At the end of 2006 I exhibited a series of photographs at The Parking Gallery in Johannesburg. It was entitled Simulation and consisted of approximately 1000 photographs of "people" or rather NPC's (non-playable characters) I killed in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. In 2007 I exhibited the same work in a different format at David Krut Projects as part of a group show called Digital Surrogates. At the end of 2008 I had a solo show at blankprojects in Cape Town titled Point Blank, that consisted of an expanded version of this work entitled Simulation: Re:Load and large, abstract prints of character blood.
From the moment I ran my fingers over the keyboard of my first 286 computer at the age of eight, and booted up a game called Alley Cat, I have played computer games… Subsequently my fascination, some might even call it an obsession, with electronic games in all their manifestations has grown to epic proportions.
My involvement in the digital arts and specifically my interest in gaming have also sent me down another road – the tactile interpretation of digital art and the sense of dislocation one experiences when viewing art through the physical barrier of the screen. The smoothness of the monitor itself, places the viewer in a position where the sense of tactility is lost, thus changing the way in which they relate to the work.
Whilst playing videogames, the player experiences a sense of identification with the character. Not only do they view and empathise with the character onscreen but also emotionally they often become very deeply associated with the avatar. Most players refer to their chosen characters as ‘I’ – perceiving themselves as the perpetrator of the actions taking place in a constructed digital environment.
I am interested in the notion of transference in a number of forms: transference in the psychoanalytic sense; in terms of physical identity; and lastly transference of digital games into the traditional arts (outside of the concept art produced in the development of a game). I am also fundamentally intrigued by the construction of game characters and the slightly grotesque manner in which these ‘people’ are injected with life, and then just as easily flayed and reconstructed.
Although the work has been exhibited multiple times, I think it is important to note that each time the format has changed and the experience of the work is fundamentally different due to placement, format and audience. The more closely compacted the photographs coupled with the larger volume, increases the impact of, and ironically at the same time desensitization to, the violence presented to the viewer.
The important issue to note here is the method of production, which is sometimes misunderstood by those not familiar with the game. These images are not screenshots. Neither are they photographs I have taken of the computer screen with a camera. The character within GTA has a virtual camera as a ‘weapon’. When the player presses the ‘shoot’ or ‘attack’ button whilst holding the camera, the character (and by implication the player as the crosshairs fill the screen) looks through the viewfinder and ‘shoots’ a photograph, which is saved into a gallery on the computer. In other words, the artwork is effectively produced through a symbiotic relationship between the player and ‘Carl Johnson’, GTA:SA’s main protagonist. I ‘killed’ pedestrian characters within the game in the more traditional gaming sense: by shooting them (with a number of different guns), stabbing them (with different bladed weapons) or beating them to death with my fists, a crowbar, or any of the handy blunt objects lying around (including a bunch of flowers and a dildo), and then took photographs of the dead bodies. This was often a complicated process, due to the fact that as soon as I started to attack people, enthusiastic pedestrians and law enforcement agencies in turn attacked me, which made it difficult to compose the photographs and in a few of the prints there is even a fist or baton of a policeman at the edge of the shot. As a result, many of the shots look awkwardly arranged, but understanding the process makes it easier to understand how and why they came to look this way.
Violence is an extremely contentious factor in the playing and marketing of games in the global market. I inserted myself into the logic of killing in Grand Theft Auto, but then manipulated that process for aesthetic effect. The process of killing over 2000 Non-Playable Characters (NPC’s – these are characters within the game, but which the player is unable to use as avatars) was an arduous, emotionally exhausting one, but the effect of exhibiting so many photographs was immensely satisfying.
There are a number of themes that run through the body of work that I wish to grapple with. There is a major theme that deals with transference of identity and virtual death, but there are also a number of other sub-themes. The first of these is the exploration of self. The second but no less important is the idea of the trophy.
Identity within a videogame is something flexible. The loss of identity through the process of transference onto an avatar is something that I am interested in fighting and in essence ‘regaining’ through different means. In 3D animation, there is an increasing trend to go towards ever more realistic looking characters, but in recent years a number of articles have been written on the grotesqueness of ‘real’ animated characters, some animators even claiming that working with characters that look too real becomes like puppeteering corpses. Whilst the process is not the same, in a similar manner, I wish to transfer my real identity into the game itself by converting characters to look like me, reasserting my individuality, and making the cartoon characters more ‘real’ and at the same time more grotesque.
My work is fuelled not only by a desire to transfer the digital into the material, but also by a need to explore the more visceral nature of what is often referred to as ‘a time-wastage medium’. Videogames are no longer the realm of children and computer geeks that remain within the dark confines of their bedroom, lit only by the glow of the monitor – they have ventured into mainstream culture and thus need to be heard and understood as a medium reflective of society.
And now comes the next step - telling your own version of their death. I want YOU to get involved in making something interesting and public by telling your own stories - stories of how these "people" died... Be creative, be weird, be out there, as long as you're original - anything goes.
1. Choose a photo.
2. Comment - Write a story about how the character died - include as many (or as few) details as you want.
3. Add your name to the end of the story (or if you want to remain anonymous, please just say so - you dont need to add your full name, and you can also go by a pseudonym - Interweb identity and all that jazz).
I'll try and upload new photos regularly so you can continue to comment and build up a bit of a story if you want to, thats up to you - this is an experiment so I'm interested to see if it's successful and how it plays out.
Please forward this email and encourage your friends to comment as well!