Jason Rouse is an artist living and working in Cardiff, Wales. In Rouse's work, digital and traditional arts converge, creating unexpected, surprising results. Rouse has painted game landscapes, developed interactive games, and experimented with generative spaces. In our conversation, we discuss Rouse's latest project, Postcards from Mexico (currently on display at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, April-June 2014, as part of the (Im)material Artefacts exhibition, curated by Sarah Younan), his fascination for landscapes - both real and imaginary, and videogame genres.
Jason Rouse: I am an Irish Artist, from Co Tyrone in the North West, studied Foundation Art in Limavady College before moving to England to study Painting in Bath Spa University. Post-Degree I spent some time back in Ireland before relocating to Cardiff, Wales, where I now work in BIT Studios. As an Artist I am keen to produce work that is deeply layered yet instantly accessible. I enjoy using technology in my work to achieve this.
Jason Rouse, Postcards from Mexico, 2014, digital image
GameScenes: Can you briefly discuss the origins of your latest project, Postcards from Mexico?
Jason Rouse: A local ceramic/performance artist Sarah Younan has been prolific in working with emerging 3D printing & scanning technology. As part of her PhD work a number of museum pieces were scanned, with the intention of artists reinterpreting them through digital intervention. Where many artists in the group were interested in software manipulation and reprinting I wanted to make something more interactive. My initial thoughts were to generate some kind of game using the pieces as avatars or entities, but this proved difficult due to the hugely detailed files. I eventually used this to my advantage in expanding one scanned file up to fill a whole landscape. There were also thoughts on running a server so multiple people could explore the landscape together but this was abandoned in favour of a downloadable executable file, much like I have done in a previous exhibition (CLIFTON).
Jason Rouse, Postcards from Mexico, 2014, digital image
GameScenes: Postcards from Mexico examines the relationship between post-geographical spaces and new production techniques, i.e. 3D printing. How do you reconcile your own experiences in the intangible environments of videogames with the materiality of 3D printing? Does the postcard become a memento or some kind of evidence of a journey, a trip, that took place in a different dimension?
Bringing made up entities from games into existence makes them more real. When I was younger my brother took some photographs from a game, off the TV, with a simple film camera and had the photographs developed. To me this is giving the game a step closer to reality.
Conversely, when you take something that physically exists and create a digital copy of it, does it somehow compromise its reality? It’s an interesting subject and one I feel worth exploring with my work.
Jason Rouse, Outpost, 2008, Oil on canvas
GameScenes: You have been using games as a medium, raw material, and canvas for quite some time. For instance, you have painted several scenes from videogames - I am referring to the Outpost - shown at the Holborne Museum of Art, in Bath - and Watchtower series. Do you see some kind of historical continuity between game landscapes and traditional painting? What is the quid, the essence, of the gaming medium in representing, or, rather, simulating "nature"? In other words, what idea of nature is constructed by games?
Jason Rouse: Context and execution is important when combining painting with games. As soon as you lift a paint brush you instantly create the link to historic painting. When games simulate nature, they too are opening up to be decontextualised. Painting lends a little more authenticity to work, and I’ve been able to use it to my advantage when dealing with art & games. Then again, there is always the danger of slipping into fandom & fan art.
Jason Rouse, The Outpost, 2008, Oil on canvas
GameScenes: Videogame spaces are often created with the only purpose of being smashed, that is, destruction in inherent and intrinsic to their own existence. You are extrapolating buildings, structures, scenes and situations from the screen to the canvas. By doing so, you are actively re-framing their importance and "visibility". In 2008, you mentioned that this process gives the image more ontological substance. Can you elaborate? Also, what inspired you to create such an interesting body of work? What is about games that you find so interesting, as a visual artist?
Jason Rouse: Games have their own language, same as photography, video, sculpture and painting. They all have aspects of ontology and when you mix things up you get interesting results. To bring it back to Postcards from Mexico, the screen shot ‘postcards’ have specific 6x4 aspect ratios, and they also have post processed slight camera lens defects, such as vignetting in the corners. In the work discussed in 2008, the physical process of painting the scenes completely changes the context and inherent nature of the source.
My inspiration came from looking at new ways to represent location via painting. Prior to the game paintings in 2008 I had been painting from digital & found sources and produced some separate digital pieces. The Outpost and Watchtower series came from an amalgamation of these two previously separate practices. I have been developing it since then. Part of me has always been intrigued in art imitating art, for example, early photographers taking self portraits holding brushes and palettes. This was kind of my take on that, to some extent.
Artists respond best to their immediate surroundings and it just so happens that my immediate surroundings involve video games.
Jason Rouse, Skybox Friedrich, 2008, digital photograph
GameScenes: In Skybox Friedrich, you allude to and simultaneously remediate the aesthetics of Casper David Friedrich's art. Why do you think gaming is so obsessed with the Romantic style?
Jason Rouse: Games have their own over synthesised versions of reality. As games and game engines get more advanced the inherent limitations decrease, therefore, developers are more likely to produce a gorgeous and overly romantic landscape than a boring realistic landscape. They want to make the player go ‘wow’ which you don’t always get in real life. I love how this can tie visually into Romantic landscapes, perpetually beautiful, misty, sunrises and sunsets, beams of light, and of course, the third person view of the main subject.
Jason Rouse, CLIFTON, 2010, interactive game
GameScenes: Your examination of game landscapes continues with CLIFTON, a remix of Team 17 seminal puzzle game Worms. How did you develop this project?
My piece CLIFTON was produced specifically for the Bristol Festival of Photography. There was a group exhibition that had a number of responses to Brunel's famous Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Bridges tend to feature in my work from time to time. They provide a link from one location to another, often over a body of water. I also enjoy the visuals of a horizontal line cutting across an otherwise organic landscape. In games, bridges can be control points, objectives, destruct points, or action set pieces.
Team17’s Worms game has been a favourite of mine since it came out in 1995. The game itself is relatively easy to modify, and user generated landscapes are simple to create and install. Worms itself makes great use of bridges, providing links across randomly generated landscapes. I thought I’d play with this concept and introduce a replica real life bridge into the game, in a fairly crude analogue to digital conversion.
I must also point out Worms was not exactly a puzzle game, more of a turn based artillery game.
Jason Rouse, Watchtower I (Double Cross), 2010, Oil on Board
"The addition of the military installation adds a contemporary subject to otherwise 'dated' landscape paintings. The contemporary theme adds political weight to a painting that has nothing to do with such subject matter.
Military installation subject matter relates to the idea of the computer game shooter more than the previous landscapes, but they sacrifice the calmness and relation to historic art inherent in the landscape painting." (Jason Rouse)
GameScenes: Indeed! I should know better considering that I am playing the latest iterations, Worms Battlegrounds on the Xbox One right now. Apropos... What are you working on these days? And playing?
Jason Rouse: I am currently working on a number of projects, a number of them experimenting with the idea of painting en plein air. For example, I have a series of landscape paintings I am producing using webcams from around Ireland as my source. I like the idea of the painting being of a set place and time, and the challenge of a changeable landscape, forcing a quick capture of the scene. Concepts of location and forced composition/colour are also important. I don't think anyone has tackled subjects like emigration or location quite in this way before. Its also a kind of homage to great Irish artists from the past.
This idea is also being explored in relation to gaming, through a number of small paintings using the stylised eastern block landscapes of indie mod DayZ. There is an even more important role of haste with these paintings, as the game is only played live online, and there is constant danger of death due to other players or from zombies. You can’t stick around too long in one place.
The intention is to do some resurrection work on an older project, eBay Morandi, which I don’t think I developed as much as I’d liked. eBay itself is fascinating and I think there is a lot more to claim from it artistically.
I have been doing some pieces based around Google Street View in the last year or so, but none of them were particularly to my liking so that project is on temporary hold. There are some other game related pieces I’d like to do but will keep them quiet until I’ve established exactly what I want and how to do it.
Game wise, I’ve been really loving the indie game scene. Generally AAA titles with their ‘catch-all’ methods have lost their appeal. I like games that are a little bit deeper, personal, with rough edges but also great experiences.
I loved DayZ, found it to be one of the most original and entertaining games in a long time. Anything by Edmund McMillan, I’ve put more hours than I’d like to admit into The Binding of Isaac and I am excited for the reissue. I like Minecraft but preferred RPG-alike Terraria. Adventure games like Kentucky Route Zero and To the Moon are great. I also loved the tediously realistic Papers, Please. I genuinely enjoy 'non-games' like Proteus and Dear Esther too. The closest thing to a big budget game I’ve put any hours into has been Blizzard’s Hearthstone, which is both exceeding difficult and fun to play. The last game I bought was Kero Blaster, an excellent and charming run & gun platformer for iOS by Cave Story creator, Pixel.
LINK: Jason Rouse
Text & Editing: Matteo Bittanti
All images courtesy of the Artist