a group exhibition with Eva and Franco Mattes and Bronwyn Millar, as well as blank projects in Cape Town. The smaller galleries tend to attract the right kind of crowd for this work, although with the right proposal I think a group show would do very well.
Pippa Tshabalala, "Telling Death", 2009, digital photo
GameScenes: If you had the possibility to make a wish exhibition with you favourite Game Artists which would you choose, and what make them so important to you?
Pippa Tshabalala: I love Brody Condon and Eddo Stern's work so they would definitely have to be a part of it. I'm fascinated by JODI's work and their ability to deconstruct everything (including emails!). I also have an interest in glitches, so their work resonates very strongly with me. I find much of the work emerging from Australian artists of particular interest, especially from artists like Rebecca Cannon and Julian Oliver. All of these artists attempt to push the boundaries of what constitutes art in the context of new media and popular culture, but also don't allow themselves to be stuck in a particular mode of production. That kind of innovation is what is important in our field.
All images courtesy of the artist
link: Pippa Tshabalala (LinkedIn)
link: Don't Look Now TV
link: Telling Death
link: “Gaming in Art” (PDF, full thesis)