GameScenes is conducting a series of interviews with artists, critics, curators, 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 altered the way game-based art is being created, experienced, and discussed today.
Marque Cornblatt lives in San Francisco and calls himself a “Conceptual Technologist”. He is exploring "hyper-mediated identity", i.e. the borderline between virtual and real identity, the grey area between being and performing in tangible and online spaces. This concern has become a staple of contemporary Hollywood cinema - think, for instance, of such movies as Gamer (2009), Avatar (2009) and Surrogates (2009). All these movies imagine a future where humans are living through their avatars, and where virtual and real identities are becoming indiscernible. Cornblattt has been investigating the same shifting boundaries through a series a bold artistic interventions. He has also produced a series of ground-breaking performances in game spaces, including "Grand Theft Auto IV Crime Free Law-Abider, A Performance Art Project" (2008).
"No laws were broken during the making of this video. "The map is not the territory". How does that statement resonate in today's digitally rich context, in which we visit countless simulacra of territory, reference maps that signify maps, and have deeply fulfilling personal experiences in the non-territories of virtual space? Are there any original territories left, or has literally everything become a signifier for something else, an infinite loop of maps leading to maps eventually leading back to the first -but not necessarily the original - map?" (Marque Cornblatt, 2008)
In this conversation - which took place in September 2010 via email - Cornblatt discusses his game-based works with Mathias Jansson.
GameScenes: Your MFA Thesis announces "The Emergence of the MediaSapien”. What is the MediaSapien, exactly?
Marquee Cornblatt: The MediaSapien is a term I coined to describe the current evolution of the human animal as it becomes a hybrid of flesh and technology. Although the notion of the human/machine cyborg is nothing new, the past few years have seen the exponential growth of human identity as filtered through digital technologies. In a remarkably short span of time, people have begun to spend their time in virtual territory and share their lives on social networks to such an extent, that many people find virtual life to be more fulfilling and engaging than real life.
From the outside it may be easy to dismiss these people as preferring fantasy over reality, the truth is that the territory of interpersonal significance has shifted, and physical proximity has become less important to quality social discourse. Our friends, lovers, co-workers and peer groups are more likely to be geographically dispersed than ever before in human history, yet our ability to engage each other on deep and intimate levels has never been greater.
Game Scenes: Can you explain the genesis of your Xbox 360 self-portraits?
Marquee Cornblatt: The Xbox portrait series is a body of work made using only commercially available games on the Xbox console - I decided to limit myself to the tools provided within each game without any additional hacking, modding or coding. The reason for this limitation came from earlier self portrait work made within Second Life. In the SL work, I found the high quality and depth of the tools to actually work against my intent, by allowing limitless options during the creative process. It was essentially too easy to make my avatar portrait exactly as I wanted to appear within the virtual space. SL offered no resistance to my presentation as a tall, young, muscular stud. After a few moments of this creative freedom, I ultimately found the work to be like candy. Very appealing but ultimately void of lasting value.
By switching to Xbox games, I found the toolset to be severely limited - only a handful of games offer any kind of character creation tools, and even those are usually limited to game-specific details. For instance, within The Godfather game, it is very difficult to create a character who isn't a mobster, and all the characters in the Tiger Wood's PGA Tour Golf game seem like yuppies, regardless of the effort to look otherwise. This reduced palette actually provided a more interesting environment for creativity by forcing me to work within (and against) the confines of each game while trying to create portraiture that evokes the true nature of the person, as opposed to the archetypes presumed by the game's designers. The resulting portraits seem to reflect everything from Max Headroom to Harry Potter's living paintings to Cindy Sherman's self portraits.
GameScenes: The self-portrait is a common practice within the history of art. How do videogames and online worlds change/alter this practice? What is the relationship between our identity and our avatat?
Marquee Cornblatt: From the earliest cave paintings through modern times, the self portrait has always been a means of establishing one's place in the world - to say "I am here." In this new virtual territory, reputation has become the most important form of social currency, and we are no longer limited to a single identity. For instance, within Facebook and Twitter, my outward personae is the working artist, on a dating site, I might present myself as younger and richer than in reality. But on Xbox live, I am simply known as a cold-blooded assassin or deadly sniper. Games and virtual territory allow us to have as many identities as we have online communities.
GameScenes: What about Sparky's “Self Portrait Artifact –Roving Chassis I”?
Marquee Cornblatt: The Sparky project examines many of the same ideas and issues as my other work but approaches the conversation from a different starting point. Wherein the video and game-based work explores the hybridization of people and technology within virtual territory, the Sparky project investigates the human/machine hybrid in real space.
Originally built in 1994 as an extension of a series of video-based sculptures, Sparky was designed as a free-rolling robot with a video-chat monitor for a head, and the ability to control it from a remote location - essentially providing a remote, real-time, face-to-face chat device. The robot could be set up at a party or event, and the person controlling and appearing on the 'bot's screen could be almost anywhere in the world - The idea was to allow me to attend my own art reception without leaving home. Over the years, Sparky's basic technology has been replaced and upgraded, and now works entire over the Internet using a combination of Skype and custom software. The functionality of Sparky has expanded as well, providing a template for how people may interact in the near future - attending school, visiting museums, or even acting as a "surrogate" in dangerous situations like hostage negotiations. There are now several start-up's building telepresence robots with a wide range of feature to attempt to define and fill these emerging niches.
GameScenes: When did you interest in videogames as a platform, a means of expression begin, and what do you find interesting or challenging with this medium?
Marquee Cornblatt: The first Pong coin-op cocktail table came out when I was six. I have played videogames every day since then. In almost 40 years, games have become slowly (but steadily) integrated into the collective consciousness, and within the past few years have gained real traction as a serious medium of communication, creativity, education and socializing. Games are now firmly entrenched in the human conversation and have taken their rightful place within the cycle of cultural cause-and-effect alongside film, literature, performance and technology. Videogames have become both inspiration and palette.
link: Marque Cornblatt
link: MediaSapiens blog
related: Marque Cornblatt's The Self Portrait-Fly Daddy
related: Game ArtWorlds' Contemporary Practitioners
Text by Mathias Jansson