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.
Rogers Park was the place to be Saturday night with killer back to back openings taking place within blocks of one another. The weather couldn’t have been better and both shows had robust turn outs. Unioned Labors at the aptly named Bike Room featured not one but three different collaborative projects from duos. Small and whimsical, this show packed a big punch. Alberto Aguilar & Alex Bradley Cohen filled the space’s hallway with a mural pieced together with delightfully bold and colorful paintings on cardboard and complimented by a playful soundtrack. Inside the gallery itself a video of Aguliar’s & Cohen workin’ it out in the Bike Room’s backyard that shared a similar soundtrack. Amanda Ross-Ho and her father, Ruyell, used one of his playful abstractions that reads “Less is Not More” to adorn one of Ross-Ho’s signature oversized t-shirts. The most somber offering, Frank Piyatec & Judith Geitchman‘s rhythmic black and white text and abstractions were arranged into a giant checkerboard.
Caribbean American Bakery located at 1539 W Howard Street.
The Weatherman Report
For Chicago IL
Max Ernst, Humboldt Current, 1951-52. Oil on canvas, 36 x 61 cm. Photo: Foundation Beyeler.
The scene at Iceberg Projects Saturday.
Better Luck Next Time leads to Hilarity, Danger
Game show pilot debuts in Steuben, WI
Fed up with the lack of cable television at the Steuben Lodge, ACRE residents and staff took matters into their own hands last weekend recording live the first ever episode of “Better Luck Next Time,” a newlyweds-style game show for artistic duos. Hosted by Carlos Danger and Vanna Ruffino, collaborators were pitted against each other to see who’s vibin’ the hardest.
Hosts Carlos Danger and Vanna Ruffino.
Carlos Danger valiantly and hilariously lead the unwilling contestants to reveal some of their deepest gripes with one another. Points were awarded on a somewhat unconventional basis after the audience mutinied against the show and its producers, demanding sympathetic half-points for weary contestants. Danger and Ruffino were ultimately able to win over the unruly mob and the pilot was a huge live success.
Live from the Chalet Studio.
Lucky to see this early preview, WWT? has heard that there are plans to put the show into syndication in Chicago.
On the podcast this week, Bad at Sports celebrates 8 years, wrapping up the latest season with the Artist as Arbiter panel from CAA 2013. Featuring moderators:Â Duncan Mackenzie and Shannon R. Stratton, along with panelists:Â Anthea Black,Â Laurie Beth Clark & Michael Peterson,Â E. G. Crichton,Â Reni Gower, andÂ Philip Von Zweck. That’s all right here.
Samantha Bittman, The Longest Distance Between Two Points, 2011, Acrylic on hand-woven textile
The week began with a great essay by Robert Burnier on the subject of bodies in space, beginning with minimalism, reflecting on Hesse, Samantha Bittman and more as a way to reflect on Burnier’s own artistic practice:
I always think of San Francisco as a place built on idealistic fancy. With its identity still fixed to the 60s, combined with the more recent influence of dotcom entrepreneurs make it a specific site with a specific history. But also, it is simply as far west as one can get before crossing a sea. News from San Francisco via Jeffrey Songco who walks and talks the Mission neighborhood, covering a variety of exhibits currently on view:
I didn’t get a chance to post this yesterday, as I was sitting in the Music Box at their Noir Festival which I’d highly recommend if you feel like checking out some hard crime adventure during the last gasp of summer…More to the point, however â€” here are some opportunities that I came across, with special thanks to The Chicago Artist Resource where I found many of the following calls:
1. Media fellowships available for Brooklyn Based media artists:
Each year, the BRIC Media Education and Contemporary Art programs sponsor theÂ BRIC Media Arts Fellowship. The Fellowship makes BRIC Media Education courses and facilities available to professional Brooklyn-affiliated visual artists (born, live, or work in Brooklyn)Â at no charge. We provide training programs and technical assistance in video and digital production and in post-production technologies. Our classes include both BRIC Media Arts Fellows as well as members of the general public interested in television production, creating a unique mix of interests in the classroom. Learn more here.
2. The annual HATCH artist residency deadline is coming up on October 6th.
HATCH Projects is a yearlong, juried incubator for contemporary Chicago artists and curators that strives to support an ecology of curatorial and artistic practice. A pioneering initiative of Chicago Artistsâ€™ Coalition (CAC), HATCH Projects fosters shared experimentation, exchange and creativity to produce ground-breaking exhibitions and programs. Twenty-four Artist Residents are accepted into HATCH Projects based on an application evaluated by the program’s four selected Curator Residents. Artist Residents are divided into groups of six to work with one Curator Resident throughout the year. Selected artists will participate in two exhibitions curated by the group’s assigned Curator Resident. Each Artist Resident receives professional development through dynamic exhibitions, one-on-one studio visits, public programs, and community building to develop a sustainable creative practice. More here.
3.Â Seeking Submissions for “Research Project #2″ – The Space Movement ProjectÂ Deadline:Â Monday, September 30, 2013Â
Research Project is a low-tech works-in-progress performance series which brings performing artists together amidst their creative processes to show work, share process, give and receive feedback, start conversations and chew the fat. This opportunity provides a community forum for experimentation, emerging ideas and artist-to-peer support. Check out details here.
4.Â For artists interested in public/participatory performance for exhibition at MCA Chicago:
A House Unbuilt (HUB)Â is seeking artists who have experience with participatory performance and/or performance in public spaces for a one-day exhibition at the MCA Chicago. Â The exhibition will take place on October 1, 2013, and will feature a site-specific adaptation of HUB’s program DINNER DANCE, the choreographed meal. Â DINNER DANCE is a improvisational performance structured around the social choreography of mealtime. Toward a goal of public engagement for the MCA adaptation, HUB has devised a number of participatory “stations” to be facilitated by volunteer performers throughout the museum. Â These facilitators should have a sense of customer service, an ability for keen observation, and a performance presence in their own right.Â There will be 1-2 meetings/workshops in the weeks prior to the performances. Â Artists must be available for the day of OctoberÂ 1st.Â For more information, send resume, work sample/portfolio, recent photograph, and a letter of interest (containing brief description of similar past experience) toÂ email@example.com.
9. There is a job opening for aÂ Professional Development Associate at Mid-America Arts Alliance in Kansas City. Apply byÂ Â Sept. 21, 2013.
This position is responsible for completing the administrative and supportÂ functions for the Professional Development (PD) division of Mid-America Arts AllianceÂ (M-AAA). This includes, but is not limited to research, development, implementation, and evaluationÂ of all professional development programs. This is accomplished by setting up/maintaining files,Â records and reports; processing paperwork and invoices; managing all details related to scheduling Â and the fulfillment of all program events. This individual may travel to coordinate event managementÂ and/or to represent MAAA as needed. On a day-to-day basis, this person answers questions and assists program participants to fully utilize program services. In addition, this person will be responsible for collecting, analyzing and preparing/presenting summaries of project evaluations and Â activities for publication and/or presentation as required. More here.
5. Want to make work in Hungary?Â Residency applications for HMCÂ International Artist Residency Program due September 15, 2013.
HMCÂ International Artist Residency Program, a not-for-profit arts organization based in Dallas, TX / Budapest, Hungary – provides national and international artists with the opportunity to produce new work while engaging with the arts community in Budapest, Hungary.Â “Artist residencies allow the time forÂ dialogueÂ and create connections that contribute to the future..” More info on their website here.
6.Â Garfield Park Conservatory seeks proposals from Chicago-based artists for creative interpretations of wind chimes for an exhibition in the exterior Conservatory gardens during October 2013. The deadline is August 30th.Â Read more about that here.
7. Submit exhibition proposals to The Comfort Station, a turn of the century structure turned multidisciplinary art space, byÂ Saturday, August 31st, midnight:
We are currently accepting proposals from artists, emerging curators and organizations for our 2014-2015 calendar. It is our goal to connect artists and arts advocates through Comfort Station.Â Final 2014 schedule will be announcedÂ September 15th. Â To apply, please emailÂ firstname.lastname@example.orgÂ with the following information:
â€¢ An artist statement or curatorial concept supporting your proposed exhibition
â€¢ A link where we can view examples of artwork
â€¢ If no site is available, then please attach images to email (just please be conscious of file size)
â€¢ Bio, resume and/or CV
â€¢ Any special display considerations Comfort Station is open to proposals of artwork of all media; performance, sound art, installations are all highly encouraged.
Tracy Marie Taylor coming up at the Sub-Mission Sep 13 â€“ Oct 26, 2013
8. The Sub-Mission deadline for artist proposals is August 30th. Read more about that here.
“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.