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 document and examine both the origins and evolution of a phenomenon that changed the way game-based art is being created, experienced, and discussed today.
We are currently running Season 7, which began in 2017 with a conversation with Alex Hovet.
This episode features a conversation with sven signe den hartogh, a Dutch artist who works with different media, including photography, painting, film, the written word, and installations. His latest video and photographic works incorporates gaming aesthetics. His passion for the digital medium turned into a profession when he started playing competitively for a couple of years and, later, moved onto game design for inspiration. According to sven signe den hartogh the virtual world is a direct extension of the physical world. He regards digital games as a powerful medium for creative expression. He is represented by Eric Elenbaas Agency in Amsterdam and lives in Schiedam, the Netherlands.
This interview between Matteo Bittanti and took place via email in May 2018.
sven signe den hartogh, live-art performance in New York (photo: courtesy of the Artist)
What is your background? Can you please summarize your trajectory as an artist and a gamer. What do you see in games that you can't find in other media? How did you go from game design to art-making?
sven signe den hartogh: I’ve been playing games since I can remember, as a child I was exposed to the magical world that games oﬀer. This has kept me very busy for a big part of my youth, partly because I didn’t had a lot of friends but a very rich imagination which was partly fuelled by the virtual world.
In my teenage years I was playing games fanatically on a competitive level and I participated in many tournaments in multiple games. From national tournaments to even a world championship. When I graduated, I decided to study game design, probably because this was the closest thing to my passion at the time and this would feel less like a real study. I soon found out tho that school was not the right path for me and after a year and a half and two studies, I decided to quit. This development was accompanied by other interests and this reduced my enthusiasm for playing games. A newly acquired interest became appearance and this resulted in working in a clothing store and the creation of my own blog, The Stranded Sailors, which ceased to exist in 2015.
This was the start of a new path and the foundation for my creative journey.
For me it is very important that I can express my feelings and imagination in the things I spend my time on, whichever form of media it is, it has to inspire me. Games have always managed to create this abstract feeling which partly consists of safety and partly of a certain feeling that I’m not able to describe at this moment in time.
sven signe den hartogh, game photography projects 2018-
When did you begin to incorporate games in your artistic practice, or rather to use games to make art? Were you familiar with the work of other artists such as Jon Rafman, Cory Arcangel, Miltos Manetas and others? Finally, I have noticed that your Game Art projects - the Open Worlds series - are currently not available on your website, why?
sven signe den hartogh: Using the virtual world as a space to create is relatively new to me, I have only been working on it for a year or so, so it still feels very new. To be honest, I was not familiar with the work of other artists, in fact, I did not know that people used the virtual world to create. For me, it was because I spent so much time in the world of GTA V, Los Santos, that I wondered what it would be like to approach it as a photographer just as in the physical world. But when I did a little research it became clear that I was not the only one who had this idea, haha!
But my way of creating always manifests itself in so many diﬀerent forms, depending on what occupies me at that moment or what I have been touched by. There is no constant line in any specific form, they are all ways for me to express myself in a diﬀerent way. The reason why you cannot find it on my website is because I love the concept of ‘kill your darlings’ and only show a very small selection of work.
The work is available, if you know where to look.
sven signe den hartogh, existentie, machinima, 2018
I would love to know more about your video installation existentie (2018). How do you reconcile the Romantic idea of landscape, which is so prominent in art and tied to a logic of representation, with digital simulacra, i.e. video games, where the operating logic is not representational. How can a simulation introduce a new way of seeing the natural?
sven signe den hartogh: Thank you for asking this question, I do not approach the virtual world from the perspective that it is real or not real. For me, it is all about the experience we can have in this life and as long as the experience is there, there is a reason to exist. (This is twofold)
Of course there is a distinction between these experiences and I am very aware of this. However, I am convinced that we cannot see nature separately from our existence, it is circulair, there is no distinction. Partly because of this, I understand why we (sometimes unconsciously) can feel so attracted to a virtual landscape. The virtual landscape tells me something about our relationship with the physical world, which I was to express subtly in my work. The virtual world can sometimes reveal issues that apply to our existence in the physical world, as an artist I choose to highlight this in my own way.
sven signe den hartogh, in all but name, machinima, 2018
In your installation in all but name you investigate the paradoxical nature of gaming, the fact that they can convincingly simulate non-existent spaces. How do you address the inherently deceptive nature of gaming in your work?
sven signe den hartogh: By approaching the infinite possibilities in a fairly earthly way, my way of creating will always be limited to the limitations we face as humans. So at the moment a human intervention takes place you may wonder to what extent it is still misleading, because it has been touched through real life.
sven signe den hartogh, game photography projects 2018-
Can you discuss your game-photography practices? What is your angle, no pun intended?
sven signe den hartogh: I think that I have already partly answered this in previous answers but it is mainly the virtual world that I approach as real as possible so that as a viewer you can get the feeling that this is something you could go to. The moment of doubt among people that they wonder ‘where’ or ‘what’ this is, that is what I find very interesting. Again the virtual world feels real to me, I do not wonder if it is or if it’s not. I experience it and my creations are an observation of my experiences in that world.
sven signe den hartogh, machinima project, 2018-in progress
You are currently working on a machinima... A black and white video? Looks very intriguing. Can you discuss the project?
sven signe den hartogh: In my approach to film, I try to let the captured image speak for itself and give it a certain ‘room’ that it gives people room for their own imagination. The film I am working on at the moment is very similar to my previous films, that’s all I can say about it for now.
LINK: sven signe den hartogh