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Empathy Loading

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Videogame Appropriation in Contemporary Art: Racing Games

19/08/2011
Mathias Jansson

Featured image: Installation Speed. Public Space Exhibition Plattform Bohnenstrasse in Bremen September 2006. Aram Bartholl.

Pole Position, Outrun, F1 Racer and Need for Speed are some of the countless racing games that have attracted artists to explore a world of speed and burning rubber. In 2004 Cory Arcangel hacked the old Japanese Famicom driving game F1 Racer and removed, in the same way as he did in Super Mario Clouds, cars and other objects so that the only thing that remained of the game was the road and the landscape rushing toward the viewer.

Cory Arcangel's GIF version of F1 Racer.
Cory Arcangel’s GIF version of F1 Racer.

Hacking and modifying videogames is one artistic approach, another approach in Game Art is to transfer virtual objects into real objects. The Swedish artists Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby in an exhibition called Objects of virtual desire (2005), introduced virtual objects from players in Second Life. The object was then reproduced as physical art as limited edition in an exhibition, exploring immaterial production in a virtual world and how this can be transferred into an economy of material production. “Objects of Virtual Desire exploits the augmented value of immaterial objects to create and market tangible products, thereby reversing the process and highlighting the materiality of the immaterial.” Goldin & Senneby.

Objects of virtual desire. Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby. 2005.
Objects of virtual desire. Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby. 2005.

In a similar way both Aram Bartholl and Brody Condon have used virtual objects from Speed racing games. In Speed (2006) Bartholl made a 1:1 scale sign with red flashing arrows and placed the sign at a street in Bohnenstrasse in Bremen. The model to the arrows had he found in the game Need for Speed Underground NFSU where the red blinking signs leads the player on the right track. Condon on the other hand made an exact replica of a Lamborghini Countach from 1985, a model that he found in the game Need for Speed. The big different was that the car was made of plastic branches and there was only the outline of a car, in a 3D program you would say it was the wireframe of a car. What Bartholl and Condons does is that they investigates and problematizes the borderline between the virtual world and the reality by moving virtual and real objects between these two worlds. Worlds that today are more and more integrated and harder to distinguish.

Brody Condon's Need for Speed (Cargo Cult) at Next Level (2006).
Brody Condon’s Need for Speed (Cargo Cult) at Next Level (2006).

The Dutch artists Marieke Verbiesen is also mixing elements from the virtual and real world in her work Pole Positon. Pole position was a racing game released in 1982 by Namco and was one of the first games to use the rear-view racer format, where the player’s view is behind and above the vehicle. In her installation the background in the game created by a realtime recording of a miniature landscape in perspective. Visitors can interfere in the landscape and be a part of the game by passing by the camera filming the landscape.

The ultimate combination of real and virtual game play is found in Garnet Hertzs work OutRun. Outrun was a game that was created by Sega 1986. Some arcade versions of the game were presented in a red sit down cabinet that looked like a car. Garnet Hertz has used this cabinet version as a model for his work and made a red real car where the front window is replaced with an aracde cabinet. With help of augmented reality the road ahead of you is an 8-bit video game, so at the same time you are playing the game you are driving down the road.

OutRun - Garnet Hertz. Images/video: http://www.conceptlab.com/outrun
OutRun – Garnet Hertz. Images/video: http://www.conceptlab.com/outrun

                             OutRun – Garnet Hertz. Images/video: http://www.conceptlab.com/outrun

“where game simulations strive to be increasingly realistic (usually focused on graphics), this system pursues “real” driving through the game. Additionally, playing off the game-like experience one can have driving with an automobile navigation system, OutRun explores the consequences of using only a computer model of the world as a navigation tool for driving.” Hertz

One thing that you could not blame racing games for is air pollution. In the installation “Colorless, odorless and tasteless” from 2011 this is exactly what you can blame Eva and Franco Mattes for.

Colorless, odorless and tasteless. Eva and Franco Mattes 2011. Video: http://vimeo.com/20792959
Colorless, odorless and tasteless. Eva and Franco Mattes 2011. Video: http://vimeo.com/20792959

They modified an old Pole Position game and installed a real engine in the arcade cabinet. When the player is driving the virtual car on the screen the room is filled with carbon monoxide from the real engine. So the risk is not only that you run out of coins but you are also gassed.

More of Mathias’s reviews on Furtherfield & bio : http://www.furtherfield.org/user/mathias-jansson

Cory Arcangel F1 Racer Mod: http://www.coryarcangel.com/things-i-made/f1racermod

Aram Bartholl Speed: http://datenform.de/speedeng.html

Brody Condon Need for Speed (Cargo Cult) http://rhizome.org/editorial/2009/oct/27/need-for-speed-cargo-cult-2005-brody-condon/

Marike Verbiesen Pole Position: http://poleposition.marieke.nu

Garnet Hertz OutRun: http://www.conceptlab.com/outrun

Eva and Franco Mattes: Colorless, odorless and tasteless http://0100101110101101.org/home/colorless/index.html

Cory Arcangel F1 Racer Mod: http://www.coryarcangel.com/things-i-made/f1racermod

Aram Bartholl Speed: http://datenform.de/speedeng.html

Brody Condon Need for Speed (Cargo Cult) http://rhizome.org/editorial/2009/oct/27/need-for-speed-cargo-cult-2005-brody-condon/

Marike Verbiesen Pole Position: http://poleposition.marieke.nu

Garnet Hertz OutRun: http://www.conceptlab.com/outrun

Eva and Franco Mattes: Colorless, odorless and tasteless http://0100101110101101.org/home/colorless/index.html