Interview: skot deeming (mrghosty), Game (Art) changer
GameScenes is talking to 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 document and discuss both the origins and evolution of a phenomenon that changed the way game-based art is being created, experienced, and discussed today.
The conversation between skot deeming (mrghosty) and Matteo Bittanti took place via email in February of 2014. skot deeming is one of the masterminds behind Vector: Game + Art Convergence, one of the most lively, eclectic and electric events entirely dedicated to Game Art. Vector debuted in February of 2013 and the second edition - bigger, better, bolder - is right behind the corner.
GameScenes: First of all, who is skot deeming? What is your background? What are your main passions and obsessions? And how did Vector come to be?
skot deeming: Well, I'm a former VJ, artist and, I guess, most recently a curator. I've been working in various DIY scenes since my late teens, and now some 20 years later, I find myself curating experimental games + game art. I've been a (bad) filmmaker, a zine publisher, a sound art creator, basically I guess I'm a bit of a magpie, and right now, thinking about games and contemporary art is my current shiny object.
My main passions & obsessions. Well, I love games + art + DIY cultures, fan cultures, hacking cultures, modding cultures. Basically, I've always been deeply interested in how individuals and groups create their own cultures and communities. That sort of how Vector was formed. Myself and three other artist/curators (Clint Enns, Katie Micak, Christine Kim) came together in the late summer of 2012, with the idea of really trying to push the conversation about games and contemporary art. and Vector was born.
GameScenes: Team Vector also includes Diana Poulsen and Martin Zeilinger. Can you clarify roles and functions of the trifecta?
skot deeming: Well, historically, we've run Vector as a curatorial collective, with each member making suggestions (both administratively and curatorially) and we vote on it. The founding members of Vector from last year have moved on to other projects, but Martin and Diana came on board because of their passion for games and contemporary art. Though the people have changed, the mandate stays the same, facilitate critical conversations about games and their relationship to artistic practice. Martin has a background in new media and intellectual property, and Diana completed her art history master's degree with a focus on video games and art. Both have written extensively about various practices where games, and technologies have intersected with other creative practices.
GameScenes: What are the highlights of the new edition of Vector?
skot deeming: The highlight for me this year (other than work by over 50 artists from around the world) is the inclusion of other curatorial voices. For 2013, Team Vector did the bulk of the programming for the festival, with Rich Oglesby (Prosthetic Knowledge) and I co-curating an exhibition. This year I'm excited about the guest curators we've invited to contribute. Clint Enns (former Team Vector member) is programming a screening on early computer animation experiments, Sarah Brin and Lee Tusman are bringing their Punk Arcade (which has exhibited in Philadelphia and L.A) to the festival, and Isabelle Arvers is bringing her machiniglitch program that was shown at last year's Gamerz festival.
While collectively, Vector has a vision for the discussion and exhibition of game art, we thought it was important to bring in others that do similar work, but whose perspectives are different enough that it will enliven and enrich the discussion at this year's festival.
GameScenes: What are the major challenges of organizing such an ambitious festival which focuses on a relatively niche sector of the artworld?
skot deeming: Whew. So many challenges. Thankfully in Canada, we have access to arts grants that have helped us on the fiscal side of things - Vector 2014 is funded in part by the Toronto and Ontario Arts Councils -, meeting those deadlines last year was a challenge. Otherwise, I'd think it would be the scale of this thing. With only three core members, we've managed to put together a programme of three exhibitions, screenings, panels, talks and workshops. It's a great deal of work.
Though really the primary challenge, I think, is outreach and acceptance of the festival. We're in this weird middle ground where we find ourselves split between the art question and the game question. Which makes it a challenge to find the right audience. I think we're succeeding on that front.
GameScenes: What were the learning lessons from the previous edition? What worked well and did not in 2013? In short, what made Vector vectorious, pardon, victorious?
skot deeming:Well I think that most of it worked. One thing we've cut from our programming this year though, was our pop-up shop, which was meant to sell artist multiples, small games, dvds, etc. It didn't really work out, and was far too much work to undertake again. Otherwise, I think we did it right. We managed to provide a breadth of programming that saw us tackle the game art question from as many angles as we could muster.
GameScenes: As a critic and a curator, what are the most interesting current trends, themes, or, gosh, movements, in game-inspired/game based art?
skot deeming:Oooh, that's a tough question actually. I think that generally, I'm most drawn to work that really pushes the limits of the medium. Work that is really self-reflexive (of the medium itself), which generally leads me to think more and more about art-modding and its history. I'm pretty pre-occupied with how we can think of games in relationship to avant-garde art practices. What does this look like? What kind of medium specific questions are these intersections provoking? How do we create a rubric for understanding the various practices which fall under the larger umbrella of game art? So far I still have more questions than answers, but I'm enjoying thinking about this a great deal.
GameScenes: What would it take to create a permanent space for Game Art, a space for curation but also preservation of intrinsically ephemeral artworks, in Toronto, Canada? Is such project on your radar?
skot deeming: First of all, it would take some serious capital. And I guess some will. Right now, I'm currently living in Montreal doing my PhD at Concordia University and am a researcher at the Technoculture, Art and Gaming (TAG) Research Centre (and commuting to Toronto for Vector). One of the projects I'm currently involved with, is creating an archive of vintage games and hardware for researchers. Honestly, I think that the archive question is something as a discipline (game studies), we're still struggling with, but once we have answers on how to preserve games themselves, then we can talk about how to apply that knowledge of the preservation of things like art mods, etc. More than a question of space,it's a question of technical expertise, combined with the will to create some standards for preservation in the art sense, rather than the game sense.
On a personal note, the idea of a permanent gallery space is something I've been thinking about. It would be really nice to see these kinds of spaces open in Canada.
GameScenes: Where do you see Vector in five years from now? Will it become the Ars Electronica of Game Art or will it eventually evolve/expand/explode into something like FILE or Ars Electronica? Should we expect more spin-offs, like Queer Arcade, in the upcoming months?
skot deeming: I would love for this to become the ars electronica of game art, but that would require some serious scaling up. Right now, I think it's important to keep Vector a bit modest, because as you said before, this is kind of a niche world. It feels like it's expanding but it's still a pretty small sub-practice under the larger practices of new media art. As the game art world grows, I hope that we can grow with it, it would be nice to include even more voices in this thing as we move forward, and we've been reaching out to other game art communities and curators, and its my hope that these conversations will bear fruit in the future.
In the short term though, we are planning on programming outside of the festival again. Last year saw us curate the Queer Arcade with the help of a great gallery space in Toronto called VideoFag, and we programmed some art games for an event at the X-Avant Music Festival in Toronto as well. What our future non-festival programming will look like, we're not quite sure yet, as being a week away from Vector has us all pretty much preoccupied with taming the beast that's knocking at our door. Once we're done with Vector 2014, we'll collect ourselves and see what kind of programming we want to do next. Hopefully in other cities, expanding our conversation to other places.