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 the way game-based art is being created, experienced, and discussed today.
The conversation between Victor Morales and Matteo Bittanti tool place via email between the months of October and November of 2013.
Victor Morales is one of the most exciting artists experimenting with video games today. Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Morales received a Law Degree from Universidad Catolica Andres Bello, in Caracas in 1990. In 1992, Morales completed a Master’s degree in Technology Applied to the Arts at New York University’'s Gallatin Division. He spent more than a decade in New York City and he is currently living in Berlin. Since 2003, Morales, "has been obsessed with the art of video game modifications and has implemented different game engines into most of the works he has participated in or created."
Morales has performed a number of solo shows in art galleries, festivals, and events, including Performance Space 122, The Little Theater in New York City, The Collapsable Hole in Brooklyn, and Gessner Allee in Zurich, Theater Freiburg, and The Hau in Berlin. Morales' performances with game engines (CryEngine in primis) have consistently challenged the nature of simulation. He creates dynamic visual art through unconventional performative gestures, both technologically subversive and aesthetically dissonant,as they explore - and exploit - glitches, errors, and bugs. Images are produced in real time and machinima is mostly used as an archival medium. Morales' performances also remediate the medium of puppetry. Consider, for instance, his "Marionette" project (2010):
GameScenes: Victor, you were born in Venezuela, but moved to New York in 1991. Around that time, if I am correct, you also went from theater to computer science. Was Computers as Theater by Brenda Laurel - published around the same time - instrumental in your change of direction, by any chance? Was this seminal text influential for your evolution as an artist? If not, what triggered your decision to switch to technology (from performance art) to create art?
Victor Morales: Not really, I did not come across that book at the time. My motivation to switch, was triggered when I saw for the first time a "digital picture" in photoshop (we are talking Photoshop 2.0. when layers were not even implemented!)… I thought it was magical and i wanted to learn more about it, and I also knew that I would always come back to theater, which in fact, I did.
Victor Morales, Vogelstimmen, 2009. It was performed along Messiaen's 'un Sourire with the Tonkünstler-Orchestra at the Festspielhaus in St Pölten, Austria on September 26, 2009. It was created with CryEngine 2.
GameScenes: If you were to identify the medium’s specificity - the essence of digital gaming - what would mention: interactivity or its real-time nature?
Victor Morales: Those two qualities are holding hands, or rather embrace each other. I think real-time is key as a field of exploration or better, a landscape of discovery; on my early days when I was thinking about theater and what to do with it, I always antagonized theater against Film and TV, arguing that while theater could not compete with Film and TV as a storytelling medium, it had the advantage of being "live", more dynamic and open, in fact a better tool/way for finding the "unknown". I believe the same applies to video games, which like theater, struggle with storytelling. Back in the day, my main argument for Film and TV being the masters of the story was the invention of the "montage" as this super powerful language, a language that does not exists in theater nor in video games. Of course one could say that cut-scenes in video games and actors "entries and exits" in theater are a kind of montage; but while the former borrows/steals the language of "montage", the latter lacks the power of expressing what a "close-up" could say, or a "helicopter shot" can accomplish. If the audience (gamer/user) can participate (by playing/doing) in the creation process, it exponentially augments its creative potential.
GameScenes: You have been working with video games for more than a decade. You often mention that 2003 was a turning point for you. It was the year in which your passion for the gaming medium turned into an “obsession”. What happened, exactly? How and why did you get into art mods and Game Art?
Victor Morales: One night I was playing Metal Gear Solid 2 I think, on the PS2… and I actually played for like 7-8 hours straight that night… then at some point my character gets killed, and it re-spawned in a kind of prison, naked. Then from then on it was very difficult to play (the character walked covering his private parts), It had no weapon… but the most interesting thing was that there was this little picture in picture of an avatar that speaks to you throughout the game, helping, guiding you and such… and then this avatar (I think it was a general) started saying something like "You should stop playing now, you have been playing for more than 8 hours, this game is not so important, you should rest, you should stop playing now" and it kept saying this kind of things and it really made no sense to continue to play (it was too hard!) After seeing and struggling with this, I turned off the game and never played it again. For me this was amazing/illuminating moment, this game, this media actually knew something about me… it not only knew that I have been playing for a long time but it actually toll me that I should stop, and it fact made it difficult for me to continue! After this experience I thought that I had to learn this medium, and the next day started looking into Warcraft modding or something like that.
Victor Morales, One animation per day,30 seconds or more 01, Beyond the Magic Mushrooms, machinima based on live performance, 2013
Victor Morales, One animation a day, 30 seconds or more 12, ColorHead, machinima based on live performance, 2013
Victor Morales, One animation a day, 30 seconds or more 09, After 7 rums with Coconut Water, machinima based on live performance, 2013.
Victor Morales, One animation a day, 30 seconds or more 13 - City Sketch, 2013, machinima based on live performance, 2013
Victor Morales, One animation a day, 30 seconds or more 16 - City Stroll, machinima based on live performance, 2013
Victor Morales, One animation a day, 30 seconds or more 15, The Singularity's "Organs and Limbs" farm, machinima based on live performance, 2013
GameScenes: Your practice centers on an exploration of “video game engines as simulation environments, where death and physics are transformed into dramatic and comedic real time performance," as you write on your blog. This is particularly manifest in your latest series, 30 seconds of more Can you explain the origins of this project? I love the ephemeral, experimental nature of this work. Do you see this process evolving into something more structured, into an organic whole, or would that be a betrayal of its improvisational nature, so to speak?
Victor Morales: The full title of the project is One animation a day, 30 seconds or more and the idea behind it was to force myself to make a piece everyday and somehow exhaust all I knew and somehow "document" the process. At the moment I needed to "see" what I could do, without any constraints on meaning and/or goals. Now when I look at it I believe it was a great experience and I actually recommend all artists to go through this exercise: it is challenging, exhausting and fun. And yes, at the moment I am working on a few "more structured" pieces... Exploring a bit of linear narrative; although I am not so interested on storytelling as a goal… I believe virtual/digital media/worlds have acquired a kind of meaningful weight that is very different than the narrative coming from film and even traditional animation. It is hard to explain and I am not sure if I entirely grasp the difference at the moment (or if it just in my head), but it has something to do with the video game world being more expendable, somehow less important. like the death of my avatar doesn't really matter… death can be laughable when the victim is a virtual character... Of course you can find this same feeling on all kinds of narratives, but it is always a very specific set up, like when Bart and Lisa Simpson laugh at Ichy and Scratchy. It is a set up that comes from playing video games.. your relationship to the world has a certain flavor and things like death, violence, sadness, beauty are expressed with a "filter" that can generate a special meaning to a specialized (?) audience.
Victor Morales, Venus: The Bringer of Peace, 2013. This piece wperformed with the Tonkunsler orchestra at Festspielhaus, St Polten. June 8, 2013
GameScenes: I found Venus: The Bringer of Peace both touching and mesmerizing. Somebody mentioned that it is a digital equivalent of Fantasia. It seems to much much more compelling and interesting than a production by the Walt Disney Corporation. Can you describe your process? How long did it take to produce? What were the major challenges in utilizing the CryEngine?
Victor Morales: I thought about Venus for a long time, around three months. The actual production time was around 10 days or so and I designed it so I could play it live, using the mouse and keyboard + an iPad for additional controls. It was performed with a live orchestra in Austria and it was an amazing experience for me. In my process, sound is always the beginning, the origin. I listened to Holst's Venus maybe hundreds of times and the images started coming out of the music. It was a challenge to find the "feminine" within this medium, until I realized that all of the space has to be a woman: the trees, the moon, the city, the landscape. I believe the process of working with video game engines and real-time media in general is a process of discovery, of trial and error, not of pre-visualizacion. Even though I just said that the images "came out" of the sound, these images where not "defined" or visualized… these images where more like shapes, rhythms, patterns, palettes… very blurry, very abstract. Then when I sit down to make the objects, spaces and animations it is more like a search rather than a realization. I knew I wanted the landscape to come out of a classic painting, I knew that the goddess was a "face", I knew that there was a city and a dancer… Then it is all about making the assets I needed, then find some other assets I have on my library and basically playing around with materials and particles. The Cryengine is so powerful! The character pipeline is a bit difficult to master, but once you get that going, the possibilities are endless! I have also been lucky to find a programmer, Hendrik Polczynski, who made some great plugins that allow me to control many variables on a live set up like the OSC plugin, morph and bones controllers, video-player plugin, etc.
Victor Morales, Parachuteless, single channel machinima, 2008.
GameScenes: Can you talk a little bit about some of your early projects, like Parachuteless? How did you decide to remix Orson Welles’ The Search for Henri Lefevre? Did you adapt the other tracks from that album, Your Obedient Servant (1946), by any chance? The Hitch-Hiker and Sredni Vashtar?
Victor Morales: I think one should always go for the things one likes, I mean, if you are doing a job, or designing something for money, then you should go for what you think is "right", but if you are making art (or something that approximates art) one should go with the gut, with the shit one loves. There was a time, like 11 years ago, when I was listening to a lot of old time radio, a lot of Orson Wells… I am not sure why, i think it had to do with it being live, like a theater show… also I think it was a way to get away from the screen and just listen and rest my eyes. The search for Henri Lefevre was particularly appealing to me because it was an intense sad story disguised as a horror story, I also loved the slow pace of old time radio and of course there is Orson Wells voice, which is an unique and marvelous musical instrument. So in a way it was the same old process of mine, the sound as the epicenter, and in this particular piece, this sound was charged with an incredible amount of psychology that i found quite challenging to work with. And oh yes, one of these nights I will make the Hitchhiker.
Victor Morales, PlayZero #7 Sister made of steel, 2010.
GameScenes: What about the PlayZero series? Can you discuss its inception and development? It seems like an incredible project From the photos I saw on flickr it seems that you juxtaposed Murnau’s Sunrise (1927) with visuals created with the CryEngine - is that right or am I completely off track?
Victor Morales: Actually those were two different projects. I made some visuals that where "accompanying" Murnau's Film with an original score by Wolfgang Mitterer, and there was a new Opera called PlayZero also by Mitterer… I feel these two projects were milestone's for my work. They were long format, big stage productions that were very difficult to make.. and I learned a lot from them… I still think PlayZero is one of the best things I ever done, not just because I like the content, but because it was very large, more than 90 minutes of media on three different screens that took me and four artists/assistants 6 weeks to make; It was hard and so much fun!
Victor Morales, PlayZero,/10green milk 11suurd's aria without suurd 12visions, 2010
GameScenes: Who are the artists that inspired/inspire your evolution as an artist?
Victor Morales: Francis Bacon, James Brown, David Lynch, Jorge Luis Borges, Fernando Arrabal, Gilles-Delueze, the old Prince.. lately I have found David Oreilly, Donato Sansone, and Kyle McDonald to be quite an inspiration, both technically and aesthetically. And of course I have to mention my good friend and mentor Chris Kondek.
GameScenes: Glitch aesthetics recur in many of your works. What do you find so attractive about errors and mistakes? Are glitches the visual manifestations of the machinic subconscious or are you attracted specifically by their visual uncanniness?
Victor Morales: Errors and glitches are the drama of software, and as you said, the surreal within the machine. It is no coincidence that nowadays many artists are looking into this, since our lives are now so intertweined with machines, understanding and seeing the problems is a way to prepare us for the future, for what is coming.
GameScenes: Where do you see Game Art going in the next few years? Is the demise of the computer and the rise of “closed” systems like tablets or smartphones the beginning of the end for a more widespread experimentation? Or do you believe that creative tinkering, modding, and hacking - in short, your passion/obsession - is, by definition, a niche pursuit, an activity of the tech avant-garde?
Victor Morales: In my opinion creative coding will become the new literature. Video games will takes us to places we have never been before. I can only hope that complex creative software and hardware continues to be available to the masses and that there will be collectives and individuals that will make new art within and beyond the mainstream. We are at the beginning of a new Golden Age for the Arts. I also hope that the "open" stays strong, next to the "closed", like day and night.
LINK: Victor Morales
Text by Matteo Bittanti