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.
Lea Schönfelder talked to Mathias Jansson in October 2011 via email.
Lea Schönfelder was born in 1985 in Heidenheim, Germany. She studied visual communication at the Kassel Art Academy with a focus on animation and illustration. In the last two years, Schönfelder has made a significant impact on the indiegame scene and in the art scene tout court with two "games for adults", as she likes to call them, Ute and Ulitsa Dimitrova, created with Gerard Delmas. Both games present a monochrome palette and the graphic are plotted with simple lines.
GameScenes: I have read in an interview that you don’t really like to play videogames. So, why did you use videogame aesthetics to create your artworks? What was so appealing to you?
Lea Schönfelder: The vast majority of computer games look very similar to me. There's not much variety neither in an aesthetic sense nor in the themes they deal with. So I felt it interesting to use the medium and fill it with my own ideas and thoughts. My games look like drawings I could also have in my sketchbook and they deal with topics concerning my personal surroundings.
What attracts me most about computer games is the possibility to express ideas in the form of systems instead of linear stories (like you have in most films or literature). I find it interesting to connect narrative content to mathematic and systematic structures.
GameScenes: Ulitsa Dimitrova and UTE received many accolades at indie gaming festivals and elsewhere. Both share a black and white palette that resembles stylized cartoon and children's drawing. Why did you choose this peculiar style?
Lea Schönfelder: Ulitsa Dimitrova is traditionally animated with blue ballpoint and tippex on white paper and then scanned picture by picture. The colors represent the nordic light and atmosphere in St. Petersburg and the drawing remind us a little bit of child drawings - because it's a seven year old Russian child, we play in the game. Ute has a black and white style and is 2D computer animated. The look here is a little cleaner and remind us more of a bureau atmosphere.
But I'm not determined to work monochrome. In sketchbooks I'm continuously drawing and developing my graphical style. I'm then adapting the "artistic research" to my bigger projects. Recently I often worked with colors in the sketchbooks, so my latest projects, like the animated film "don't be afraid of anaesthesia", are colorful.
The graphics I use in all my work is quite functional. I understand my drawings rather as a language than a style. The most important about a story is that people understand what I want to say. I think through my drawings it is possible to express what I want to say in a clear and personal way.
GameScenes: Which artists play an important role for you? Who did you find particularly inspiring?
Lea Schönfelder: I admire David Shrigley, Jason Rohrer and Eddo Stern among others.
GameScenes: Both your games deal with social issues, e.g. homelessness and sexuality. What is you take on the power of gaming as an artistic medium to reach new audiences to make a statement that goes behind "videogames are fun" or "videogames are going to save the world" et similia?
Lea Schönfelder: Computer games of course can be used like every other medium in an artistic way. Maybe the problem with games as art lies in reaching your target audience. Computer games are strong in being distributed via the internet. That's a great possibility to reach many people all over the world. But what if your target audience doesn't spend much time in the internet? What if your target audience is older ladies that are interested in art?
They'd rather go to a museum and talk with others about what they see than sitting alone at home and trying out new games. So you might have the idea to present computer games in a museum, which also can be problematic because many games need some time to understand them right. One adequate way to present games to a target audience that's not familiar with computer games is in my opinion a tutorial-like show in which someone explains the game and what it's about to the audience. That can be live or in a video on the internet.
This sort of presentation functions very well for games that need to be "understood" as for example the games by Molleindustria (Pedopriest, Everyday the same dream). And also speaking of my own games I get the impression people like it if I present the game to them and later they can try it on their own.
GameScenes: You recently took part in the“Spielsalon Kassel”. What was the focus of the show?
Lea Schönfelder: The SPIELSALON Kassel is a festival for author games which took place for the first time this year. Located in the Kunsteverein im Fridericianum, which historically is the central museum during the Documenta exhibition in Kassel, we exhibited computer games with strongly individual handwriting concerning both aesthetics and content. This year we had games like "At a distance" by Terry Cavanagh or Jens Stober's 1378km, a game about the inner German border. My game “Ute” was also part of it. Hopefully it will take place next year again, which will also be the year of the next Documenta 13 exhibition.
GameScenes: What are you working on right now?
I'm now working on a new project. It's a multiplayer game for Facebook and it's called Harmonic Flight. It is about a flight attendant who only works in a harmonic atmosphere. Each player is one passenger and all passengers together have to keep the stewardess in a good mood so the airplane lands properly. If not the flight attendant gets angry and the airplane crashes. I'm working on the game with Gerard Delmas and we will hopefully release it during the next weeks.
Link: Lea Schönfelder
Link: Ute. A game for adults
Link: Ulitsa Dimitrova
Interview archives: Contemporary Practitioners; The Early Years
Text by Mathias Jansson
Editing: Matteo Bittanti
All videos courtesy of the artist.