REVIEW: Sarah Sparkes’ The GHost Parlour

This article is also available on Artlyst: https://www.artlyst.com/reviews/the-ghost-parlour-sarah-sparkes-at-new-art-projects/

The GHost Parlour, Sarah Sparkes’ solo exhibition at New Art Projects London, intimately explores the theme of ghosts and spirits, a subject which has fascinated Sparkes and been the centre of her artistic practice for many years. The exhibition comprises three sets of works: one film, numerous rounded collages and prints made on wallpaper and the GHost Tunnel, one of Sparkes’ most significant installations created for FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) and here exhibited for the first time in London.

Ghosts and spirits have fascinated Sparkes and been the centre of her artistic practice for many years

Sparkes’ film, Time You Need was the recipient of the MERU ART*SCIENCE Award and is now part of the permanent collection of GAMeC, Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Bergamo, Italy. It recreates one of Sparkes’ performances where, through a hypnotic-like process, she encouraged people to get to the Time You Need, to re-visit, in their minds, a moment of their past in order to detach from the hustle of daily life. The film explores themes of time travelling as a journey into our own internal black hole and mixes scientific theories with popular representations. At the same time, the handmade special effects and dreamy aesthetics reconnect the film to the rest of Sparkes’ artistic practice.

Sarah Sparkes - Crazy Horses 2019
Sarah Sparkes – Crazy Horses 2019

Sarah Sparkes Ghost Tunnel
Sarah Sparkes – GHost Tunnel 2019 New Art Projects

The series GHost-dance – David Soul and Crazy Horses have been made by Sparkes using the remaining rolls of wallpaper that covered the walls of her childhood home, creating a powerful connection between her past and her present artistic practice. The subjects printed on these small circular panels include one of the most famous cases of possession in popular culture, The Enfield poltergeist case from the 1970s which involved a teenage girl, Janet, who was alleged to be possessed by the poltergeist of an old man. However, Sparkes also chose to include scenes from other cultures, such as Native Americans ghost dancers trying to bring back the victims of the western invaders, Neolithic field monuments and portraits of key figures from early 20th-century psychical research. Another series of circular works, Crazy Horses feature repeat motifs of skeletal horses. While the first set was made with digital prints, this series is more physical and involved cutting and embedding the images in the wallpaper, to have a more direct connection to the wildness of the subjects: ‘Everyone needs, every now and then, stampeding horses running through their living room’, Sparkes says.

The final artwork is the GHost Tunnel, an installation from 2016-17, part of No Such Thing A Gravity curated by Rob La Frenais, which toured to the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts. This seemingly never-ending tunnel questions the notion of space and depth, and also stands as a metaphor of life and death. It represents that same black hole we all have in ourselves, as while we look in the tunnel we also see our image reflected on the glass: as if trying to understand what is at the end of the tunnel would also make us understand better our own selves.

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REVIEW: Aaron Scheer FINAL_007 (02) at Annka Kultys Gallery

This review is also available on Artlyst.com https://www.artlyst.com/reviews/upcoming-curators-review-exhibitions-annka-kultys-cell-project-space/

Annka Kultys gallery is a compact and clean space, the whitewashed walls a perfect backdrop for her latest showing of Aaron Scheer’s colour-popping digital paintings. Based between Berlin, Germany and Gothenburg, Sweden, ‘FINAL_007 (02)’ marks Scheer’s first solo exhibition in the UK and is on view until March 2 2019.
Scheer works with a range of digital devices, creating his works using the screens of his phone or laptop. The collection of seven works printed on paper continues his ongoing exploration of digital media, using painterly techniques to create artworks. To allow the visitors to have an understanding of his technique, the gallery included in the exhibition an insightful video created by Scheer himself, showing how he composes his digital, colour-saturated palettes by swiping and screenshotting the screen of an iPad. Through layering carefully composed monochrome images or desktop folders, sometimes manipulated using brush strokes effects on Photoshop, he creates vivid compositions with vibrant colour contrasts.

Aaron Scheer Annka Kultys Gallery
DANA X, Aaron Scheer, 2018 at Annka Kultys Gallery

On the surface, these works are pleasing just to look at because of the interplay of texture and colour, but there is a deeper meaning behind the German-born artist’s modern creations. He is interested in the relationship and cross-over between humanity and technology, with a focus on the ever-increasing connection and interdependency between man and social networks. The vivid blue of the Rothko-like painting Digital Archaeology V, or the bright green in the background of Facbook_7aec5af, both on view at the gallery, remind the viewer of apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp. Through applying a classical art compositional approach to digital mediums, he can explore the challenges of our ever increasing digital world, from perceptions of reality to big data and automated production.
As illustrated by the curator of the gallery, contact between Kultys and Scheer started a few years ago, when the German artist connected with her online. She then decided to include his artworks in the group show ‘CACOTOPIA 03’, an annual exhibition featuring the works of five recent graduates from art academies that ran from December 5, 2018, to January 19, 2019. Following the success of that exhibition, Scheer became one of the new artists represented by the gallery.
Scheer’s exhibition is contextualized in the gallery’s history, which has focused on multimedia and digital art since its opening in September 2015. Located in the borough of Hackney, in east London, it encourages artists to bring their digital artworks to the gallery and functions as a point of contact with the press and collectors. For anyone interested in the world of digital art, it is worth a visit.

Interview with artist and curator Sarah Sparkes at New Art Projects, London

Hi everyone, sorry if I have been this absent from the blog but the past two weeks have been crazy because of university deadlines and other projects, but from now on the situation will go back to normal! The uploads will be more consistent, and sorry again for these weeks of absence 🙂

We go back on track with this interview I made to Sarah Sparkes, an artist and curator based in London and now having an exhibition called ‘The GHost Parlour’ at New Art Projects until April 27. This interview follows the video interview that you can find on YouTube here, go check it out if you haven’t already!

Here we talk more in depth about her works that are now exhibited at New Art Projects in London.

Still from Time You Need © Sarah Sparkes

V: Can you tell me a bit more about the film exhibited?

S: So, it is called ‘Time You Need’ (2015) and it was made for the MERU ART*SCIENCE Award. I was nominated for that award by a curator called Rob la Frenais, who also curated the exhibition ‘No Such Thing as Gravity’. I think there were about five or seven nominated artists, they were all nominated by different curators and I won. I put a proposal for a film, and the jury nominated me to win! That was really exciting, I have had to make the first film I have ever made, which was really hard and intense. Because I make things with my hands, I had to learn about it as a physical medium, so it has a lot of special effects, quite cheesy ones because I was thinking of a 60s 70s sci-fi aesthetics. The special effects are done with me spinning things with my hands and with very simple effects of overlaying. It’s a film that is about time travel, internal time travel, it’s about trying to find a way to slow down time and enter a time that you need. We are always rushing, we are always tearing through life and I was just thinking how wonderful it might be that we could find within ourselves a black hole, a little wormhole in which we could escape to any time, and it would always be the time that we love the most. So, I did a performance in which I explored these themes with people, I just said ‘go to the time you need’. I did this text that I read to them that was quite hypnotic, and then I sung them a little song, the one that is on the film.

Still from Time You Need © Sarah Sparkes

V: So, the one in the film is during that performance?

S: Yes, so it’s kind of re-enacting the performance. I worked with three artists, two of them are performance artists because I wanted performance in the film to recreate the original I had done for a project called ‘Overtime’. I just told them ‘Come as if you were dressed to go time traveling’ so the clothes were entirely their own choice. I also worked with a scientist, an artist-scientist called Pietro Reviglio, he’s an astrophysicist and he has two PhDs in the study of black holes, so he was the science advisor since the film takes the concept, the idea of the black hole and plays with it in the narrative linking it to literature, science fiction, films and television programs in which there are portals or wormholes and they’re able to travel across time. I wanted to bring all of these things together with my own aesthetics and make a film that looked like the rest of my work. It was a challenge, very enjoyable, very frustrating sometimes, and I have had so many brilliant friends to help me, they’re all credited at the end of the film. Oh, it also features my great grandfather’s magic lantern’s lights. He was a magic lanternist, and I inherited his slides.

V: What do you mean by magic lanterns?

S: It is one of the earliest forms of projected images, it is glass slides with coloured pictures painted on them and then they would go in a big wooden box which once had fire behind it, now a lightbulb, that would project the images with a magnifier lens. This was an early form of entertainment and he used to go around south-east London entertaining people by projecting these things. And I inherited them, they’re so magical and beautiful that I wanted to insert them in the story.

Still from Time You Need © Sarah Sparkes
Material Mediums – Margery, Sarah Sparkes © Andy Keate

V: That’s amazing! Please, tell us more about the works made with wallpaper.

S: That’s a series of works called David Soul, maybe a lot of people are too young to remember but he was a 1970s pop star, he was also in a tv show called Starsky and Hutch. I am interested in this poster of David Soul that appears in the background in a very famous photograph of a very famous poltergeist case of the 1970s that involved a young girl, a teenage girl called Janet. She alleged that she was possessed by the poltergeist of an old man, and the whole house in Enfield was haunted by this man. It made the news, there have been documentaries about it and more recently two films made about it [one of this is the second movie of The Conjuring series].

She’s still alive, she still claims all of this happened, and in the photographs of her possession she’s leaping up in the air in her tiny bedroom, with a really big poster of David Soul. It looks like she is leaping towards him in the poster! This iconography of David Soul and the poltergeist girl is jumbled up in my mind and in my memory with research I have done into psychics, parapsychology and animalistic psychology, all different fields of research that come from various levels of belief. Some of them are open minded and believe, and some of them are neutral, or claim to be neutral. Some of them come from the position of ‘it’s all in the mind and we can prove it’. I have worked with people from all these different fields because I guess I am the neutral person, I want to remain neutral about my belief in ghosts and just explore them as a cultural phenomenon.

Image 1: the Enfield poltergeist case

V: What do you mean by neutral?

S: I won’t say if I believe or not in ghosts. For me it’s not about that, for me as an artist it’s not about my belief or skepticism at all, I haven’t even investigated that. I’m exploring how ghosts are made, I am looking for a ghost formula. How to make a ghost. And then I am interested in people that research ghosts. So, the wallpaper I used for these images is actual 1970s wallpaper, the blue wallpaper was on my bedroom walls when I was growing up, and that explains a lot!

V: So it’s the actual wallpaper?!

S: Yes, my mum always kept a spare roll of wallpaper in case we needed to patch up, and when she was clearing up the attic she found it and I said ‘oh no don’t throw it away! I’ll do something with this’. For the past three years I have been making works on it. I have been painting on it, I have been collaging with it, and it is also featured in other things as well, like in digital collages. However, these are actual, physical collages with prints, and it’s the actual wallpaper so it’s kind of vintage, I guess. The blue one was on the bedroom wall, and the orange one on the kitchen wall. So these are kind of found objects that have a memory and an important significance to me, and the imagery on them are of people that have been involved with ghosts in a variety of ways. There is one with Janet leaping towards David Soul, another with Janet and her brother and sister. And in that photo, when you zoom behind them there is a little magazine that says David Soul – part of it is my own myth-making, of course.

Crazy Horses, Sarah Sparkes © Andy Keate

I am also interested in how this myth of ghosts crosses cultures and borders and expands on. As it comes into a new culture it would be adapted into that, and that is what I am doing with the imagery. I am bringing ghosts from different cultures together and creating a new ghost story. Some artworks also feature native Americans: in an artwork a native American ghost dance is represented, which used to be performed in America at the same time as the spiritualist movement started in the States. I think it was no coincidence that spiritualism started in America, where the natives had a spirit based religion – then the invaders came, took the land and religions and massively killed and repressed the native Americans. They had developed a ghost dance, a religious practice where they would dance in a circle and try to bring back the past. It’s very moving: they’re trying to reconnect with the past, wipe away all the damage that had been done by the white people and bring back the buffalos and bring back all their dead relatives. I have brought them in as well along with this 1970s poltergeist possession.

So, everybody, or everything here is something that humans have used to try to contact the dead, that is their connection.

Material Mediums – Helen, Sarah Sparkes © Andy Keate

V: Are they prints on the wallpaper?

S: They are prints: these [the orange ones] are digital images, manipulated digitally and then printed directly on wallpaper – I’ve broken two printers doing this, it’s not advisable! While these [the blue ones] are actual physical collages, sometimes there’s a bit of paint in them. I made a bit of physical collages, a bit of painting on top, changing sizes, playing around the process of collage, and then I scanned them, they became digital images and then they were printed onto the wallpaper. I found that this wallpaper particularly takes the print really well, it’s a lovely surface! Sometimes I have also sanded them, I like how the wallpaper comes through the images. So this is a friend describing it, I am gonna quote her, she said ‘it looks like black mold on the wallpaper’ and I thought that was brilliant! I thought ‘perfect, that’s exactly what it is’! It’s like black mold on the wall of an old house, and then you see shapes in it. I also reprinted on top of some of them, so it’s quite a long process

V: How long did it take to make them?

S: I never time things! I’m quite a labor-intensive artist, I like to do everything myself: I built the infinity tunnel myself in my studio since I don’t like to send things out to fabricators. The horses are cuts in and a more physical collage: I had to cut them out and kind of embed them into the wallpaper. I think this was just an attempt to open the stable doors and let the spirits in, let the energy in, like the wild horse energy. They are like little charms to let the wild horse energy into your home, because I think that everyone needs every now and then stampeding horses running through their living room.

Crazy Horses, Sarah Sparkes © Andy Keate

V: In the end it was sort of the same process, but you cut them and embedded them into the wallpaper.

S: Yeah, exactly the same process. The orange wallpaper cut down and then embedded into the other wallpaper. And each time they’re different, every time you have a different colour. By the way, this is the last roll of orange wallpaper, people should come just for that! This is the last work I can do on this wallpaper. The very last one is going to be at the Venice Biennale, two matchboxes with David Soul’s eyes on them. The David Soul’s eyes on this wallpaper are exhibited in a show called ‘Miniscule’. At the moment it’s in Cross Lane project in the Lake District, and then another version of the exhibition is going to the Venice Biennale from May through to July.

V: Is it in the Biennale…?

S: It’s a collateral event.

The GHost Tunnel, Sarah Sparkes © Stephen King

V: What about the tunnel?

S: This is the GHost Tunnel and is part of a much bigger installation that was made for FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) in Liverpool and the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, for an exhibition called ‘No Such Thing as Gravity’, curated by Rob la Frenais. We visited Liverpool and he wanted me to do something about ghosts: he had the name of the exhibition and he knew he wanted to explore areas of science where a bit of magic comes in the practice. A science where there is not necessarily concrete material or answers but more unmaterial processes in order to find answers.

Science and magic combined, so ghosts: I am interested in how ghosts are made and I do research in this kind of element of psychology, parapsychology and neuroscience. The room was transformed in a ghost research area, it had this [the tunnel] in it, it had a robot that replicated a neuroscience experiment that created something called ‘feeling of presence’: you pushed one lever in front of you and you had to imagine you were poking someone in the back, and then behind you another robot poked you in the back corresponding your movements, so it was mirroring what you were doing with a slight delay. People have reported feeling as if there was really something behind them, they got spooked out! Even people that don’t believe in ghosts, they tested it with people that had neurological problems and people that did not have problems, and people equally went ‘Oh my god, there’s someone behind me!’. That was something I couldn’t make myself, I worked with a robotic artist called Sarah Angliss and she did the robotics for me.

Another room was a library, a whole library with books about ghost research from all different disciplines: there was an area with shelves that had an amateur ghost hunter’ equipment on it, there were all the gadgets that he used. Behind the shelves there was a little room, and in there a puppet that I had made, called the Host Ghost. It looks like a ghost of sheets, with its hands up, and people could point the equipment at the puppet and test all the ghost hunting readings on the puppet. There were also monitors on the shelves of the local group of ghost hunters ‘Mersey Paranormal’: I went on an investigation with them and there were footages of the investigation on the monitors.

Finally, there was another area where people could read ghost stories I had collected in Liverpool, it was a little office space with the screen and people could upload their ghost stories or read them. That element of the exhibition still exists, and we can still read the Liverpool ghost stories, they are on a website online called the ghostportal.co.uk. And when I went to Taiwan with the exhibition, the whole thing went in a ship! The ghost tunnel has been in a ship twice. So, this is the original one, it’s the first time it has been shown in London. If you look really closely you can see all the way to Taiwan!

V: That’s impressive! How is it made, can you say it?

S: No, it’s just magic! It is all smoked mirrors, it’s an old optical illusion, but I have my twist to that optical illusion that I can’t possibly reveal! It makes the tunnel go deeper than other infinity tunnels. It goes back a long way, but actually it doesn’t.

V: Yes, otherwise installing it would be a problem!

S: But I like the idea that you can imagine it goes to Liverpool and Taiwan, it’s like it has brought together all the people that have looked in it in those places. So yeah, it was part of this big installation and New Art Projects has always wanted to show it here, so they have built it into the wall. It was installed the same way in Liverpool and Taiwan, down a long corridor.

REVIEW: Bill Viola / Michelangelo

Aaand for art lovers, we’re back with another review of an exhibition! (This review is also on Youtube, click here to see it!)

I spent yesterday morning at the Royal Academy of the Arts in Piccadilly, London, at the exhibition ‘Bill Viola / Michelangelo: Life, death, rebirth‘, which opened on January 26 and will be on until the end of March.

Michelangelo’s The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, c. 1540 © The Trustees of the British Museum

‘Bill Viola / Michelangelo’ is an exhibition where video works from the visual artist Bill Viola are put in conversation with drawings made by Michelangelo (which – note – are owned by the Queen!!). I must say I was quite sceptic, it’s not something common to see works by one of the most famous artists of the world exhibited together not only with contemporary artworks, but with videos! I wasn’t sure about this contrast, but at the same time it was made by such a famous institution that I had to see it, at least. I also started appreciating more and more video art – my love for everything digital is getting stronger – so I decided to give it a chance.

I am actually still struggling in deciding where to start, it is not one of those straightforward exhibition where personal interpretation doesn’t really matter. In this case, the themes explored touch us all, and I suppose that the whole experience depends on how we perceive those particular themes. What I felt during the exhibition and that didn’t fade during the rest of the day is… I don’t know how to put it into words. It’s a sort of peace, simple, natural, but not positive; there is melancholy, there is fear, and death to some extent.

Viola’s Tristan’s Ascension (The Sound of a Mountain Under a Waterfall), 2005 – Courtesy Bill Viola Studio. Photo: Kira Perov

(I probably didn’t get the part about rebirth, did I?)

Bill Viola was born in 1951 in New York, and he’s one of the first generation of artists that started working with the digital medium thanks to the introduction of portable and cheap cameras in the 60s. I feel that one of the most important elements of his practice is to understand his view of ‘time’, which he considers one of the central revolutions of image-making – he also compares it to the introduction of perspective in Renaissance art. And time actually has a central role in his videos, which are usually extremely slow-motion scenes representing people in different contexts, often underwater. And it is that same, soft sound of being underwater, that sense of slowness, that follows the visitor through and out of the exhibition, as if time had been stretched. At the same time, his videos are continuously looped, giving a sense of suffocating eternity.

Michelangelo’s The Risen Christ, c.1532-3 © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Viola’s art explores different themes, often having philosophical and spiritual significance. He engaged with Renaissance art (he went to Florence to study during his education), with religious mysticism, and he combines contemporary technology with ancient tradition. He seeks to explore life, death, religion. Viola suggested that films could “function both as aesthetic objects of contemporary art and as practical objects of traditional contemplation and devotion”.

However, while he explores these themes, it is not entirely clear what he wants to say, what his artworks are suggesting the viewer. No doubt that they easily attract the eyes of the audience because of the subjects and the aesthetic; they invite the viewer to stand still and forget the world for a few moments, but then? What is there after this? Does he want to recreate a sort of mystical experience? Does he want to tell a story? Is he sharing his view of the world? Or he actually didn’t want to do any of these things, and just underline the connection between life and death?

Bill Viola’s Nantes Triptych, 1992, right, opposite Michelangelo’s Taddei Tondo – Photograph: David Parry © Royal Academy of Arts
The Virgin and Child With the Infant St John the Baptist (the Taddei Tondo), c1504-5 by Michelangelo © Royal Academy of Arts, London

Moreover, the conversation between his works and Michelangelo’s is, sometimes, forced, and the dialogue created is not achieved completely. The Nantes Triptych, formed by three different videos representing a woman giving birth, a body floating in water and Viola’s dying mother, is installed in front of Taddei Tondo (1505) by Michelangelo, where the Virgin Mary is comforting baby Jesus, scared at the sight of a goldfinch – symbol of the crucifixion. If from one point of view the two artworks seem to be in a close connection because of the coexistence-of-death/life-theme, on the other there is something unconvincing about it – isn’t it too straightforward? And what is the connection between Viola’s view of daily life – a man floating underwater – and Michelangelo’s?

And the same happens in the other rooms where the artists’ works are installed together, the dialogue is not convincing and appears just thanks to the clues in RA’s information boards on the walls. To me, it seems that, despite the shared themes of spirituality, materiality and life/death, Michelangelo’s works were diminished. It is as if they were reduced to the most appropriate interpretation for this particular exhibition, and for Viola’s video.

At the same time, I liked the show: Viola’s videos need to be experienced on a big screen, with the right light and the right atmosphere, in order for the audience to enter in contact with the artwork itself. I must admit that it does require some time, but it reveals itself to be a poetic experience. Especially when you accept the stillness of the video, and you start realising that you, first of all, have to experience the exhibition itself with slowness and calm in order to fully appreciate it.

But it is also important to notice that, in those rooms where both Michelangelo’s and Viola’s work were installed, the drawings totally eclipsed the videos because of their undeniable beauty.

I mean, it’s Michelangelo.

Opinion: video games as art? pt. 2

… As introduced, let’s continue where we left off last Sunday. (If you missed pt. 1, you can go back to it here)

So, we were talking about the video game Journey, and how it connects to the topic we are going to explore today: video games as a form of art. So, yes, I’m not just telling you that video games should be seen under a more positive lights by parents, but that they should also be considered as art.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, 2011

If this ↑ was a digital painting by Pinco Pallino, the most famous digital artist in 2019, wouldn’t it be art?

Fe, 2018

What about this? Would you consider it beautiful enough to have it printed and hanged on the wall of your bedroom?

I actually would, is it just me?

Actually, the team of video game companies also include artists – the only difference is that they are ‘game artists’. They take care of the visual development of the game, and that means that they determine the graphics, colours, ambience, of the environment where the character is going to be.

The making of two characters in League of Legends, 2017 © Riot Games

This is usually done just like it was an animated movie: maybe starting with drafts made by hands, then transferring them on a computer and translating them into 3D models. But so many different techniques can be used: some games are 2D, with a retro-feeling, some others are iper-realistic, others again are more particular and made by independent developers. So, if video games actually have artists producing them, why are they not considered art?

Metro Exodus, 2019 – she’s a bit creepy, isn’t she?

Of course, there are also games that don’t look that good (especially when representing people, apparently they’re so difficult to render in video games). Once again, I find games to be quite similar to cinema, but with a ‘smaller’ audience: some of them have a horrible director, in others the screenplay doesn’t make sense, others again seem paintings, like Wes Anderson’s.

It is the same with video games: some of them have a good story, others are boring, others again touch the player because of the themes or the digital rendering. And you choose which game to play according to the genre you usually like, just like deciding which movie to watch. So why is cinema an art and video games are not? Is it because, with video games, your experience is influenced by your behaviour in the game? Is it because of interaction, one of the main components of video games which is not, on the other hand, present in other artistic mediums like fine art or cinema?

Still from Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, 2018

This last statement can actually be pretty easily contested. Recently, the new episode of the famous TV series Black Mirror called Bandersnatch introduced in the world of media the concept of ‘interactive film’: the viewer engages in the story by taking decisions for the main character. Just like those video games that are, let’s say, less interactive than usual, where you cannot use your arrows to move the character but you can determine his/her decisions.

Rain Room at Yuz Museum, Shanghai © Virginia Bianchi

And fine art as well is becoming more and more interactive and is trying to let the public be not just an audience but also an important part of the artwork itself. I have to examples for this: first of all, the exhibition called Rain Room by Random International, which I have seen in Shanghai but that I know has been around the world for quite some time.

As you can see from the picture, it is a whole exhibition focused on this platform where rains. Thing is that thanks to special sensors, the rain stops on the head of the visitors, who can wander around, with rain pouring at 20cm from where they are standing. Here, the movement of the visitor has a central impact on how he lives the whole experience, the artwork itself wouldn’t have the same meaning if just observed from the outside.

teamLab Borderless © teamLab Inc
teamLab Borderless © Virginia Bianchi

Second example, another permanent exhibition that I know has had quite a lot of success as very ‘instagrammable’, realized by teamLab in what is now called the *inhales* Mori Building Digital Art Museum Epson teamLab Borderless *exhales* in Tokyo. ‘Borderless’ since the exhibits are not confined to their respective rooms, but they transition from one to another. There are many different rooms with different light effects, but most of them are interactive, they react to the audience and they are never repeated: it is not that they are on the loop, and the lights repeat themselves after a while, but their movement depends on audience participation through what is called ‘smart learning’. The technology used in this exhibition perhaps is not that connected to gaming in particular, but it is another instance of art defined by the collective and interactive experience of the audience.

This is just to say that the excuse that video games are not art because of interactive features is not an option. So why are video games so far from the general idea everyone has of art? I suppose that the answer is that it’s just because they have never been considered as such. Probably for the fact that they have been first developed as entertainment, and the focus on aesthetics came only later. But I want to think that it is possible to change how people perceive video games, and I want to try to make other see what I see when playing a game. A

Hope you enjoyed the second and last part of article, and feel free to leave your thoughts below!

Opinion: today’s world of video games, pt. 1

The theme of this week’s Sunday article is something that I have always had at heart, and I am very sensitive about. This means that I could very easily be one-sided and stifle all opponents (kidding! 😇). That topic, that is going to be the focus not only of today, but also of Wednesday’s post, are video games! I know it is definitely not a topic for everyone, some people love them, others hate them, but please, try and read the whole article before giving your opinion. That is the thing, I am happy to listen to other people’s thoughts only if it is a two-way process, if a conversation and an exchange can be created.

My first love, Pokémon Leaf Green for Game Boy

I would like first to try and debunk the myth that video games are only for those weird people that spend their whole day at home in front of a screen, shooting and doing horrible things to other virtual avatars and eating junk food because they don’t even know how to cook. I love playing video games, I can call myself a gamer even if that is not my life’s only purpose, and I can assure everyone that nowadays games have evolved so much.

A TV service aired in January 2019 (!!) on a really popular program of the Italian television called Striscia la Notizia, really gave me, and the whole Italian gaming community, the creeps. You can find the video here, and I will try to summarize it for the non-Italian speakers: taking Fornite (a multiplayer ‘battle-royale’ game where 100 players are on the same map and need to eliminate each other, the last standing wins) as a starting point, the guy speaking declares how ‘for experts (who?), it (Fortnite) is dangerous for our children since it can incite anti-social or illicit behaviour’.

Fortnite © Epic Games

According to him, this can lead to cyberbullying, which can lead to children being sluggish and lethargic. And, to top it off, Fortnite is apparently also full of pedophiles. I won’t go more into details and I won’t say that many things they say are inexact (but they actually are), this TV program is already famous for transmitting inaccurate news and for being biased towards what they want to transmit the audience. What hurt me the most was how video games are always the black sheep, and how people are not even willing to try to understand before forbidding them to their children. Children are not stupid and I think that every parent should try to understand what they like doing, and why they do like it. Moreover, parents are missing out an important medium they could use to create and share moments with their children.  

Now, games are not a single-player experience anymore. So many of them, like League of Legends, Fortnite itself, or the new Apex Legends having so much attention recently, allow you to play with other humans and to chat with them. Not to talk about the huge community that is forming around the online game streaming platform Twitch, where literally everyone can meet and chat with other players (or streamers) of their favourite game.

Still of the League of Legends Korean Championships being aired on Twitch

And yeah, of course you could meet someone who has had a bad day and is not saying very nice things (and that is why parents should always have an eye on their child playing), but isn’t it the same with social networks? Why do we allow children to have an Instagram account when they’re 10, but we forbid them to play online? With the difference that, while playing, you are actually sharing an experience with someone else, and you try to help each other out to reach the same goal. Why no one mentions the spirit of community, teamwork and solidarity that can be enhanced by playing video games?

Journey

I read a really interesting book, called Why Games Move Us: Emotion by Design, where the writer Katherine Isbister analyses how games can create strong, positive emotional experiences for players, especially when playing with other humans. One of the examples she uses is a game called Journey developed by Thatgamecompany for PS3/4 and PC (I still haven’t played it – need my PS4 which is home in Italy!): apart from the fact that the beauty of its landscapes and soundtrack is stunning, the game offers the opportunity to play online in its massive world. It can happen that you casually meet someone on your journey: you can communicate only by ‘singing’ or by agitating your scarves. When you ran one near the other, your cloths glow, and that’s it. I think it is an amazing example of how you don’t actually need to shoot and kill other players to ‘feel’ something while playing.  

Two players online in Journey

This game actually connects to the next theme that I wanted to address… but not now! We’ll talk about it in the second part of the article, out on Wednesday! Stick around if you’re interested in this topic, and in how games can actually be… art! *spoiler*

In the meantime, hope you enjoyed this article! Thank you for sticking around, and let me know what you think of this post in the comments below!

REVIEW: D. Gilroy’s ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’

*this review contains spoilers*

Velvet Buzzsaw has been released on February 1 on Netflix. When I first watched the trailer, advertised everywhere, I couldn’t believe that, finally, one of the most famous digital media platforms was that interested in the contemporary artistic world to make it the protagonist of one of its new releases.

And not just a random movie no one cares about, but with a tremendous cast: Jake Gyllenhaal (…do I really have to say who he is?), Toni Colette (Abigail Breslin’s mother in that wonderful movie that is Little Miss Sunshine), Rene Russo (Thor) and Natalia Dyer, also known as Nancy Wheeler from Stranger Things. Oh, and John Malkovich as well! What could possibly go wrong?

Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’
© Claudette Barius, Netflix

Actually, a lot. Watching the trailer gave me the idea that the guy that wrote the screenplay – actually the director himself, Dan Gilroy (The Nightcrawler) – wasn’t entirely sure of what he was doing. The trailer itself is divided in two parts, one with club music in the background to introduce the posh and classy environment of art, the second quickly turned into a horror movie, with brief shots of someone being strangled, someone having a car accident and then being kidnapped by monkeys in a painting (yeah, I know what you are thinking), with Gyllenhaal voice in the background explaining/spoiling the whole plot.

A movie like this could only be either a cult or a disappointment, most likely the latter.

But let’s go into details. The first part has tons of promise: it is witty, provocative, it attracts the viewer into this creative nest of vipers showing appreciation for one another only until they find the right way to destroy each others. All the main characters are introduced with an initial scene shot at the Miami Art Basel fair: we see critic Morf Vanderwalt (what a name), played by Jake Gyllenhaal, as he peers at arworks behind his stylish glasses, ready to destroy the careers of every artists he is not convinced by, who falls under the charm of Josephina (Zawe Ashton), a really hideous character (believe me) working for Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), owner and founder of one of the most prominent galleries in LA only looking to make more and more money – the same desire driving all the characters in the movie.

Unfortunately, it seems that Gilroy forgot that characters need to be developed. They are inconsistent and several scenes are illogical and meaningless. First of all, the artist impersonated by John Malkovich, who doesn’t seem to have a precise role in the plot and whose scenes seem to be in the movie for no apparent reason.

Morf sees for the first time Dease’s works

The plot progresses when Josephina casually finds the corpse of her neighbour, who happens to be an artist no one knew about who lived isolated in his apartment, constantly creating new paintings. She sees something in those artworks and takes them home. Vanderwalt judges the canvas as ‘visionary, mesmeric’ and Haze gallery promotes and sells them to the public. The only issue is that Ventril Dease (the dead artist’s name) had left clear instructions that each and every one of his works had to be destroyed and never commercialized.

But, c’mon, there’s so much money to be made! No one cares about his last note.

Gretchen’s arm gets eaten by the Sphere

The artist’s curse (?) starts falling upon all those who have a role in selling his works to the public. Bodies start piling up. First the technician installing his artworks (he’s the one killed by monkeys), then a rival art gallery owner (hanged by a mysterious hand coming out of the ceiling), and then my favourite, Gretchen (Toni Colette), an art advisor who sticks her arm in one of the holes of Sphere, a work of art, and… well, her arm gets severed in a splatter scene that reminded me of Scary Movie. She bloods out on the gallery floor, and the next morning everyone assumes her corpse to be an artwork (a really realistic one).

At this point I didn’t know whether to laugh or throw something at the computer screen. I laughed because the computer wasn’t mine.

The plot then becomes even more clueless, until everyone dies. In the last scene, John Malkovich draws random figures on the sand of an unknown beach, aware that they will disappear as soon as the waves cover them, and BOOM there you have the meaning of the whole movie: art for money is no good. Art for art’s sake is the answer.

John Malkovich drawing on the beach

Even if I still don’t get why an art satire like this had to be disguised as a thriller, I agree, paintings have always had an aura of mystery, let’s only think about Wilde’s Dorian Gray. The movie truly had a lot of potential and Gilroy – or maybe someone else – could have really done a wonderful job with it. Unfortunately it didn’t happen, especially because of those scenes meant to be scary.

An important mention, however, goes to Jake Gyllenhaal, who is the true star: his acting gives visibility to a character that would have otherwise been stagnant, like the others. But unfortunately he is  not enough to make Velvet Buzzsaw a good movie.

Sorry Jake, still waiting for your next good movie…

And you? What did you think of Velvet Buzzsaw? Let me know in the comments below!!