This week: Part one of the Open Engagement conference 2013 series. Caroline Picard talks to Caire Doherty!
Claire Doherty is Director of Situations. Claire initiated Situations in 2003 following a ten-year period investigating new curatorial models beyond conventional exhibition-making at a range of art institutions including Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, Spike Island, Bristol and FACT (Foundation of Art and Creative Technology), Liverpool. Claire has worked with a diversity of artists including Lara Almarcegui, Uta Barth, Brian Catling, Phil Collins, Nathan Coley, Lara Favaretto, Ellen Gallagher, Joseph Grigely, Jeppe Hein, Susan Hiller, Mariele Neudecker, Cornelia Parker, Roman Ondak, Joao Penalva and Ivan and Heather Morison. She has advised a range of organisations as curatorial consultant including Tate, Site Gallery Sheffield and is author of the public art strategies for the University of Bristol and Bjorvika, Oslo Harbour.
In 2009, Claire was awarded a prestigiousÂ Paul Hamlyn Breakthrough AwardÂ as an outstanding cultural entrepreneur. Claire directedÂ One Day SculptureÂ in 2008-9 with David Cross, a year-long collaborative series of 20 commissioned, 24-hour public artworks across New Zealand. In 2010, she was Co-Curatorial Director ofÂ Wonders of WestonÂ for Weston-super-Mare.
Doherty lectures and publishes internationally. She is editor ofÂ Contemporary Art: From Studio to SituationÂ (Black Dog Publishing, 2004);Â Documents of Contemporary Art: SituationÂ (Whitechapel/MIT Press, 2009) and co-editor with David Cross ofÂ One Day SculptureÂ (Kerber, 2009), with Paul Oâ€™Neill,Â Locating the Producers: Durational Approaches to Public ArtÂ (Valiz, 2011) and with Gerrie van Noord,Â Heather and Ivan Morison:Â Falling into PlaceÂ (Book Works, 2009). She was also an external advisory member of the Olympic Park Public Realm Advisory Committee and a Fellow of the RSA.
Guest Post by Paul King
The sole page of Proteusâ€™ help screen begins â€œMove with WASD. Look around with the mouse.â€
No other controls exist, besides the space bar. Instead of offering a traditional jump, it commands the playerâ€™s avatar to sit, peacefully, for as long as they might. The help screenâ€™s final instructions begin with what seems like half of a warning: â€œEach island is unique, but familiar.â€
To move past the title screen and into the game, you begin by clicking the silhouette of a distant island. After fading, the screen opens from a murky black into a gently disappearing elliptical shape, as though you were slowly opening your eyelids. You’ve awoken in what appears to be an endless ocean, a muted sea-green punctuated by the gentle lapping of white reflections. In the distance, you begin to make out the outline of a shrouded landmass. As you trudge towards it, the only anchor in the gameâ€™s ceaseless sea, you can practically feel the sunlight of the raincoat-yellow orb shining in the sky.
Everything in Proteus is rendered in a blocky, colorful style that should be familiar to everyone whoâ€™s ever seen an early pixelated video game. (Think the â€œballâ€ of pong, or the sharp edges of Mario.) But the style isn’t due to a lack of processing power or graphical method; instead, the worldâ€™s lack of texture translates into a picturesque canvas of flat colors, almost as though you were gazing directly into a visual interpretation of one of Brian Enoâ€™s ambient tracks.
As you climb onto the shores of your island and walk past the flat browns of tree trunks and across the rolling green hills dotted with single-color flowers and blocks representing dandelions, an ambient soundtrack erupts. These are the changing environs and characters, and your interactions with them feel as though they were entirely up to you.
When somebody completes any video game, they tend to have finished a universal experience. Though the person playing it might have preferred a different gun, or tactic, or motorcycle, their journey is usually one shared by all other players. Certain blockbuster titles, usually role-playing games, offer choice and varied game paths as a selling point. There, you might choose to be a thieving elf that sneaks through danger, or a devil-may-care warrior slaying all in your path. Ultimately, however, the same challenges are present.
Proteus doesn’t exactly offer a challenge. There are no tests of dexterity or hand-eye coordination; there is only your movement through and consideration of the world, your journey. Pass by a stone obelisk and hear a great deep bass noise burst and fade slowly into a background of crickets. Chase a frog and hear its hops become the staccato twang of a distant guitar, or reach a mountainous peak above a plateau of raining clouds and listen to an uplifting crescendo.
Some sound origins are obvious. The crickets cricket, and leaves fall like soft glass. Still, there are other tones Iâ€™m uncertain about. Perhaps it was my position on a specific hill, or maybe it was the shadow of a pink-tufted tree.Â Proteusâ€™ soundtrackâ€”a constant soothing orchestration of hidden instrumentsâ€”is only one of the complex machinations behind deceitfully simple visuals.
Each island in Proteus is procedurally generated. Algorithmically, one comes together in a way that is unique, but familiar, placed together by a machine, or equation.
At a certain point, the boxy sun sets and is replaced by the moon. Night arrives, marked by a deep blue and a subdued soundtrack. Slowly, the bright dots of the islandâ€™s airspaceâ€”be they fireflies, wisps, spots of cottonâ€”swirl and gather, until finally, they culminate in a furious whirlwind at the center of a circle of stones. As you approach it, time speeds up. Clouds and stars race above you, the trees around you begin to shudder and dance. The music, now faster, eggs them on. Enter the circle and soon, the screen fades to white, almost as if signaling an end to your time on the island, a quiet release from the frenzied energy. But then island returns, rewarding a patient moment of darkness in the same way a morning welcomes those just stirring from sleep.
The colors have changed slightly, and the music with it. In the air before you dances a swarm of bees. Above you the calm sphere of the sun now has flaring tendrils, shining down harder than before. Vibrant collections of flowers have sprouted up since you walked into the mystical circle of stones and its swirling puffs.
Usually when a game environment transforms, dangers arrive. Night might reveal prowling tigers, shambling zombies, or some spooky other. Proteus remains peaceful, instead signaling the end of its day and condensed season with frenetic motion. Though you act as a catalyst in the seasonal change by entering that swirling circle, you canâ€™t help but feel a small component of a greater cycle;Â a piece in an action that comes from a living, breathing land mass. The whole island, player included, enters a chrysalis and emerges anew.
Often, a gameâ€™s digital world exists solely as a static landscape with one-sided interaction. Usually, it is up to us as individual players to act as the experimental component or the dynamic instrument. But though we, as individuals in a programmed world, might be dynamic, we all fulfill the same role. We are the same cog that fits into a developerâ€™s machine, makes it turn linearly through its universal paces. This tends to result in an identical experience for all who play the same game.
There are pieces of Proteus that hint at an identical experience. You awake in an ocean; you climb ashore a distant island; you swirl through the seasons. But since each island is procedurally generated, no two islands or games will ever truly be the same.
At a certain point during my night in Proteus, a white owl appeared in a tree, staring at me before taking off and flying to the next tree; later, I walked towards the crude ruins of a tower to find myself teleported to another crumbling monument.
I learned later that others retelling their experiences on the gameâ€™s forums had not encountered the owl. Instead, one account was dominated by a dark figure that appeared after the night sky had turned red, only to run off, while making sure the player was following. Some played with constellations; some sat in solemn graveyards. While we had all played Proteus, it became clear that we did not share the same experiences; we all wandered through different worlds, encountering familiar aspects in a unique way.
The main difference between unique play in Proteus and role-playing games is agency. In a massive fantasy or space world, the player is given what appears to be wide path to play how they wish. They move through a static world and sculpt it in a pre-designed fashion. Ultimately, the developers of these games give players the gift of agency, the ability to move through that world and shape it.
This also forces the game to be reliant upon the player. Even if a gameâ€™s narrative is linear, it depends on the player to advance it. For example, a programmed character within a game may walk a programmed path, forever, until a player enters and engages its route. By interacting with that non-player character (NPC), the player has helped it fulfill its destiny, and furthered the action of the world. The expectation is that the world exists at the behest of the player, and the player is often imbued with the power of a god who may alter the world.
While Proteus as a gameâ€”and productâ€” exists for the player, its world isnâ€™t reliant upon a specific player experience. Because it isn’t static, differences occur, many and obviously, around the player. Because the world is produced dynamically, the player must act as a static element with practically no control. And though each player may in turn approach the game in an identical capacity, once the island is generated, it is a fresh, dynamic world each time, reducing the potential for a homogenized experience.
The largest contributor to this success is the way in which Proteus plays with music. The endless cacophony (both aural and visual) that permeates the atmosphere is so incredibly active. As a player explores, animals or flowers donâ€™t change course like an NPC. Instead, they react naturally, not as though they were born for your experience, but almost as if the opposite were true. When you approach an area that produces a sine waveâ€”be it a tree, a slope, or some other mysteryâ€”the feeling isn’t that Proteus or the object in Proteus has begun to play for you, but that the sound, or owl, or structure was always there, and you just happened, through a chance generation, to wander into it. Starting a game of Proteus is not like listening to a pre-recorded album, but like listening to the chaotic throng of generative music. And though you might begin and stop Proteus at will, thereâ€™s no guarantee that the islandâ€™s music will follow.
Paul King is a poet, writer, and video game enthusiast currently living in Chicago, IL. He grew up in Austin, TX and graduated from Bard College with a BA in Liberal and Written Arts.
“I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long…
No one is dissatisfied, no one is demented with the mania of owning things…”
– Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Two weeks isnâ€™t time to make much work. While I was at ACRE this summer as one of several residents, I quickly realized how short, yet how important the time was. I left my life behind with great expectations, all of which were just shy of fulfilled, but what I gained was so much more than what I had hoped. Two weeks, I found, is just enough time to figure out where you are, how you are going to communicate with the people of the life you suddenly left, introduce yourself to 50 strangers, start making work and realize you never what to leave, and then, its over. Its just enough time to take a chance on something, knowing that the end is right around the corner, but that youâ€™ve still made a commitment. Its enough and not enough — in our real lives, two weeks rarely means anything, because it never has a beginning or end, just bleeds from the past and into the future. At a residency, it is a liminal space and time, where all constants are upended without chaos. Any residency worth its salt can make your head spin with new ideas, old ideas seen new, new connections, blown minds, failed pasts and energetic futures yet to fuck up, and ACRE was no different — I am still reeling from the conversations and influence of the people I met there. But no where else is there a way of life that is not separate from art (at least not until the modern day Commercial Gallery gurgled and choked its way out of the murky banks of the Galapagos Island communal bathroom, where hundreds of exotic species of semi aquatic animals did their business). ACRE was about art, as a real and true way of life, that life could not exist without feeling your bare feet in the dirt and sand, your junk in muddy water and your mind in a swirl of whiskey, beer and camp fire, back again early the next morning, up with the rooster, a cup of coffee and a new book from the library to start fresh.
Photo by Lisa Walcott. Used with permission.
ACRE (Artist Cooperative Residency and Exhibitions) has just completed its fourth year as an artist residency based out of Chicago that occurs for three two week sessions each summer in the heart of the Driftless Region of Wisconsin. (Just a little east of the Mississippi on the bottom part of the state.) Residents utilize a fully staffed Wood shop, Screen printing studio, Recording studio and A/V Cabin while drawing from the sheer open space and beauty of the property. Rotating visiting artists, critics and presenters influence the space along with organic conversations that are a product of an artist bee hive. This model draws from the pedagogy of many graduate programs in art, yet ACRE removes itself from the institution due to its structure. Roughly twenty volunteer artists and musicians organize and run the program, volunteering 6 weeks of their summer (even more while planning the resulting exhibitions of past residents) towards helping others make art. Instead of focusing on their own work they facilitate the work of others.Â Right here, organization, politics and the board controlled interests typical of an institution are gone out the window, leading into a more natural system where everyone – staff, residents and visiting professionals – are interacting with each other the same. Communal meals, lovingly prepared by a dedicated kitchen staff, are perhaps the keystone of this success. Symbolically, class distinctions of laborer / patron are not just blurred but forgotten.
We started to see that money wasnâ€™t present at ACRE. Yeah, we all paid for the residency and it was understood that it was crucial to everyone getting there. But through generosity and time did everything exist in the space, in an ever growing forgotten area of Wisconsin. At ACRE, money was only needed in the neighboring town of Boscobel, which only sold cheap beer by the 30 pack. (At least, Iâ€™m pretty sure that was their major industry.) Creating a space where financial transactions were discouraged helped separate the real world from this special place. Class distinctions, power struggles and money were nearly eliminated at ACRE. With only two weeks, a society cannot be established, and with the staff insisting on doing all the work involved with operating the residency, a utopian model does not completely apply. (Not that utopia is what they are after.)
Utopia as a reality is impossible to sustain, as human drama will eventually overcome and surmount a perfect existence. Some asshole always finds a way to get his agenda to the top of our concerns. Instead, what may be proposed here is a part time utopia: a form that allows a brief exposure to a utopian system in a format that seems possible. Likewise, the temporal nature of the system actually allows it to thrive, as human nature never gets the chance to ruin it. Able to geographically remove ourselves from city life we could fit within a more fulfilling life in this part time utopia; a utopian model which recognizes the inevitable failure of utopias. In the span of a two week residency, utopia can exist. We started to get it. Hammering it home was Ukiah, a six person artist collective from the Bay Area, who leave their day jobs once a week to build a cabin out of fallen timbers and mud on a ranch property. What does it mean to have a part time or temporary utopia in the context of art? Does this mimic how art is often made, in spurts of spare time, extracted from the pressures of the real world? Could a model of a part time utopia be sustained on a personal level? Is the idea of utopia important to the creation of art? Is its manifestation proof that art can create social change, or merely a distraction from art making? Do you really want to live forever? Alphaville lyrics reprinted without permission?
Utopia CAN happen, maybe only once a week, for two weeks at a time or a few moments, which can be nurtured. Maybe with practice, it will be with you always. For me, utopia is drifting down the Kickapoo River on dollar store inflatables mixing warm Pabst with the river water. Its singing Stevie Nicks and Otis Redding songs with everyone around and not caring who hears you, but that you’re heard. Its playing a four string Fender Squire in an empty grain silo that is better than an amplifier. It is eating a meal with 50 other people each night knowing all the ingredients were carefully and lovingly chosen from the immediate region. It is a constant exchange of ideas, and ideas as commodity, where money is replaced by beer or help with a project. Its understanding why Nick and Phil never wore shoes, and wishing you never bothered to pack any. Where dinner is served overlooking the sunset, and each sunset is better than the last. Every night is a celebration of the work done that day. Even the mosquitoes are contributing to your existence, saying: You Are HERE, as the mall map markers of the rural midwest. Fuck yeah, ACRE: You promised me transcendence in an email, and in real physical sweating pissing reality you delivered it.
SINCERE thanks goes to ALL the amazing staff who made this experience possible, and every resident, who, without being wiser, went along with it. Thank you. Thanks also to Lisa Walcott, for lending a photo of her experience.
1. Roads Scholar at Iceberg Projects
Work by Murat Adash, Naama Arad, Marie Alice BrandNer-Wolfszahn, and Oren Pinhassi. Curated by NEW CAPITAL.
Iceberg Projects is located at 7714 N. Sheridan Rd. Reception Saturday, 6-9pm.
2. ARGUS: Organic Visual Archive at Johalla Projects
Organized by James Pepper Kelly, with Filter Photo.
Johalla Projects is located at 1821 W. Hubbard St. Suite 209. Reception Sunday, 3-7pm.
3. Artist intervention in Alberto Aguilarâ€™s Home Field Play: The Wedding Cake Project at the Museum of Contemporary Art
Work by Edra Soto.
Museum of Contemporary Art is located at 220 E. Chicago Ave. Reception Saturday, 1-2pm.
4. Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in Chicago at Firecat Projects
Work by Michael Pajon, Dan Rule, Dan Tague, and Monica Zeringue.
Firecat Projects is located at 2124 N. Damen Ave. Reception Friday, 7-10pm.
5. Guyth at Dos Perros Projects
Work by Luith Miguel BendaÃ±a, Tham Lipp, Chloe Theibert, and Alithon Veit.
Dos Perros Projects is located at 859 N. Marshfield Ave. 2R. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.