Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Final Paper - Bram van der Poel & Raquel Meyers ‘Wh-t-v-r!’ Video Game vs. Adam Connelly's Pixel Pornography

A pixel is a curious thing. It is the smallest piece of visual information, vital to the creation of everything that is seen digitally. It is also taken for granted, as multitudes of them are needed to create simple figures, and as many as billions of them are needed to create complex environments for gaming or digitally-enhanced entertainment. Rarely is the pixel thought about in terms other than digital, but it is a mode of artistic communication in itself. Artists Bram van der Poel & Raquel Meyers, and Adam Connelly understand this idea, and have made it the primary focus in their work. The artists detailed in this report have taken their relationship with the pixel to another level, both conceptually and visually.


Adam Connelly is an American artist who has lived all over the country, studying and creating work. He has a professional background in graphic design (with special attention to interactive and motion graphics) and has worked with companies such as Pixar, CNET, Sega, and Apple computer. His biography, as well as his art work, speak to the connection that he has with the digital world. His series from 2002 – 2004 transcends the digital and the analog for some thought provocation about how and why those worlds meet, how they influence each other, how our lives are shaped by technology and other questions raised by “public and private identity, privacy, censorship, information sharing, and information awareness” (Statement).

Connelly’s work, for lack of better terminology since no collective title for it has been given, is hand-painted portraiture of pixilated pornography. The entire collection is up for viewing on his personal website, Subjects are pulled from a seemingly-endless array of pornographic images on the internet, transferred to large identity-concealing pixels, and drafted and painted in oil onto a traditional medium of canvas, where it will be hung in a traditional gallery space like other “traditional” works of art, but with a twist. He states that his inspiration comes from both the painted nude and popular pornography, and instead of just putting his collection up and letting the viewer revel at more images of naked women, he claims to address the role that porn has on technology and culture...though, his artists statement is the only place where that message actually comes through.

Raquel Meyers, a Spanish low-res (graphic) video artist teamed up with multimedia developer and designer / enigma extraordinaire (meaning, there isn’t any meaningful information on him online) Bram Van Der Poel to create a videogame installation called “The great adventure of Wh-t-v-r!” in 2010. Wh-t-v-r! is an experimental game around the person, Wh-t-v-r!, where … basically nothing happens whether you play the game or not. The statement for the game summarizes it best:

“ Step into the shoes of Wh-t-v-r! and play around into the great realm of “work is never over.” Experience a unique game play and find the disks and feed the dogs! Play through no levels until you reached no goals and get defeated by the great monster of “W-RKC-MPL-T-” and save no princes. The great adventure of Wh-t-v-r! is a experimental game around the person Wh-t-v-r! and explores the possibilities of alternative game play where no usual goals as level up, collect coins, battle enemies are met. Created when the Video artist Raquel Meyers and digital creative Bram van der Poel met and mashed their skills, and start working together. “

Meyers uses low-res graphics to create the surreal imagery, large archaic pixels and eerie atmosphere in the game, while Van Der Poel uses his technical abilities to bring this exhibition to life. While there isn’t sufficient information to concretely state the “How’s” of the project (though through the pictures, it appears that the game is projected onto the walls), the reason “Why” is known: it’s a “why not.”

Wh-t-v-r! looks like a game played though projection over a vast space; the people involved have to walk around and navigate through a maze of strangely-colored rooms where the next bit of pointless game play and no objectives awaits on the walls to be completed, so it is more interactive that someone staring at a 2D gallery exhibit. The question remains: how does one interact with something pointless, and does the knowledge of its futility affect the player’s willingness to explore the work?


The biggest similarity for Wh-t-v-r! and any of Connelly’s work (I’ll use “freckles10,” one of the more tasteful canvasses) is a distinct schism between the conceptual reality / written “meaning” of the artist’s work, as compared to the emotional reality / the way their work is interpreted by the viewer. The emotional reality most certainly will be affected by the framework of the artist statement; in this case, it will be assumed that no knowledge of the work or artist is known ahead of time.

For a viewer to successfully see any of Connelly’s work, the distance at which they initially look upon it will be of importance. I could not see the image within the first canvas that I found until it was saved on my desktop; I was given no mode of reference, and saw the shapes purely as abstraction. It was only after looking at the thumbnail on my desktop did I actually see the form within. I knew that the pixel itself was an important focus of the work, but since Connelly’s collection has no title with which to guide the viewer’s interpretation, it could be difficult for them to immediately grasp the subject matter. Once they do, though, they’ll be more than happy to stare at length at the other pornographic images within the collection. If no written statement is supplied for the arrangement, any additional thought that may have been given to it is lost. The viewer, when faced with a common category of images, will most likely fail to see past what is ahead of them.

The makers of Wh-t-v-r! may have a similar reaction. Since the audience playing the game is an important part of the exhibit, some obstacles may have to be overcome in order to get people interested enough to play something that does not have any instructions, especially with other people around. Once people figure out that there isn’t really any point to whatever they are seeing or watching someone else do, will they stop playing? Will they wonder the empty question of why did the artists do this, instead of actually thinking about it?

The obvious difference of these works is the medium with which they use and what they are attempting to say through the platform of their work. Connelly is connecting the classical form of paint and portraiture to the sleazy objects of modern attention in a digital manner. Meyers and Van Der Poel combine their knowledge of graphic design, and digital creation to connect with the viewer about the reasons for entertainment, as well as the radical idea that you don’t have to have a set of objectives and guidelines to dictate your free time; you can make video games that don’t have a point, so that it is you making the point, not the person who made it (at least, that is what I take out of it).


I would like to see Connelly’s artwork possess the same feeling that one extracts from the artist statement. I want to look at these canvasses and see what is there, but also see the artist’s feeling about it, without it having to be explained to me in a separate piece that I may not take the time to read on my own or may miss the physical relaying of in the gallery opening. I like work that stands solidly alone, without modifiers, without outside explanation or modification. He says that his objective was to raise questions about the nature of his work, but presenting pornography (or nudes, in their cleaner form) in a different way is not going to raise questions about it; the oversaturation of these kinds of images counteracts any kind of differing thought about any subject matter that is represented in this way.

I have a problem with Meyer’s and Van Der Poel’s work specifically because I was hard-pressed to find anything of substance about it or the artists, which gave off a feeling of laziness and unprofessionality towards both the artists and their work. I have no idea how big this installation is, how exactly it is set up, a length of the game (definite or indefinite), or a viewer reaction to the piece. The only thing I know about it is that it was created by them, it doesn’t have a point, the work is never over, gathering disks and feeding dogs are involved with this game (which partially counteracts the premise of the work, which is not to have a point or contain anything that dictates your success in the game), and that if you do “win” the game, you inherently lose, because the work is over and you are defeated. I feel that the description of the piece should not have focused on the narrowing premise of “it doesn’t have a point, really,” and instead used that space to speak about the concept of not having a rigid list of tasks to complete to be successful, the freedom of choice within the game, the reason that we use games and seek that rigid structure even when it exists in other instances and aggravates us, and so on. Their concept was put in such blunt terms that it leads the viewer to mirror those same terms when thinking about the piece.

A pixel is a curious thing. It functions as a molecule in the digital world to create life; that life, in turn, usually creates meaning. We are turned off by things that don’t have meaning (at least that is true in my case), or take it upon ourselves to create something that is more concrete and less abstract. Whether these artists achieved what they set out to do is open for interpretation--- which might just be exactly what they hoped to achieve.

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