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Why Do I Like this?

September 30, 2014

Korean Artist Hitch Hiker’s New Single, simply called 11. I honestly don’t know what to say about it, but I find it so oddly mesmerizing. It actually reminds me a great deal of weird machinima I have seen over the past few years. Why am I so captivated by the silver polygonal exposure suit chubby dancer/ DJ/ HitchHiker’s avatar? WHY

Professor? What’s Another Word for Pirate Treasure?

September 29, 2014

Been a bit of a whirlwind weekend. Still can’t divulge any info on those two opportunities I mentioned a few days ago, but rest assured I’m working very hard to make them work/ convince the powers that be that they should be mine! Mostly, it’s been a weekend of cleaning up, catching up, getting some things knocked off my to do list, so that tomorrow I can add whole new things to my list.

A while ago, my supervisor asked me how I managed to take on so much, and yet still get it all done. My secret is a 3-tiered system (for those who care to know). First, I have a GIANT white board (about 3.5 ft by 2.5 ft.) which is my ‘big picture’. On it, there are listing for all the events I’m working on, things I’m supposed to be writing, upcoming calls for submissions, papers, etc. And a Calendar of things confirmed and committed to that I need to make progress on. Think of it as the global view. From there, I take everything and write it down in a day planner. Honestly, I’ve never been one for digital calendars. I’ve tried doing the whole google calendar synched to my android phone thing. It works, I guess, but I still prefer keep my day planner on my desk, ready to tell me what I’ve got planned for the day. AFTER THAT, I have a wondering Rhodia to-do list style notebook.  I try to be pretty brand agnostic, but man, I cannot get enough of the notebooks they make. Every shape and size, lined, grid, dot. During the summer, I pretty much switched to using Rhodia notebooks pretty much exclusively. But I digress. So from the day planner, comes the to do list, written out every morning of the day’s tasks, crossed off when they’re done. Add to that some old Trip-Hop, Boards of Canada, 70s powerballads, and pot or two of coffee, and that’s pretty much my day.

Needlessly to say, these days, I’m really not getting out much for social occasions. Mostly I’m focused on all this work ahead of me. Ah, Graduate School. Not so much a job, but a lifestyle. Although true be told, one that I am currently very very much enjoying.

Anyway, as a pause from all the work, yesterday I went to Eastern Bloc’s Garage Sale fundraiser thing. EB is an artist run gallery and workshop here in Montreal, specializing mostly in New Media work. So I figured if they’re getting rid of stuff, there might be some treasure. And Booty there was me mateys! (I missed talk like a pirate day, but clearly needed to get it out of my system there)… It was also a good opportunity to help support a great local organization.

screenshot.20First couple of things I snagged. An old Black and White Baycrest (as in a tv brand from the Hudson’s Bay Company) Television. I got it to pair with a small Sears Branded tv for project I’m thinking of. The other beast? A big Runco video projector! I got it because it’s wholly analog (Composite and S-Video inputs) and even though I have a compact short throw of many lumens, I thought this would be fun to play with. Didn’t realize just how much until I got it home! Turns out the reason this thing was so damn heavy.. not only does it have built in speakers, it also has a built in amp for external speakers! and if that wasn’t enough.. it has a full VHF/ UHF TV TUNER in it! Given the switch to digital signal transmission, I may not be able to watch tv on it (unless I get one of those fancy antennas), but I think some arts might be born of this thing now!

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The rest of the loot consisted of an RF aerial (already connected to one of the wee tvs), a voltmeter, some electronic noise making kits, that seem very atari punk console-ish, and an original copy of DUNE, like my favorite RTS game of all time. So yeah, good haul. Will hopefully be the catalyst for some new projects… except DUNE, which is likely the thing that will delay me from starting them.

Then today, Martin (my co-conspirator on Vector) came up from Toronto to have a bit of a catch-up, hangout, and work session. We were kind of wildly productive today, charting the course for the 2015 edition of the festival, getting the website updated and our calls for submissions up, even writing an abstract for an upcoming colloquium that we shared a mutual interest in. All great stuff. But the other fun thing, is that he brought me my GAMEBUINO.

screenshot.18For those who have no idea what this thing is, except that it looks a little Gameboy-ish… The Gamebuino is an Arduino based open source platform for developing low-fi games and software. There’s already a ton of games to download, and even a tracker much like LSDJ (Little Sound DJ, the favoured music writing software of many in the chipmusic scene).  Martin and I split on a KickStarter donation, when the folks making these things wanted to launch them to a larger audience. We each got one in our “perk” and can connect them together to play against each other. They look really great. The laser cut acrylic is sturdy and feels quite durable (and gives the Gamebuino just the right amount of weight), the buttons are responsive and precise. There’s even a photo-voltaic sensor on the front (I’m SUPER excited to see what people do with that.  Only downside is that there is a bit of motion blur in some of the games, I’m wondering if this is a hardware or software issue…

For now, I’m going to enjoy what others make on it, but I’m hoping this wee thing is my entry point into the world of arduino. **last week I bought an arduino UNO and a bunch of electronics parts for an art project**. So This might be me, finally getting into actually coding something, instead of fiddling with upper level UIs all the time. Here’s Hoping!

The Needle and the Damage Done… (On Ello).

September 27, 2014

It sure has been an interesting week in social media, hasn’t it?

A new social media platform (Ello) has emerged, and we’ve all been subject to comments, invites, emergent joy and rampant cynicism. A friend of mine sent me an invite before I knew anything about Ello, and as before, I wanted in on the ground floor. I’ve generally been an early adopter of such things. Was on twitter in the early days, joined Facebook the moment it expanded beyond being a platform for University Students, hopped on Google + the instant it was a thing. (Also was a heavy user of Myspace and Friendster in the way back).

I’ve been thinking alot about the rise of Ello this week and the rash of comments, and opinions that have come (somewhat ironically) through my feeds on Facebook and Twitter. At first, we witnessed wide eyed enthusiasm, a phenomenon on the ‘net we could call ‘FOMO’ (the fear of missing out), seeing all of us subjected to the hysteria of a new thing, and wanting to make sure we were all there early to the party. Then came the waves of doubt and cynicism.

As far as I understand it, Queer and Trans folk were elated and excited to move to a new network in the face of Facebook changing it’s name policy. It seems that for some reason Facebook thought it crucial to have people use only ‘real’ names rather than pseudonyms, alternate names, or handles. In light of this, a mass migration made sense. At this point, why wouldn’t you move to a platform where you had the freedom to choose and use the names we choose for ourselves? However Rosey it all seemed briefly, the thorns became visible. Ello had no real privacy settings, and all posts were searchable in search engines, meaning that those who have been persecuted for their differences in gender no longer had the ability to block, report or otherwise control how others outside of their networks communicated with them. In the wake of the poisonous gamer gate, we can see just how terrible and potentially dangerous this situation could be. What was remarkable though was the speed at which Ello responded with an email to users discussing their privacy policy and settings, and that they were moving to address these issues.

Follow this, with posts about Ello taking Venture Capital money to start their endeavour. We all know that Facebook started with VC seed money, so of course this is going to elicit skepticism and fear over what is to come on the new network. Surely this means that while Ello is using a sort of anti-Facebook rhetoric in its marketing and manifesto, they were surely going to head down the same road once they had built a critical mass: a new place for us to have our info sold to marketers, which would then ‘curate’ ads based on our interests. But my questions is. Does it really have to go this way? Is there not a way to ‘monetize’ social media networks without using these tactics? And if we can consider alternatives, would it not be best for Ello to stand out for exactly that reason?

I had a brief chat with a friend of mine yesterday about this all. What we have so far is something that looks like like a gene-splice of twitter and tumblr, where so far (for me) most folk are populating this new world with countless gifs, memes, and short comments about the platform itself. And while we’re all doing that, none of us have jumped shipped from the other big two. We’re optimistic, but wholly trepidatious. I’ve been wondering why. Then, also yesterday, I awoke in the morning thinking of all of this, an Neil Young’s ‘Needle and the Damage Done’ suddenly starts playing in my head. Why? Because we’ve all been here before.

Remember that whole thing that Google tried years ago? Of course you do! G+ only started as an initiative three years ago, but it seems like much longer. And then, like now, we witnessed the same behaviours and emotions in our feeds. And then it all just faded away and we stuck to what we knew. To be fair, I am sure that there are those who still post on G+ and use it as their primary social media platform. The question is, who are they talking to? I cannot even remember the last time I logged in, other to use hangouts for online video chat meetings.

What can Ello do to stem the criticism and remain different? Well, I’m certainly no expect on social media. But what I can see now, more than in the G+ days is an increasing fatigue over Facebook. We’re all eager to move on, because we’re all in the same failed relationship, but we stay with it because we don’t want to be ‘alone’. *excuse the relationship metaphor here, but I think it’s apt. So now we’ve found a new prospect, but we’re cautious, because we don’t want to over invest, and leave the old relationship, in case it doesn’t work out. We want to have it to fall back on. But I digress.

I suggested to some other folk that maybe what Ello could be, is the beginning of a movement where social media doesn’t happen on large monolithic platforms, but on a multitude of smaller spaces. Each of us connecting to our networks through these. Something I’d also be willing to do, in exchange for an ad-free, selling my info free, platform is pay a small subscription service. What if Ello was to Vimeo as Facebook was to Youtube? Meaning, it is free in a limited capacity, but to use all of the features of a network, you pay a small monthly fee. Actually now that I put this down, this would also be the model at that Ok Cupid runs on.

I’ve never been a fan of pay walls, but I do pay for other services such as netflix, so would I be interested in paying for social media services at this point? No really sure. This kind of thing does have the potential to increase the divide between the digital haves and have nots, but surely there’s a middle ground we have yet to see emerge.

Finally, back to my Needle and the Damage Done connection. I think we’re at a point where our prolonged exposure to the sites we already use has created a pretty toxic situation. We expect that any emergent platform will come with all the same trappings as those before. We’re aware of the ‘Damage Done’, but no so much that we’ll unplug completely, because social media is an integral component of our lives now. So how do we move beyond the joy, the cynicism and the grand declarations that we’ve been here before and know exactly what to expect? Honestly I don’t know. I’ m just going to ride along and see what happens.

Quite the day!

September 26, 2014

You know when you wake up, all bleary eyed and blargh? And you think that this day is just a day to slog through, go through the motions of what you do on Thursdays, and then pack it all in? Today started that way. But part way through the day, ended up being the exact opposite of that.

While sitting in one of my classes in the mid-afternoon, I received two successive emails, from two different parties, that were offers for two remarkably exciting opportunities. The kind of opportunities that are challenging enough to cause a tinge of panic at first, but lead to the realization that they are chances to sort of raise my game, as it were. The problem is, until I confirm said things a 100%, I am not going to talk about them, but needless to say, my humdrum day transformed, and left me feeling energized and excited and a bit nervous.

For those of you out there who read my thoughts yesterday, you’ll recall I discussed the challenges in being a curator in an age where the term curation is liberally applied to any practice of listing or selection. Amateurs have adopted it. Corporations have co-opted it. Well it was timely given that Toronto’s David Balzer, just released a book called Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World, and everything else. He spoke tonight in the Fine Art Department at Concordia, and given my vested interest in the subject, I felt I had to go.

It was an interesting talk; Balzer charted the cultural history of curation, from Ancient Rome to Celebrity Curators. But there was this weird feeling, this weird feeling that, for me, he was missing the mark a bit. Balzer’s talk focused largely on international contemporary art curation (which means mostly, American and European practices), and offered some pretty hefty critiques around the problem of curators as authors (which I half-agree with), but there was this underlying sentiment that curators were parasitic, that they somehow capitalized on the work of artists for their own gains (he used Hans Ulrich Obrist as an example, and cited others, who admittedly I did not know). But I think that what was more important to me, was that in a room full of people who were mostly artists, that every time Balzer made a snide comment about ‘curators’ in the most general sense’, the room of full of silent nods of approval, as if to say: “as artists, we question their value”.  That I think was what struck me most.

I have yet to read his book, but I did buy it because I’m very interested in how he thinks cultural theory gets in the way of art (something he mentioned in his talk). One thing that struck me was that this short book, is not an academic text. There is no bibliography, no citations. What I assume it is then, is observations, both historical and contemporary by an arts reporter and critic.  Which is a totally valid perspective (didn’t want to imply because it’s not scholarly work that I devalue it)… but as someone who dips and dodges between academia, curation and creation, I have to admit that this whole ghetto-ization has to stop.

One thing I took away as a positive was a brief conversation during the Q&A about the Canadian “parallel system” and its differences. And the different role that curators play here in Canada. As someone who dips his toes in that world, it heartened me to hear the acknowledgement. Not for any form of self-validation, but for the acknowledgement that myself and my peers work very hard for and with artists, and that curators, who operate under best practices, are facilitators and supporters.

The question of the popular re-contextualization of curation though, is still muddying the waters. But I realized today that it is no different than the popularization of other practices. DJing, Artmaking, writing. And this idea that the cult of the expert vanished some time ago. Certainly there are those who identify as professionals in these worlds. But whole groups of people also self-identify with the same roles, but as practioners rather than professionals. The adoption of these roles are primary identifiers are embedded in our understanding of our selves.. as part of our personal cultural capital. And through the continual use by many of these terms as a means of identifying themselves, professional or otherwise, nothing apocryphal happened. So many my feeling of irkedness in relation to “curating” being used in ways I think are not appropriate will also pass, mostly (as Balzer argues) when the term and practice fall out of fashion.

All it means is that regardless I’ll continue the work I do, because I believe it’s important work.

**Once I’ve read the book , over the next little while, I’ll post some thoughts on it. I feel like this topic is dominating my inner dialogue something fierce right now.

Been a long damn time. Some thoughts.

September 25, 2014

Tonight, I’m sitting here, reminding myself after an absense of over a year, that writing needs to be an everyday practice. As I finish up my coursework for my PhD, I’m reminded of all of the advice given to me about breaking through the various incarnations of writer’s block that plague those of us engaged in intellectual labour. But this one thing has stood out. Don’t wait to write, write everyday, even if it’s not gold. Make it a habit. This is me returning, trying to do just that.

The past year has been filled with so many things, I don’t think I’m going to even attempt to summarize. Needless to say, it’s been an incredible year since I moved to Montreal. Meet many amazing people. Many new found opportunities. Travelled to interesting places. Reinventing old projects, while pursuing new ones. I am working on a new website, which will detail much of this. But for now, let’s move forward. I think for the next little while, I’m going to try some short form writing. Just a collection of things I’m thinking about. and see where that gets me.

Thoughts on Writing. 

I’ve experimented with many forms of writing over my life: poetry, short fiction, scripts, essays, articles, etc, etc. But since returning to graduate school years ago, I often feel more tripped up, more constricted somehow. I think there’s that whole thing about the pressure of grades, performance during conferences, journal submissions, etc, that really got to me. Thinking about the final results which always sort of crippled me during some moments. I am a Teaching Assistant for an interdisciplinary intro to Fine Arts course at Concordia now, and yesterday, part of the assigned reading, really resonated with me. I’m not usually fond of ‘writing about writing’ but while reading Joseph M. WIlliams + Laurence McEnenry’s Writing in the Humanities, something struck me. Slogging through the technical stuff, I found this wee nugget: that the thing that prevent us from writing is often the desire to get it all right the first time. The conceit here of course is the expectation that we somehow already know everything we want to write, but can’t get it out.

Writing, according to the authors, is an act of discovery. We don’t quite know where we’re going until we get there. For some reason, when this was made explicit to me, it made the whole pressure of performance fade away a little. Writing is an exploration, a way to externalize all that that is twisted and congealed inside, and make sense of it all. So now, I’ve made a pact with myself. To do this each and everyday, in notebooks, in word processors, and here when the mood strikes.

DESERT GOLFING. 

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I’ve been going through something. Let’s call it a disenfranchisement with videogames (which is kind of tough given I’m known for curating them, and studying them during my doctoral research). But lately, I just haven’t found many experiences that I’ve felt were worthy of my long term attention. So why then,does a simple, minimalist mobile game suddenly grab all of my attention? For those who don’t know it, Desert Golfing is an infinite, 2D perspective golf game set in the desert. You control the angle and force of your “golf swing” by simply dragging your finger in the opposite direction and releasing. The holes vary from rediculously easy to aggrevatingly difficult. But there’s something zen about the whole thing, and I just keep playing it. As I write this, I’m approaching hole #800, and when my total score (the only score you see contiguously) is just over 2600, which averages to about 3.5 shots per hole. Some where hole in one’s, others took 20+ to sink.

So what it is about it that I find so compelling? Well I think that there’s some kind of connection to old game graphics (in the nostalgic sense rather than the retro gaming sense, if that makes sense at all) that i find interesting. I am reminded of playing games like Scorched Earth with my friends in computer class in highschool. and I LOVED Scorched Earth. The other is this idea of failure that Jesper Juul has talked about. The idea that games are compelling because of risk/reward systems. We fail, we learn, we overcome. This is a little different though. Different than the notion of respawning (die, try again, die, try again), and different than the idea of permadeath (fail, being the whole game over again). Somewhere between those two things, sits Desert Golfing. How? Well, you cannot reset the game, nor retry individual holes. You carry with you your failures (and of course triumphs) through the continuity of your score. In this strange way, it gives you access to small moments of elation (hole in ones), but also makes you consider your past mistakes, with each and every shot you take. This is why I like the game so much. You have to live with your failure. Some would call this regret. I don’t know many games that make you consider such things.

ELLO. 

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So yeah. I don’t know what to say, but it seems like we’re all flocking to Ello like rats fleeing a sinking ship right now. Today I was invited, in turn invited some people, and now it’s just growing and growing. When I thought I was out of invites, i checked back in and suddenly I have dozens more! I’m curious about the longevity of an ad free social media site (in terms of how they’re going to monetize this). But my thoughts are, now, after having social media for this long, and being inundated with ads… I think I would pay to have access to a social media site for a monthly fee, provided that I could make choices over features.. maybe this is the future of this thing, we no longer will be part of the big two monolithic SM networks, but enter into one of a multitude. Could be interesting.

People have criticized the privacy (or lack of) in the Ello Beta, and I’m astonished to find that the folk at Ello have already sent an email out saying that this is something they are going to address right away, which is pretty remarkable. It seems that the Ello team is agile enough to respond to its criticisms in nearly real time. Perhaps this is due to the (thus far) smaller scale. Rather than the beastly juggernauts that already exist that seem to do as they please, chugging forward because of the sheer inertia of their scale, we’re seeing a more responsive approach from Ello. and good on them.

It’s obvious we’re all suffering from Facebook fatigue, and perhaps Ello will offer a viable, sustainable alternative to other social media. It’s clear, we all love it, and have integrated social media into our lives, so why not have more options? I’m just hoping that it doesn’t go the way of Google’s Plus, or Buzz. Some folk are also criticizing the minimal interface of Ello, but I am really pleased with it. Nice to have all the fluff stripped away and just have a feed.

Curation. 

So. Steam has launched a new “curator” function, where players/ consumers can “curate” games. Meaning they can create lists of games they like and put them in a list. As someone who curates exhibitions / new arcade events professionally, I’m a bit tired of the ways in which the word has been employed. Not because I think that grand claims of “everyone’s a curator” is necessarily terrible, but because simply selecting things and putting them in a list misses what I think the primary aspects of curation are (at least for me).

1. Curation is an interpretive act. We interpret works, and place them in context to other works (formal, aesthetic, thematic, discursive, etc). But the key is the connections are ones we interpret as being embedded in the works themselves, not imposed by some light categorical distinctions such as “I like this” or “My Top 10 games of all time.

2. In light of #1, curating is a critical act. Meant to provoke critical conversations about these works, and the world at large. If this conversation is not happening. If a show cannot elicit this kind of critical dialogue, then I don’t think a curator has done their job well.

3.Curation is (and this is the biggest one for me) largely about the relationship between myself and the artists I work with. It is my way of supporting work that I believe in, helping it get exposure, and disseminating their work in public. Sometimes discussing the work, how it can grow, be better, etc.

4. Access. While the terms of access change, curation for me is about making work accessible. Which means, lists on a site designed to promote game sales doesn’t really cut it. Making a list of games that people must buy, without giving them access, also misses a critical component of the practice.

So those for my are kind of my cornerstones, so when I see people simply making lists of things, links, games, songs, whatever, I just don’t see it.

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I find this timely though as David Balzer has just written a book called Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else. And is giving a talk at Concordia tomorrow. I will likely write about my thoughts after his talk. But yeah. So what does this all mean? Do we need a new term for those who professionally curate? OR do we do what we do when non-professionals from other disciplines identify themselves as that thing (designer/artist/photographer, etc.) Here’s a question, why don’t people who do their own home renos call themselves carpenters? Interesting to think about.

Also: this just popped up in my newsfeed. People are already reacting against this whole Steam Curator thing, in a rather cheeky way. http://www.joystiq.com/2014/09/24/steam-curator-curator-helps-find-people-finding-good-games/

I have more to say on this, but want to hold off until tomorrow’s talk.

That’s it for now, time to make Fajitas!

Part 2. New Business!!!

September 2, 2013

As i said in my previous post, I moved to Montreal a month ago in anticipation of starting my PhD at Concordia University, with my course work beginning in a week.  I’m pretty excited to get going, even though I still technically have to finish my MA, defending my thesis 3 weeks from today. I’m in Concordia’s INDI (Individualized) Program in the Humanities, which is an interdisciplinary program for students who are more self directed. Think of it as a “choose your own PhD”. Basically I get to choose any course from any faculty at Concordia (and other institutions if I like) that fits into my research. Right now, I’ve got game studies courses, media history courses, and an English Lit course lined up for my first year.  I have to admit, that it’s liberating being in a program with absolutely zero required courses. I’m excited about getting to chart my own direction through my PhD rather than following the more prescribed routes of a single discipline.

I have to admit that the support I’ve already received is pretty amazing, given that I technically haven’t even started yet. I’m now a researcher at the TAG (Technoculture, Art & Games) research centre, which is a research/creation lab. The community in TAG is pretty stellar, all of the students that I met are passionate, and brilliant people, as are the associated faculty. It’s the primary reason I chose to come here, knowing that I would be involved in a community of such great peers.  I’ve gotta admit, it feels kind of strange to be welcomed as much as I have.  Normally I use this blog to talk about what I’m doing, but don’t generally talk about how I’m feeling about it.  Over the last half decade or so, I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard to make a go of my curatorial/ art practice, and for me, returning to school is just a component of that work. I suppose I’ve kind of got a reputation now (for good or ill, depending on who you talk to :P), and sometimes it seems to proceed me these days. Which is SUPER strange to me.  All I really want to do is to do good work, and to be able to sustain it. But when I have met people here and I hear that they’re excited to meet me and that they’ve heard a lot about me and my work, I’m a little taken a back.  I mean I know that this is a good thing, but after having spent almost 2 decades working creatively, to finally see some major breakthroughs in my “creative career”, well, it’s still something I’m coming to terms with. But in the best possible way. If that makes sense.

Within the first week of moving to MTL, I was invited out for lunch by Darren Werschler, who’s a member of my PhD Supervisory committee, and we had a great lunch. We talked a lot about my research, and he asked me to be a member of his research lab, the Ampersand (AMP) lab.  I’l be on a few research projects with the lab, but those details are still forthcoming, so there’s not much I can say about it right now. Although Darren has me blogging once a week on the AMPlab site, a sort of weekly summation of what I’m reading/ thinking about academically, so if you’re into such things, check it out. Also check out my profile, which has the wackiest headshot I’ve ever submitted to anything….

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I also was lucky in terms of my timing when moving here, due to it coinciding with the annual Toy Company chipmusic festival.  I was asked to VJ for a few sets, and had an amazing time! I got to meet some of my favorite chipmusic artists and VJs. I got to mix live video for scene Veteran Trash80, and DJ Cutman, which was a great deal of fun. I got to hang out at the VJ station with nocarrier, whose work I’ve always admired. After the festival, the folks who run Toy Company (pocaille and xc3n) asked me to VJ for their halloween show in October where I’ll be Vjing for Dr. Von Pnok!!! I have to admit, it’s been a while since I’ve done a lot of VJing, but Toy Company has sort of got me bitten by the VJ bug again. That, plus the amazing PS1 arcade panel I found at a local pawn shop. You can see the pic below, I’ve softmodded it to use as a VJ controller, along with a small akai midi controller. I haven’t played out live with it yet, but I am ITCHING to!!!

1175480_10153135954470594_1326479546_nOther than that, I’m kind of feeling what a friend of mine called “new city syndrome”, that kind of strange feeling being in a new place, not knowing many people, and feeling like everything is sort of strange and wonderful.  I’ve gone through this a great deal in the past number of years; moving from Ontario to Winnipeg 7 years ago, coming back to Toronto for my MA 2 years ago, and now landing in Montreal. I’m starting to get to the know the city a bit more, and am meeting some pretty neat people in the city’s various creative communities.  I’ve been taking random trips on the Metro, to explore the incredible retro future designs of the stations. It like walking through architecture that was conceived to be futuristic in the 1960s.  It’s like looking at the past and the future all at once. I think of a lot of 60s and 70s sci fi movies when I’m on the Metro. For some reason they remind me a lot of early Cronenberg and Jewison film sets. Maybe because the colour scheme is the same one that dominates the original Rollerball.

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Here’s a couple of pics that I instagrammed (yes, it’s also a verb now!), of a few of the stations. I love the geometrical balls that hover interconnected in Namur station. Probably my favorite thing I’ve seen since I’ve been here.

I’ve also managed to see some pretty interesting art exhibitions. DHC Art has a Cory Arcangel retrospective on right now. The show is a two site multi-floor exhibition that sees some of Cory’s game art, glitch and video work, and even a sculpture or two. He’s even given a talk/ performance on the 26th of Sept, which I’ve already grabbed a ticket to. Seeing as his work is seminal in terms of game art, I’m really glad I to see the show.

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At the MAC (Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal) There was an interesting exhibition on the history of abstract art, with a focus on contributions by French Canadians. Also there was Michel deBroin’s work. Which appropriates all kind of objects to create new works. One piece was an operational hottub made from a small dumpster, another was a piece which incorporated 3 metal beams, attached to each one was an electromagnet on a timer. when the timer runs out, the magnet’s deactivate, thus ‘ending’ the art.  Perhaps my favorite (which I didn’t take a picture of ) was a power drill on a low white plynth. The drill was plugged in, and water was being pumped through it like a small fountain. To me it felt like a comment on the preciousness of the art object and museum culture’s tendency towards a “look but don’t touch” philisophy in displaying works. In this case, touching the art will actually do you harm. It adds an element of danger to it, that I found really wonderful.

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So far my final gallery trip was to the Canadian Centre for Architecture, which I discovered is right around my house. Their current exhibition Archaeology of the Digital, Curated by architect Greg Lynn, is an exploration of early examples of the use of CAD (computer assited design) in the practices of four architects: Peter Eisenmann, Frank Gehry, Chuck Hoberman and Shoei Yeh. The show is an interesting discussion of how they early digital tools limited or enabled certain aspects of architectural practice. I really enjoyed the show, it’s a mix of concept drawings, CAD models, notes, maquettes, and writing by the architects.  One of the key aspects of the show that I have a little bit of a problem with though is the following statement by Lynn:

“The digital is no longer a black box, a magic thing that’s going to fulfill a vision of the future, rather it is a concrete thing with characters and limits and influences. Today, it’s time to start to write a history and a theory of digital technology. Archaeology of the Digtal is about saying: in the past, digital technology did this…”

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While I agree with the first sentence, I have trouble with the rest of the statement, and here’s why. I don’t know if Lynn is bound to his disciplinary perspective so much that he is unaware of the field of platform studies.  While it’s not a mainstream field and it’s body of literature is small at this point (I just wrote my MA thesis on platform studies, so I know a great deal about it), it does contain a methodology for the study of digital technologies that Lynn seems to be calling for.  While I think that the application of that method has been problematic (which I’m sure I’ll blog about at some point), I think the method is a useful tool for analyising digital tech. In fact, the founders of the field (Ian Bogost and Nick Montfort) have been explicit that platform studies is essentially about examining the ways in which a particular platform enable or constrain creative computational practices.

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The other highlight of my visit to the CCA was a piece by Douglas Coupland called Brick Wall, which was a wall full of individual brick elements from a myriad of building toys. It made me oddly nostalgic for the building toys of my past, while exploring others I had never seen before. It made me think of my relationship to building toys of the past, and my fascination with architecture. While I’m far from being an expert in anyway, I am definitely an enthusiast. I’m pretty excited about integrating archtectural theory into my practice and scholarship during my PhD.  Which is why I’m so glad that CCA has a bookstore! Probably one of my favorite bookstores I’ve ever visited. I came home with the catalogue for Archaeology of the Digital, and a book by Peter Zumpthor, called Thinking Architecture, which is a great book for anyone who loves architecture but doesn’t know where to start in terms of reading. It’s a great introduction to the field and issues within it.

So that’s my time in Montreal so far! I’ve also got a lot on the horizon. Recently I was invited to bring Ghost Arcade to this years’s Canzine in October in Toronto. I’ll also be leading a grant writing workshop at the Canzine Symposium the day before! In Sept, I’m on a panel with Alex Myers and Cameron Kunzelman at a Digital Humanities conference in Detroit on the game art/ art game movement.  Though I won’t be there in person because I cannot get my passport issued in time, so I’ll be doing my presentation from home via skype or google hang out or something.  Not ideal, but it’ll have to do.  I’ve also been asked by a friend who teaches at a CEGEP (sort of a cross between highschool and junior college in Quebec) to give a lecture on the politics of digital games post 9-11. I’m pretty excited about this, as I’ll be sharing a lot of art and mods and well as discussing mainstream games.

Then there’s the prep for Vector 2014, which has begun in earnest with my fellow members of Team Vector. But more about that later when things develop. Also, I was recently asked by the lovely folk who run the Cluster; New Music + Integrated Arts Festival, in Winnipeg, to be a guest curator for the 2015 edition of their festival in the spring of 2015! Pretty exciting stuff!

OH! and I’ve also gotten back into MAKING art!! Something that has fallen by the wayside as school and curating had taken over. I’ve started a new blog to document some of the process of the things that I’m working on. Right now I’ve been dabbling with circuit bending and glitching video games. The blog’s called Ghost Process, and I hope you’ll check it out or follow it (it’s a tumblr).

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Otherwise that’s it for now, thanks for reading friends! It’s been a helluva few months, and looks like things are going to keep on rolling. I honestly feel very privileged to be able to keep up my work. I’m grateful for the support that I’ve received thus far, and am humbled by all of the amazing people around me.

And we’re back. Part 1- Catching Up.

September 2, 2013

It’s been a while friends, and I’ve been a busy ghosty.

In the past 3 months, I’ve written a Master’s thesis (titled Abandonware, Commercial Expatriation, and Post Consumer Fan Practices: A Study of the Sega Dreamcast). It’s a bit wordy, but for a 100+ page treatise on the examination of digital technologies once they’ve been relegated to obsolesence, well, it should be a bit wordy.  It’s a weird feeling now having written this thing, the thing I’ve spent about 6 months of my life working on. I’m not out of the woods with it quite yet, as I have to do an oral examination (see: defense) of my thesis on Sept 23rd. THEN if all goes well, I will be done.

Anyone who’s gone through the process can recount the tales of stress, frustration, and anxiety that emerges when working on a project this large. When I started, I thought I would be different, I wouldn’t succumb to such feelings, I would just power through and get this done.  Yup, I was wrong. But now, on the other side of it, I feel like the work was immensely rewarding (even prior to be DONE done). I’ve accomplished something that several years ago I never thought I would do, I took something I was deeply interested in, researched the hell out of it, thought about critically, then wrote like half a book about it.  And while I’m sure in a few years I’ll look back at it and be like “wow, that was shit”, right now I’m sort of admiring my work with a little bit of pride. Until of course a panel of 4 academics senior to me put me in a room, and drill me on it for 2 hours. I imagine that might take a little of the shine away. Heh, I kid.

So, it has been a terribly (and by terribly I mean amazing) busy summer for me; I curated two exhibitions, gave a couple of guest lectures, presented at several conferences, wrote my thesis, an article or two, AND a month ago I move to Montreal).

In May, I gave a presentation at the Canadian Pop Culture Studies Association’s conference in Niagara Falls, Ont. Titled Gotta Hack ‘Em All, this presentation was a survey of subcultures engaged in hacking Pokemon Games.  I’m currently polishing the paper in hopes of future publication. In June, I travelled to Victoria to give two presentations at the Canadian Game Studies Association conference at the Congress of the Humanities at the University of Victoria (a sort of humanities uber-conference). There, I presented a paper on situationist practices and the legacy of the traditions of psychogeography in the 1977 Atari game Adventure (again, polishing the paper for the future). Also I co-presented a presentation with fellow Team Vector member Christine Kim, where we gave a brief summary of the Vector Game + Art Convergence Festival that we ran, along with other Team Vector members Clint Enns and Katie Micak.

Also, through out the course of the summer, I was invited to give a couple of guest lectures to students in different classes at OCADu. The first was in May, for a game studies course taught by the lovely and amazing Emma Westacott. My lecture  highlighted the relationship between art practice and digital games. I discussed the popular debate and moral panic surrounding the acceptance of emerging media’s role in art making. I discussing hacking, modding, machinima, and art games. It was the first time I had a room full of students for 3hrs. It was a great experience! Many of them really engaged with my lecture and the conversation/ discussion was lively and interesting.

In July, I lectured for Martin Zeilinger’s Digital Texts course at OCADu, discussing game hacking and modding in relation to art practice.  This lecture was more of a historical lecture, tracing the origins of hacking and modding in contemporary art. I discussed the work of JODI, talked about Ars Doom and Museum Meltdown mods, Cory Arcangel’s work, as well as many current examples. An interesting discussion formed around a student’s belief that it is the role of the curator to contribute to the canonization of art.  While I think that curation does contribute to historicizing artworks, I don’t believe my role is to canonize works.  Needless to say the discussion was lively, at times even a little heated. Which is something I very much appreciated. All too often getting students to engage in discussion is far too much work, so it was nice to see people coming out of the gate and disagreeing with my stance on the matter.

what these two lectures did do though, is show me how much I love the process of lecturing’/discussing/ teaching/ engaging with students.  I’ve done my fair share of conference presenations at this point, but frankly those haven’t been nearly as rewarding as the two lectures. I’m looking forward to doing this more in the future. Hopefully, a lot more!

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At the end of June in London, Ontario, I held the first edition of my Ghost Arcade exhibition series. While I did post about it the last time I was on here, that was 3 months ago, so humour me a bit while I recap the project.  Ghost Arcade is a project I undertook to document the margins of gaming culture; in this case, hacks, mods, bootlegs, knockoffs and myths.  Why? well, after encountering countless texts about the history of gaming, one thing became clear. The history of the culture is really simply the history of the industry. With blockbuster gaming exhibitions popping up around the world celebrating the history of the industry, so much gets left out of the conversation because of its ephemeral nature.

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^^ Random fanart left behind by an unknown visitor to Ghost Arcade ^^

Anything outside of the sanctioned history of gaming culture is left undocumented in “official” historical accounts, and framed as aberrations. And yet, gaming culture is rife with urban myths and legends, stories of notable hacks and bootlegs, and chocked full of bootlegs, rip offs and knockoffs. Why do these works get pushed to the margins? Where are the histories about these “ghost makers”? Ghost Arcade is my way of showcasing these works both through a series of roaming exhibitions, and a blog which charts the stories of these games.

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So the first edition of Ghost Arcade took place over 4 days in June on the 3rd floor of City Lights Books in London, and it was a great success.  The kind folks at City LIghts Cleared out the 3rd floor of the store of all the junk that was stored there, and turned it into a great, raw exhibition space, perfect for the show.  Much of the work was shown at Ghost Arcade was shown on hacked handheld gaming consoles, in mini foam core arcade cabinets I had built for the show.  All the shelving/ display warez for the show came from the space itself, something I’ve decided will become part of the traveling exhibitions aesthetic. Future iterations of the Ghost Arcade will use whatever I find in the spaces I exhibit in.

The show was written about on a local arts site in London called London Fuse, and you can read that article here. I’ve posted a few updates on the Ghost Arcade site and all of the photos documenting the show can be found on my flickr page.

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Just a month later, myself and the other members of Team Vector, co-curated Queer Arcade, a two day special exhibition at VideoFag in Toronto.  Featuring works by notable Queer game makers, as well as works gleaned through an open call, the show was a survey of the queer game making scene. Team Vector was on hand to talk about the works shown which included game mods, interactive text adventures, mazes shooters, a board game and a trivia game about queer history. You can find write ups for all the works on the Queer Arcade site, which we’re leaving up as an online catalogue of the show.

Two days after we uninstalled Queer Arcade, I packed up everything I owned and moved to Montreal, in anticipation of beginning my PhD, which i will talk about in my next post.

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