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 illustrate the genesis and evolution of a phenomenon that changed how game-based art is being created, experienced, and discussed today.
After two successful seasons, we recently kickstarted the third.
Crafting nostalgia. Per Fhager's embroidery games
Since 2008, Per Fhager has been mixing embroidery and videogames with astonishing results. The Swedish artist appropriates and recontextualizes pixel motifs from "Old school" coin-ops like Megaman, Super Mario and Bubble Bobble. After selecting screenshots from classic titles of the 8- and 16-bit era, Fhager reinvents them as embroideries. The pervasive nostalgia of contemporary Game Art is an obvious leit-motif of his production, but Fhager's appropriation of Japanese aesthetics through the medium of craft is quite unique. These embroideries are colorful and vibrant. They evoke the frantic movement of both the arcade monitors and the tv screens, but in static form. In this paradox - motionless dynamism - lies the brilliance of his performance. By using an image - a frame, a still - as a model, as the source to be reproduced in other form, Fhager redefines the very meaning of the expression "still life".
A fil rouge connects video games and embroidery: skill. Both gamers and artists must skillfully and artfully use their fingers in order to achieve their goals. The former manipulates a joystick, the latter a needle, thread and yarn. Accuracy is key. Quite interestingly, most of contemporary embroidery is stitched with a computerized embroidery machine using patterns "digitized" with embroidery software. In automatic embroidery, different types of "fills" add texture and design to the finished work. In a sense, the language of videogame and the practice of embroidery are converging. This fact makes Per Fhager's artwork even more significant.
Fhager often reproduces the complex cartography of ancient virtual worlds. Consider, for instance, "Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble 2" (2010) or the island of Super Mario World (2010). As such, his embroideries become navigational tools: maps of time(s) as well as space(s). His embroideries are also remediating the medium of painting. In fact, some of his landscapes evoke the genre of naturalistic, romantic oil canvasses from the previous century. After all, for the generation that grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, computer screens have replaced the traditional window. For today's 30- and 40-something, digital environments are as meaningful as concrete ones. Perhaps more. Thus, the urgency of preserving them, as textile artifacts, becomes perfectly comprehensible. (Matteo Bittanti)
In this conversation with Mathias Jansson, Fhager explains why he chose embroidery as his medium of expression and what he finds so appealing about videogames.
Per Fhager, Megaman IV, 2011, 119X137cm, chain stitch, wool
GameScenes: How long have you been playing with videogames?
Per Fhager: I've been playing video games since elementary school. Then as now, I was fascinated by movement, music, colours, the challenge and above all the graphics. I remember my first experience of pixel graphics as something quite magical and could sit for long periods inches from the TV and draw the graphics on graph paper. The special aesthetics of video games early started to influence my creative expression.
Per Fhager, Blazing Star, 2011, 54X78cm, tent stitch, wool (framed)
GameScenes: Are there any specific titles, series or platforms that you find particularly fascinating?
Per Fhager: I love most games, but I like to recreate only those which left a lasting impression as embroidery. Since I almost exclusively base my designs on game with pixel graphics, the majority of my work is from game titles from the 1980s and 1990s. At that time every game had that kind of graphics. Despite the technological advances that led to 3D - today, almost every video games use three-dimensional polygon-based graphics - there are still games around that have the same type of two-dimensional graphics as when I was a child. This explains why there are designs from both new and old games in my work .
Detail embroidery made by Per Fhager (photo source: Ase Lunblad)
I would like to clarify that, for me, it is not all about pixel graphics, genre or specific game consoles. What matters to me are the games themselves. Of all cultural expressions there is no doubt that video games have considerably boosted my creativity, and still do. Video games represent a unique experience. And I always wanted to give form to that experience.
Per Fhager, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, 2011, 56X51cm, cross stitch, cotton
The distance between the digital image in computer games and traditional embroidery may at first sight seem large, but there a fundamental similarity in how the image is built up of small color fields.
Detail embroidery made by Per Fhager (photo source: Ase Lunblad)
Classic comprehensive embroidery, usually in cross stitch or so-called petit point, has always been point-based just like video games pixel graphics. It is fascinating that such an old and often very tradition-bound craft have much in common with a modern phenomenon such as video games. Both of these worlds interests me personally, but it is their combination that drives me, artistically speaking. Their mix is a catalyst for me. They go together, hand in hand.
GameScenes: What is your background? How did your interest in embroidery and video games begin?
Per Fhager: I have a textile background based on a genuine interest in many technologies in the field, including embroidery. In my early teens, I began experimenting with embroidery. I used video game graphics as a template, but it took me a few years before I made that connection again. My first piece was completed in 2008 and I realized early that this represented the beginning of an ongoing series. By this time, I bought my material in a yarn store on Drottninggatan Street, in Stockholm where I am now one of the regulars. At one time the owner asked if I was interested to exhibit my works in the shop’s window display. This exposure led to my contact with Mr. Stene of Stene Projects Gallery which has been representing my work for the past three years. Stene Projects allowed me to reach out to a much larger audience.
Per Fhager, Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble 2, 2010, 95X63cm, long legged cross stitch, wool
GameScenes: Your works have gained attention both in Sweden and abroad. Why?
Per Fhager: My opinion is that video games are a relatively young phenomenon, especially in the artworld. Aside from Japan, where they are part of everyday life, in the rest of the world games are still considered a niche interest. This probably explains why those who love my work simultaneously discover the world of videogames, and vice versa. The unexpected as well as obvious link between pixel graphics and comprehensive embroidery that fascinates the viewer regardless origin and age.
GameScenes: What are your future projects?
In the Spring of 2013, I will have two simultaneous solo exhibitions at Stene Projects in Stockholm and Belmacz in London. So there's definitely an interest in my video game-based art both in Sweden and abroad.
Per Fhager, Pop´n TwinBee, 2008, 50X55cm, tent stitch, wool
GameScenes: Will you keep exploring the connections between games and embroidery?
Per Fhager: I want to continue exploring the unlimited opportunities of embroidery and share my absolute best gaming experiences with the public. For every work I complete, there is a new motif waiting around the corner. I do this out of my love for the craft and my love for video games.
LINK: Per Fhager
Interview archives: Contemporary Practitioners; The Early Years
Interview Text by Mathias Jansson
Editing: Matteo Bittanti
All images courtesy of Per Fhager