GameScenes is conducting a series of interviews with artists, critics, curators, and gallery owners operating in the field of Game Art, as part of an 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.
In the Summer of 2011, Mathias Jansson talked to Jonakin Hunter about the politics of Game Art via email.
Born in North Alabama, Hunter Jonakin is an American artist who studied Visual Art at the University of Minnesota and recently completed an MFA in studio art at Florida State University. Jonakin currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His work examines the pervasiveness of new technologies of communication in our daily lives but also the influence of computational thinking in our understanding of the world and the increasing permeability between the virtual and the real. As he writes on his website,
"Technology has saturated our lives and, while it is a welcome addition to most, the subtlety of this gradually accelerated invasion has created a dependency which has gone virtually unnoticed. Ease of use and the infusion of intuitive user interfaces has increasingly integrated electronics into our daily routines. Much of my work serves to highlight this phenomenon and to call attention to the sometimes overlooked proliferation of digital media into our lives." (Hunter Jonakin)
With “Jeef Koons Must Die!!!” (2011), Jonakin offers a pungent criticism of the ArtWorld. Both playful and playable, this "interactive satire" was one of the most commented Game Art pieces of 2011.
GameScenes: In "Jeef Koons Must Die!!!", the player takes full control of a virtual exhibition and practically goes berserk in the gallery, destroying every single artwork on display. Incidentally, this is a recurrent theme in Game Art: well-known examples include Orhan Kipcak's "ArsDoom" (1995), Tobias Bernstrup and Palle Torsson's "Museum Meltdown" (1996), Chris Reilly's "Everything I Do is Art, But Nothing I Do Makes Any Difference, Part II Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gallery" (2006), Michiel Van Der Zanden's "Museum Killer" (2008), and Paul Steen's "Art Assault" (2011) just to name a few. Did any of these works inspired you to create "Jeff Koons Must Die!!!"? How did you come up with the idea of including a superstar artist in your piece? And technically speaking, what tools did you use?
Hunter Jonakin: I used UDK (Unreal Development Kit) to make the game, Maya for the animations and meshes, Photoshop for texturing, and Flash for the text in the game.
I would not say that I was directly inspired by any other artists in the genre, although I am aware of quite a few artists who used video games in a Fine Art context. I like Cory Arcangel a lot, particularly his piece, "Super Mario Clouds". However, I don't see myself as purely an artist who uses video games. I produce sculpture, paintings, drawings, prints, and utilize many other mediums to produce work.
Hunter Jonakin, “Jeef Koons Must Die!!!”, in-game images, 2011
GameScenes: "Jeef Koons Must Die!!!" is a blunt, corrosive affront on the Artworld. Why did you choose the game medium to criticize the inner and outer workings of the artist establishment?
Hunter Jonakin: There are usually anomalies within any system, bureaucratic or otherwise. The art world is no different. I enjoy the absurdity of critiquing a system that I am actively and knowingly engaged in. The irony is not lost on me and, in fact, is very much intentional. The ultimate statement that this work tries to make is that we are all implicated in the flawed and complex nature of any system that we engage in.
The main problem with the art world is the same thing that makes it so great. It is very complex. So much so that traversing it can be daunting and alienating. There are many facets to the art world, such as academia, the commercial gallery system, the non-profit space, critical analysis, the media, and community based organizations. All of these entities overlap sometimes and work in opposition other times. Then, when commerce enters the fray, everything is complicated even more. Where does an artist fit into the history of art? Who do they know? How much are they worth? Why does any of this matter and who gets to decide? These are all complex questions that are never fully answered.
Regarding "Jeff Koons Must Die!!!", I use the video game as a medium in order to indicate that this project is to be interacted with. Just the iconic shape of an arcade game implies intended interaction from the viewer. From a conceptual standpoint, I like the idea that navigating the art world can be seen as playing a game, and this notion is mirrored in the project.
GameScenes: “Ya Dun Goofed!” explores the slippery boundaries between virtual and real worlds. What can art tell us about the consequences of performing actions in virtual spaces? How does this peculiar role play affect our psyche? And how do you - as an artist - represent it?
Hunter Jonakin: People are spending more of their lives online than ever before and some actions in a digital public space can have extremely negative repercussions in real life. The effects of such behavior, such as posting revealing photos of one’s self on a social networking site or online stalking, range from mildly embarrassing to devastating. Certainly, people will eventually learn how not to expose themselves to the dangers of the world wide web but, until then, many users seem perfectly willing to shoot themselves in the foot as well as the feet of their friends.
With this in mind, "Ya Dun Goofed. Consequences Will Never Be the Same", is based on this phenomenon. The title of the work references a phrase spoken by a disgruntled father who appeared in a web video in order to address online bullying that had plagued his teenage daughter. The video quickly went viral and the father became an internet meme representing an empty and naive threat. Events that led up to the father’s rebuttal included his daughter’s video post in which she challenged antagonistic viewers to do their worst. Within days her name, address, phone number, and GPS coordinates were posted online. The project itself comprises two podiums and a digital projection. The first podium has a standard video game joystick on top of it and a small, egg-shaped sculpture rests on the second podium. The viewer utilizes the joystick in order to navigate a digitally simulated gallery comprising a small white room with a similar sculpture sitting atop a podium. If the viewer happens to navigate near the simulated sculpture the podium will move and the virtual work will topple onto the floor. Almost simultaneously, the real world sculpture is knocked off its perch by way of a small mechanism hidden inside the podium. The displacement of the real world work is a consequence of the destruction of the digital work.
Hunter Jonakin, “Jeef Koons Must Die!!!”, video documentation, 2011
GameScenes: What is your take on the artistic nature of digital games? Can they be used as "raw material" to create art? Do you find the connections between the game industry and the entertainment apparatuses problematic?
Hunter Jonakin: In my opinion, anything can be used as an artistic tool. It is up to the artist to use their chosen medium in an intelligent and meaningful manner. After a project is created for public consumption, it is out of the hands of the artist and is subject to public discourse. Electronic devices, such as computers, are technology in the same sense that a paintbrush is technology. They are both tools, as well a means to an end.
I don't have a problem with video games being closely related to the commercial entertainment industry. In fact, in my work, this notion can sometimes strengthen a conceptual component of a work. For example, Jeff Koons Must Die!!! costs a quarter to play because it's design is based on classic coin-op games from the 80's and it references the adage that "one must pay to play". Also, the juxtaposition of commerce and art interests me as well.
GameScenes: What is your personal relationship with digital gaming? Are there any games that inspired your artistic trajectory?
Hunter Jonakin: From a young age I have been very interested in video games. I grew up in the 1970's, so I lived through the onslaught of Space Invaders, as well as the Pac Man fever that consumed the world in the early 1980s. As a young teenager most of my money went towards playing Galaga. I owned an Atari 2600, Super Nintendo, and many other consoles. However, I became truly immersed in gaming when engine editors started becoming user friendly. I used UnrealEd (Unreal Engine) quite a bit but I have also used Hammer (Source Engine), Unity, and Processing. I found that I was not always interested in using the engine editors for conventional purposes (i.e. creating standard deathmatch maps for various multiplayer games). Instead, I enjoyed subverting the utile nature of the game engines to simply create visualizations and scripted sequences.
I feel that all games have some sort of artistic quality but some of the games that have resonated with me are, Okami (Nintendo Game Cube) for its amazing watercoloresque visuals, Bioshock (PC) for its Art Deco industrial design, Portal (PC) for its visually refined but intellectually complex aesthetic, Grand Theft Auto: San Adreas (PC)for its massive scale and open-ended emergent gameplay, which allowed joy riding and sight seeing, as well as task fulfilment. There is a performance aspect to online games that I am interested in as well. Thousands of people can play the same game but no two will ever have the exact experience. There is something profound about that fact. In a fabricated, digital world people are having experiences that they will remember for a lifetime. It is an exciting time for Art and videogames and everything in between.
Link: Hunter Jonakin
Related: Jeff Koons Must Die!!!
Text by Mathias Jansson
Editing: Matteo Bittanti
All images and videos courtesy of the artist