Mark Essen's Games on Adult Swim are Totally Radical


Screenshot of Pipedreamz

Screenshot of Turbo Turbo Turbo

Screenshot of Cream Wolf

Game designer and artist Mark Essen started producing games for Adult Swim, and boy, are they cool. Take Pipedreamz, which features a hungry ghost who must secretly binge on meat in order to advance to the next level, which involves surfing for condiments like ketchup and relish. Or the comically masculine Turbo Turbo Turbo, where you smash into cars, win bar fights, and drink to gain points. Or Cream Wolf, where you play an ice cream truck driver/werewolf who must collect cones, feed kids and avoid cops. Every so often the game slips into a nighttime world, where the aim is to lure customers back to your lair with dreamy music. The games are a testament to Essen's genius and unique sense of humor, so check them out!


Interview with Olga Goriunova, Curator of Fun with Software


Humor, fun and nonsense often figure greatly in the current modes of communication on the web, whereby memes and sardonic blog comments are commonplace -- if not expected. Such trappings have found their way into media art practices from Cory Arcangel’s cover of Arnold Schoenberg’s op.11 Drie Klavierstucke using cat videos on YouTube to F.A.T. Lab’s Kanye West Interrupt bookmarklet. The question that these works and others like it raises is this: does humor appear to be a synergistic outgrowth of technology (and how does it relate to its development)?

In the latest exhibition "Fun with Software" at Bristol’s Arnolfini, curator Olga Goriunova seeks to document and explore how humorous approaches to software lead to innovation. Working with early net and media artists from JODI to Graham Harwood, the exhibition is a retrospective of peculiar approaches to computation. I sat down with Goriunova to talk about the show’s premise and how that premise contextualizes and contrasts the current era of humor and technology.


1 Question Interview with Billy Rennekamp


Billy Rennekamp, Big Head Mode, 2010

This weekend, DIY storefront art space Cleopatra's in Brooklyn will be hosting an exhibition for Billy Rennekamp's WIN WIN. The event kicks off tonight with a talk on video games and cheats hosted by designers/writers Charles Pratt and Simon Ferrari. This exhibit is an extension of Rennekamp's BA thesis project at Bard, titled Big Head Mode. Focused on the idea of cheats in video games, and especially the agency yielded by the use and development of cheats in game play, the works in this installation comprise a 3D video game made by the artist, a prepared version of a Pokemon ROM, and a mix of hand sewn and store-bought sports balls littered throughout the space. In anticipation of the show, I conducted a one question interview with Rennekamp, à la Rafael Rozendaal's One Question Interview blog.

(Full disclosure - Billy is a former Rhizome intern extraordinaire and a member of badass internet surf club Loshadka.)

What makes cheats so satisfying?

We spend our life building up this little rule book that describes how everything works. So when we see something that defies these fundamental rules, we freak out. The unusual and unexplained are always fascinating.

Things are supposed to work a certain way. They've worked that way forever. But then they stop and the rules might bend or even break. When that happens a special energy is produced. Every time something rare occurs--something outside the ordinary--people make wishes and try to harness that power. Needless to say the power is felt. When I was three I got bitten by a Brown Recluse. My arm was swollen with pustules for weeks and the necrosis on my hand left a permanent scar. There's nothing beneficial about a scar, but I ...


Required Reading


Gijs Gieskes, Eye

I would like to consider a notion that I have felt was intuitively true but have never explored in depth: that the 8-bit or "low-res" aesthetic of much contemporary electronic art can be thought of as a form of digital materialism. By employing the phrase "digital materialism," I draw upon a specific term that has circulated within the sphere of avant-garde filmmaking from the 1970s onward. In this context, materialism describes a sensibility, most explicitly theorized in the writings of London-based filmmaker Peter Gidal, in which the physical materials of film technology are made visible within the work itself, and thereby become decisive components of a reflexively cinematic but predominantly non-narrative experience. Materialism reverses the usual Hollywood practice of hiding the mode of production so as not to disrupt the suspension of disbelief necessary to enter into a staged, fictional world.


[Originally published in the catalog for the exhibition PLAYLIST at LABoral in Gijón, Spain curated by Domenico Quaranta, available in pdf form here. Subsequently republished to Vague Terrain above.]


Top 5 - 10


The World Series Of 'Tubing - Jeff Crouse & Aaron Meyers

Greg J. Smith is a Toronto-based designer with an active interest in the intersection of space and media. He is co-editor of the digital arts publication Vague Terrain and blogs at Serial Consign.

Five 2009 projects that deal with the translation of online experience into environments, events, artifacts and performance.

► World Series of 'Tubing - Jeff Crouse & Aaron Meyers
The everyday action of "favoriting" online media is expanded into a participatory game show (video above). A pair of contestants square off by selecting viral videos from YouTube and this media is "played" in an augmented reality card game where a live audience determines the victor. (see Paddy Johnson's adventures as a contestant)

► What my friends are doing on Facebook - Lee Walton
The ubiquitous status update is used to inspire an ongoing series of charming short videos. Banal announcements, everyday routine and the inhabitation of domestic space make for surprisingly entertaining vignettes. (see Walton's vimeo channel to access the entire series and Marisa Olson's writeup from February)

► WOW PoD - Cati Vaucelle, Steve Shada and Marisa Jahn
An architectural testament to the "shut in" tendencies within MMORPG culture, this project creates a playspace that addresses the needs of the player and their avatar. A built in toilet, cookware and food dispensers are hardwired into the World of Warcraft interface underscoring the dedication/obsession demanded by these types of online communities. (See the video documentation of the piece)

► Bicycle Built For 2,000 - Aaron Koblin and Daniel Massey
Updating the 1962 experiment in speech synthesis by John Kelly, Max Mathews and Carol Lockbaum, this project employs the Amazon Mechanical Turk webservice to outsource the production of molecular elements of the song Daisy Bell. The resulting 2,088 voice recordings are reassembled into a strange, bumbling chorus - is this what the future of labor sounds like? (see Peter Kirn's analysis)

► Are you human? - Aram Bartholl
Riffing on the scrambled aesthetics of the CAPTCHA challenge-response test, this project creates real world artifacts out of online protocol. These text objects are deployed in the gallery, as identity document business cards and (most interestingly) on the street amongst the "urban markup" of tagged surfaces.(see photographs of the sculptural objects in the gallery and out in the wild)


Review of Prospectives 09


Image: Joshua Fishburn, Gaming the Network Poetic, 2009 (Photo by Joshua Lawton, Source: flickr)

This past month, Reno hosted the “Prospectives 09” festival, directed by Joseph DeLappe, Associate Professor of Art in the Digital Media area at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). The festival featured the work of 37 international artists and performers who are all current graduate and PhD candidates, working in various modes of digital practice. There were exhibitions, performances, a curated collection of internet art, symposia, video projections at UNR’s planetarium, and even a nocturnal array of illuminated floating pig bladders (a work by Doo-Sung Yoo, whose Pig Bladder Clouds references human-animal hybrids).

Image: Doo-Sung Yoo, Pig Bladder Clouds, 2009. (Photo courtesy of Joseph DeLappe.)

It would be a fool’s errand to try and propose some overarching principle that would legitimately tie together such a broad expanse of work. Limiting myself to the works on display at the “Prospectives 09” exhibition in UNR’s Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery, it seemed there was a common desire to enlist the spectator as a participant. Open until December 16, 2009, the works included in the show involved a fair amount of “play,” but the artists seemed attuned to the complexities involved with the interaction between machine and participant, thus it’s play inflected with critique.

John Walters’ interactive sculpture Waste Oil Mirror I & II (2008) is stately, beautiful and troubling. Two black rectangles stand against the wall, each seven feet tall, at first glance as minimalist as the monolith from Kubrick’s 2001. Triggered by the body heat in the gallery, a mechanical purring noise starts, and a soft gliding motion comes over the surface of the obelisks. The sculpture then draws up used motor oil from a reservoir at the bottom of the obelisks, cascading a ...