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 artworld. Our goal is to document and examine both the origins and evolution of a phenomenon that changed the way game-based art is being created, experienced, and discussed today.
We are currently running Season 7, which began in 2017 with a conversation with Alex Hovet.
This episode features a conversation with Jonne Hansson, a Swedish artist who's been using digital games as an expressive form for more than a decade. Hansson's practice is very eclectic: he uses machinima, installations, paper, but also drawing, directly inspired by game aesthetics and the history of art. Absurdity and humor are some of the most most recurrent traits.
This interview between Matteo Bittanti and Jonne Hansson took place via email in April 2018.
Jonne Hansson, Cannon Travel Center, 2010, colored pencil, crayon, acrylic, paper, foam, 34,5 x 44,5 cm
GameScenes: What is your background? Can you please summarize your trajectory as an artist, gamer, and above all, agent provocateur?
I started making art pretty late. I mean, I did not draw much as a kid. I was more of a sports guy and a gamer, but when I started studying art my interest in sports and video games followed. I have always enjoyed being a funny guy, or at least the accidental slapstick comedian. I think humor and (dark) satire - particularly on subjects such as technology and society - has been an important part in my artistic practice. I enjoy finding funny situations in video games, especially things that the game designer (in all probability) did not intend to create. I also like the idea of using an already existing (and recognizable) character, it’s a bit like employing a famous actor. My works tend to land somewhere between Game Art (in the context of contemporary art) and gamification leaning towards gamified life-coaching.
Jonne Hansson, Outcast, 2017, machinima, 8' 19"
GameScenes: Outcast (2017) is a machinima adaptation of Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull created with the Grand Theft Auto V in-game video editor. You turned an hyper-violent game into a tender, poetic experience. The inevitable question is: What came first, Richard Bach or GTA?
The short answer is that I read Richard Bach’s book before I played Grand Theft Auto V. While playing this open-world game I took a step away from being a completionist gamer and became a nature photographer. The initial idea was to make a nature documentary in true David Attenborough style - commentating on what I see and how the animals behave within the boundaries of the virtual sandbox. While collecting Peyote plants (one of the side-quests) I unlocked animals as playable characters in Rockstar Editor. After some tests I discovered I could play as a seagull, and that’s when I rediscovered (and acted out) Richard Bach’s fable.
Jonne Hansson, Good Workout Today!, 2016, screenshot from the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS3)
GameScenes: To create Good Workout Today! (2016) you used an iPhone 6 Plus to upload videos "shot" in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to your Instagram account. This multimedia project exemplifies the increasing layers of digitalization of our lives, including the virtualization of fitness and the exhibitionist, narcissistic culture of social media. How did you feel after (having your alter ego) lifting gold dumbbells?
Using my alter ego in the local gym in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, I thought lifting the heaviest virtual golden dumbbells wouldn’t be a problem. I was wrong. I miserably failed at beating the weights. Ironically, I was actually physically exhausted from the serious button mashing. It was a good workout. Being fully aware of the new wellness-ideology and this constant urge to get instant visual feedback through social media - I just had to post my recorded video on Instagram. Good Workout Today! also deals with the idea of cheating and being lazy. For instance, I think it is ironic that Pokémon Go players are now driving cars to catch the best pokémons or level up as fast as possible. The initial concept of the game was that people could play a game and get some exercise at the same time...
Jonne Hansson, Going for Birdie, 2016, installation view (studio), mixed media, including, wood, carpet, aluminium, textile, plastic, print (framed), dimensions variables
GameScenes: A recurrent theme in your work is the crossover between games and reality. You bring bits into the world of atoms, effortlessly. Is this strategy an attempt to emphasize the paradoxical nature of simulation? For instance, in Going for Birdie (2016) you used wood, carpet, aluminium, textile, and plastic - among other things - to give material consistency to a digital simulation of golf for the NES and to highlight the connection between different layers of reality, each with its own style and conventions (e.g. pixel art, for the game). Are you commenting on the pervasive influence of gaming on 21C aesthetics?
Going for birdie is the pioneering work in that style, and actually came out of a joke with a colleague and friend. A literal, deliberate misunderstanding of the golf term “Birdie”. The joke was that you’d probably be more successful in hitting a bird if you just whacked a ball straight into the woods… just that the spiteful asshole bird decided to hang around on the green that day.
Jonne Hansson, Cardsharp/Watch Dogs, 2016, machinima, Watch Dogs (Xbox 360)
GameScenes: Absurdity is a leitmotiv in your work, or, rather, THE key theme. In Cardsharp/Watch Dogs (2016) you remediated a classic painting with the aid of video games and toys. Were you trying to illustrate the porosity between the so-called high brow and the vernacular, or rather to update playful practices, emphasizing the connection between the past and the present, tradition and innovation?
In Cardsharp/Watch Dogs I turned my attention to our recurring cheating nature. We’ve done it for a long time. It was a valid subject for Caravaggio and equally valid as a revitalized cheating scene in the hacker game Watch Dogs. It seems to be a rather timeless concept:cheating remains but how we do it changes.
Jonne Hansson, The Square Painter (Star Junction) 2016, machinima, 2' 58"
Jonne Hansson, The Square Painter (Happiness Island) 2016, machinima, 2' 58"
GameScenes: Can you discuss your machinima series The Square Painter (2014), created with Grand Theft Auto IV for the PlayStation 3? What do you find so fascinating about this recurrent character? The ubiquity of game avatars in simulated landscapes? The campy nature of artistic representations in digital games? Or something else altogether?