You’re in a computer game, Max! positions the work of 8 artists in a navigational 3-dimensional digital space, within which muted videos overlap and collide to form new combinations, and a user-performed soundtrack of the artists’ sound works provides the backdrop. As bricks and mortar galleries are forced to close their doors due to the onset of Covid 19, the Internet is now the only place to see new art. Many of these commercial galleries are left with no option but to move online. This exhibition puts forward an alternative model for looking at images on the Internet, rejecting a neutral aesthetic where the viewer remains passive, in favour of a game-like environment that acknowledges the materiality of the Internet to explore the point at which code becomes image.
The exhibition borrows its title from a line in the computer game Max Payne. As Alex Galloway notes in his 2006 book “Gaming. Essays on Algorithmic Culture”, Max Payne deliberately breaks the fourth wall when its main character is faced with the horrific realisation that his every move is being externally controlled by an outside agent - the player. At that point in the game, the space between the digital and non-digital becomes blurred by a conscious in-game acknowledgment of the outside world. Similarly, You're in a computer game, Max!, overcomes the division between digital and non-digital space by hijacking the user's webcam. When the user grants their permission, a chroma-rotten image of the webcam view is cast directly into the middle of the show. Upon entering, viewers are faced with a real-time image of themselves alongside a stream of artists' video works, including the perpetually trudging character of Daniel Shanken’s live edited video, Gaoler, which Shanken has built to trawl the corners of the web, in real-time, for its content. As viewers look at themselves looking at the work, this self-conscious act of looking, framed with a 16:9 rectangle, hints at an involvement on the part of the viewer usually lacking from the online art experience.
What happens when viewing art becomes something other than what it is in a gallery? You're in a computer game, Max! intentionally antagonises the traditional gallery model of viewing art online. Art seen on the Internet is often framed according to protocols borrowed from the white cube; a very neutral aesthetic that doesn't do anything to challenge usual in-browser behaviour. Within this environment the viewer remains largely passive; we are simply asked to scroll vertically through images and videos, sometimes set within blocks of text.
In “Gaming. Essays on Algorithmic Culture” Galloway also talks about what he calls the ‘ambient state’ within computer games - that point within the game where the action stops and the player is faced with a purely aesthetic looping experience. These ambient repetitions of subtle movements are designed to lure the player in, and engage them in more action. Within art, however, the viewer is involved in a passive form of reception and contemplation, and this return to action through code will never come. In this sense You're in a computer game, Max! becomes a parody of this viewer passivity. Our actions lead only to more looking; we become caught up in an ambient loop that only reveals more images, or different combinations of the same images.
To explore new possibilities and break out of this ‘ambient state’, the artists selected for You’re in a computer game, Max! were invited to make new work in response to the original format of the website. Using the arrangement of video and audio pieces in the 3D viewport as a starting point, Daria Blum, Robert Cervera, Bill Leslie and Jonas Pequeno made new video works for the exhibition.
The four new works extend the show in four very different ways. By projecting content from the show onto a block of wet, mouldable, clay, Bill Leslie’s video, Projection Modelling (2020), brings the web-based interface of You’re in a computer game, Max! into the physical space of his studio. Shot in one take, the video remains unedited and raw, like the clay he sculpts to distort and shape the projection. As the work progresses we become acutely aware of the material interplay between image and object.
Daria Blum’s video response, WHHHHHTT?? (2020), goes inside the screen to parody how we engage with digital media. The work focuses on Daria’s subjective experience of the screen from the projected point of view of her computer webcam. Throughout the work we are left guessing as to what exactly the artist might be looking at.
Robert Cervera's Grandpa's Footsteps, 2020, uses Jonas Pequeno's droning soundtrack from the show, alongside music created using computer cooling tubes as wind instruments, to remind us of the materiality of digital sound and image. The resulting soundtrack, coded through a visible text-based graphic interface similar to those used by algorave performers, is a visual nod to the signs and systems in-between what is sent and what is received within digital media. The walking figure, borrowed from Daniel Shanken’s video, Gaoler, references the idea of the ‘ambient state’ underlying the show, as something left unfulfilled - of going somewhere but never arriving.
Jonas Pequeno’s work, Hans Zimmer Exploding (2020), breaks away from directly visually referencing You’re in a computer game, Max! to build a strobing, schizophrenic video that sits somewhere between the handmade and the machine-generated. Throughout the work the artist points to the painterly style of procedural imagery generated by machine learning systems, and we are left wondering about the work's genesis.
All four videos are listed within the ‘RESPONSE’ menu of the homepage. Clicking through these links reveals an accompanying ‘INPUT’ menu, where video works by Keiken, Gibson/Martelli, Daniel Shanken and Katriona Beales, (muted within the main section of the show to allow them to autoplay within the 3D space) can be seen and heard in full.
Katriona Beales / Daria Blum / Robert Cervera / Gibson/Martelli / Keiken / Bill Leslie / Jonas Pequeno / Daniel Shanken
22nd April - 21st July 2020