GameScenes is conducting a series of interviews with artists, critics, curators, and 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 changed the way game-based art is being created, experienced, and discussed today. The conversation between Mathias Jansson and Benjamin Nuel took place via email in September 2010.
"Born in 1981, graduated of the School of Fine Art of Strasbourg and of the Fresnoy, Benjamin Nuel has developed her artistic work in the field of video and film. It was distributed and exhibited in events like the Locarno Film Festival, the New cinema festival of Montreal and the Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin/Madrid. His thinking is currently geared towards forms of non-linear narrative, using real-time 3D and codes video game. He just completed a digital work, hotel. Inspired by the mechanics and aesthetics of the video game war, it rests on springs in the order of fascination, curiosity and frustration in an anti-spectacular. There are, as in the rest of his artistic production, issues of utopia and survival, a certain taste for the drift and the desire to explore areas of friction between the codes and genres. Delineate an area, build a world impossible, sliding between different time" (Benjamin Nuel)
GameScenes: You have been working with both video and machinima. What are the strengths and weaknesses of these two formats?
Benjamin Nuel: Not really. Making a machinima is, of course, easier. An artist still needs to face - and overcome - pragmatic hurdles, but compared to other media, using machinima for making animation is much more approachable. To me, creating a machinima and shooting a video are not essentially dissimilar. What changes is the shooting technique. In-game animation can be hard to predict. It's hard to plan events and situations whereas in film, the director is almost like God. Machinima is a good trade off, a reasonable compromise between a film and a videogame. It lies at the intersection between thee two media. I love creating a film by simply manipulating my mouse.
GameScenes: Who are your favorite film & machinima directors? Who influenced - directly or indirectly - your artistic interventions?
Benjamin Nuel: Honestly, I’m not a true connoisseur of machinima, but the work of someone like Eddo Stern is full of meaning for me. Machinima - and generally real-time and low-poly - are attractive if one is interested in mixing fiction and sculpture, the kinds of arts where I believe the most interesting things are now taking place in contemporary art. As for cinema, I am amazed by classic works of great directors. Even if they did not inspire me directly, Clint Eastwood and David Cronenberg fascinate me. I am specifically thinking about Cronenberg's approach to cinema - he went from the plastic, organic, around the monstrosity of his early films up to Crash and eXistenZ, to a new aesthetics where the original elements are still present, but in subtler, less explicit ways. Finally, I would love to make a great love story like Two Lovers by James Gray.
GameScenes: When did your interest for videogames as an artistic medium begin? What kind of games do you prefer to work with, and why?
Benjamin Nuel: Silent Hill 2 sparked my interest for the medium. This is not a conventional game. Rather it is an open text, that is, open to interpretation. The explicit goals, like puzzles and riddles, are not very interesting per se. Nevertheless, Silent Hill 2 allows the player to experiment freely within a very peculiar space. Its overabundance of options runs through the entire experience, actually, it defines the experience itself. The slow pace of the game, which could ruin the enjoyment in another context or genre, here becomes its very essence. Wandering through a deserted, eerie town, walking on desolated sets, the cumbersome fights (something that I'd rather avoid tout court)... And yet, these liminal, interstitial moments, are more important that the so-called main narrative. The game destabilizes you... The geographical shift, the temporality of the interaction (even if SH as a linear structure after all, you can find yourself stuck for a while in a spot, and this condition affects your psyche, your mood), the physical confrontation with the world... To me Silent Hill 2 is closer to a sculpture than to a horror film... Its plasticity, its materiality, its architecture is unlike that of film - and most games, for that matter.
Oh, I forgot an important moment in my history of video game: Daggerfall. The playable space was so vast, gosh, I remember the land, the dungeons ... But also the bugs, the glitches, many flaws... So many times I found myself passing through the walls of the dungeons, "discovering" hidden areas across this dark matter, the void. I remember feeling dizzy. Yeah, I think that feeling led me to create "Hotel".
Benjamin Nuel, "Hotel", machinima series, 2008- (link)
GameScenes: Ok, let's talk about "Hotel", a machinima that chronicles the struggle between a group of terrorists and a counter-terrorist organization. And yet, there is no violence or "conventional" Hollywood-style action, the same action that most videogames are emulating...
Benjamin Nuel: "Hotel" is a three-part project. The first is a kind of videogame. Indeed, terrorists and counter terrorists are isolated in a luxury hotel in the countryside. But no battles are being fought. It's like a time-out in basketball... Neither violence nor action are taking place. It's how I recreated, re-interpreted the "dead" moments of Silent Hill... The idea came from waiting times in Counter-Strike’s games. Once dead, the player can be in a very free browse mode in the level where he was just fighting. It controls a camera that goes very fast in all directions. It passes through the walls to literally leave the world and see it from afar, surrounded by a black nothingness, called the void. This can be done in "Hotel". This gives an ambiguous place to the player who also has the opportunity to assist the daily routine of occupants.
The player will be expected to observe (and disturb) them and try to learn more about this waiting area. According to one’s position, one can affirm: "this exists, I can see it, I can even bang against it" or "I reckon they haven’t had enough time to finish the piece because it’s all gone to pot", and so pass from one to the other. This work is based on springs in the order of the fascination, curiosity and frustration. Inspired by the mechanics of video game war, he proposed a world anti-dramatic. It is finally an object film where the choice of temporality and the strolling to its importance. However, the player must begin the experiment with this question in mind: what is the purpose? And if there is no progress or development of the universe during the experiment (this is a stopped time, in loop) there is a evolution during geographical shift in aware that the player has of his place. It is a story about cohabitation on several levels. The players are located at the points where antagonistic forms clash in an unstable universe. The second part is a feuilleton in ten episodes that takes the opposite course of the video game. We are no more in a stopped time and even if the emptiness of the existence of these characters is still here, they are placed in front of the progressive collapse of their world.
Benjamin Nuel, "Pattern Island" 8' - Machinima dans Second Life, Production : Human Atopic Space, 2009
GameScenes: "Pattern Island", a machinima created inside Second Life, is celebrating the "end" of Linden Lab's virtual world. Was that your goal? And how is Second Life "finished" - technically, socially, culturally or even artistically?
Benjamin Nuel: Second Life runs on the individual, he is the center of the world. Yet his presence is only done in the social network, to communicate, or simply to show his avatar or its construction. This duality individual/community was my starting point. Pattern Island combines a form mimicking the classic movie (historic and popular) to capture a collective performance. It is an epic with his hero. The performance captured the collective hip-hop as a manifestation of the ego within a group. The film derives from one form to another. Second Life virtual world as a whole, has a strong link with the utopia and an utopia which becomes reality disappears. For the pioneers, SL was primarily a mental space. Then the population has changed from builders to consumers. The film opens with a opposite situation of expansion known as SL. It's the end of a world, he continuously reduced to a simple reason, the servers that host plots of land close. A monstrous thing goes through the film. It’s a kind of Godzilla composed of an aggregate of standard 3D models. It was like a tribute to the builders mixed with concern about how the world goes, the virtual world as the real…
link: Benjamin Nuel
text by Mathias Jansson
All images courtesy of the artist