Arne-Kjell Vikhagen is a Swedish artist and researcher at the University of Gothenburg. His PhD project investigates the artistic potential of computer game engines, specifically those engines used in first-person shooter games. A recent project of his - developed as a part of his dissertation - is a Game Art project called “Veøy”, named after the island Veøy. Situated on the west coast of Norway, Veøy is a small island 0 measuring 1.1 square kilometres. Due to its former status as a former religious and trade centre, Veøy plays a special role for the local population. While doing research on the island. Vikhagen found an intriguing police report from 1934, where Arnulf Vikhagen claims to have seen “something unnatural” at Veøy.GameScenes talked to Vikhagen about his research project. This interview took place by e-mail in November 2009.
GameScenes: You are both an artist and an academic researcher. How would you describe the difference between Game Art in the Artworld and Game Art as an academic topic in Sweden today?
Arne-Kjell Vikhagen: There is, indeed, a difference, possibly because Game Art represents the incorporation of new technology in the fine arts. From an academic point of view, I think the interest is twofold: Firstly, new media art in general are still somewhat in the periphery of the fine arts sphere, but quite interesting for academics to study for the same reason. Secondly, it has become essential to understand the influence computer games on the contemporary aesthetics, especially if one is interested in understanding the 21st century visual culture. In my opinion, the Swedish art community is very adaptable and sensitive to new developments of contemporary art, even though it always will take some time before art made with new visual technologies find its way to agents, collectors, and museums.
GameScenes: The artwork “Veøy" plays a key part in your art and research, doesn't it?
Yes, Veøy is the main project in my work, but also the most undefined. I suppose it's constantly a work in progress, as I am collecting material all the time. It has its starting point in an island right next to where I grew up in Norway, that has all kinds of stories connected to it. I suppose that project is interesting for me because I get to mix folklore, archaeological research and local history with my own memories and thoughts on how much a place means for us. The island itself is a peculiar place – nobody lives there now, but it used to be the religious and commercial center of our fjord. The mix between what-has-been and here-and-now is intriguing, and I am looking forward to continue working with it in the years to come.
Too Close for Comfort (2004) from Arne Kjell Vikhagen on Vimeo.
GameScenes: Why is the Unreal editor so popular among Game Artists?
Arne-Kjell Vikhagen: When I started working with Game Art, I tried a lot of different game engines before I landed on the Unreal Engine (the free runtime mostly, unless I do game mods). I still try other engines from time to time, and I really like some of the other open source engines, but I've sticked with the unreal engine for now. I like the way you can strip away the nice-looking surface, and keep the crude and primitive. That's important for me. I am not into fancy. When I worked with Veøy for instance, I obviously tried the Sandbox engine (FarCry), and it was great! It looked wonderful. So I had to go back to Unreal and make a polygon map of the island. It was a natural choice for me -- it didn't feel right. Maybe I'll change my mind about this in the future, if I find a way to combine the fancy with the primitive.
GameScenes: What strikes me about your Game Art projects is that they do not emphasize the notion of winning or losing: the "player" is often caught in a space or situation where he can not escape from as "To close for comfort" and "..and then you die”. This theme is constant in your work...
Arne-Kjell Vikhagen: Yes, certainly. The works you mention are all concerned with that, and I think it's a pivotal topic for me. Not to say I have opinions about what happens when we die, because I really don't, but the outer periphery of human existence has fascinated me for quite some time, probably my whole life. The life/death symbolism in video games is so closely connected to the idea of progress, and as such is suits me perfectly. On a symbolic level, it connects the idea of progress and initiative to the fragile limits of our existence. Add the aspect of morbid humour and you have a very strong combination for artistic expression!
"..and then you die!" (2003) from Arne Kjell Vikhagen on Vimeo.
Text by Mathias Jansson.
Link: Arne-Kjell Vikhagen
Link: Video gallery