The stars have aligned for gaming culture and art to share the limelight this coming weekend at Vector: Game + Art Convergence. For this, its first year, co-directors Skot Deeming and Clint Enns have corralled an impressive list of more than seventy artists, presenters, and panelists; garnered partnerships with InterAccess, VideoFag, Bento Miso, and Propeller Centre for the Visual Arts; and acquired financial support from the Ontario Arts Council. I sat down with Deeming to get a sense of the paths leading to this stellar new junction and what may be on the road ahead.
Timelapse of Data Dance in Winnipeg, 2010. Video by Kert Gartner
JF: Tell us a little about your early exhibitions in Winnipeg and the events that lead you here.
SD: I had been VJing in Winnipeg for several years and was dabbling with some installation work when aceartInc asked me for a proposal for something called 16 days of unorganized art. I had the gallery for a night and did a video game art show/party with live 8bit music, circuit bending, and a number of local artists. Shortly after that we re-did it at the Winnipeg Art Gallery for Nuit Blanche. Then I moved the shows into a local pub for a series called Data Dance where we brought in vintage arcade cabinets. After the first Data Dance, I applied to grad school in Toronto when I realized that I wanted to do more than just throw events. There were a couple more major events at the WAG, including a daylong game art and tech fair (like a DIY game-based TED) with talks and exhibitors, and then I moved here. Shortly after relocating I began a series called DPAD (Directions in Play/Art/Design) at InterAccess. I wanted to do something larger scale, so I invited a number of people who would eventually join me on Team Vector; we started a plan and got the ball rolling.
JF: Who else is part the team?
SD: There is Clint Enns, who's a filmmaker/artist from Winnipeg (we relocated to Toronto at the same time in 2011). He's kind of an expert in avant-garde machinima and he programmed the bulk of the screenings for Vector. There's Christine Kim, who did her Master's degree in Art History focusing specifically on the practice of video game curation. And there's Katie Micak, who has a background in video and new media art.
JF: What kinds of things can we except to see at Vector?
SD: We've got a rather ambitious programme, with five screenings, three concurrent exhibitions, three panel discussions, two evenings of performance, and four workshops – all within four and a half days. We wanted to make sure we covered as much ground as we could. Visitors can engage with a variety of art, games, video, print, and more through the exhibitions, the film and video screenings, and the performances. They can have a direct dialogue with many of the artists in the festival through our panel discussions, as well as gain some hands-on experience with gaming technologies in the workshops.
Acceptance, 2008 by Bill Viola
JF: Can you tell us about a few of the artists or speakers?
SD: We have over seventy participants, so it's hard to narrow down. We do have some works that I think are noteworthy, such as Bill Viola's The Night Journey, which Tracy Fullerton acted as lead game designer on. Having an artist of Bill's stature creating an art game says something about the state of the medium and the willingness of artists to adopt it as a means of expression. One of the artists I'm most eager about is Alex Myers. His perspective on games and the spaces in which we play them will be very surprising to visitors.
Stills from WYWT series, 2011 by Alex Myers
We also have a bunch of artists coming from New York including Angela Washko and foci+loci, both of whom will be performing live. Angela's work centers on gender issues in gaming, while foci+loci use video game engines to create live electro-acoustic performances.
There are a large number of local artists and game makers as well, such as Myfanwy Ashmore, who has created interactive poems for the Nintendo DS. There will be a Saturday afternoon arcade by the Dames Making Games collective, and panels in which scholars and artists discuss art games and play, appropriation, and gender representation. Our feminism in games and game art panel, where we have five panelists each discussing their unique approach to this issue, will be a highlight.
JF: Why do you think Vector is getting so much attention?
SD: With festivals like Gamerz in France just finishing its eighth year, and other events in the US such as IndieCade, Fantastic Arcade, and the BabyCastles summit, I think that people here have been craving an event like Vector. We're doing something pretty different by trying to survey a variety of perspectives and practices; I think people are interested in that aspect.
JF: Early academia about gaming culture seems a little off the mark. How do think the academic study of gaming and art has changed?
SD: I've only been on the academic side of this for a few years, and in many ways would be considered a "junior" scholar, but the discipline is really just about a decade or so old when you think about it. Because of that, the work has been widely interdisciplinary – from cinema studies to computer science to play theory, sociology, etc. The perception that it's "off the mark" is probably because of the myriad of perspectives.
JF: What's been problematic about bringing gaming into academic spheres?
SD: My largest problem with the discipline is the privileging of games made in the commercial sphere. That's changing though, and there are those who realize the way we explore the culture needs to be more than just talking about commercially released games and their players. We need to discuss artists, hackers, fans, and more, and look at the paratext of the culture through magazines, television and film, and the political economy of the technologies themselves.
JF: Through what lens could gaming culture and art be viewed?
SD: I don't think there is a single lens in which we can view it all. The medium itself contains so many other media, and the ways in which people interact with games are far too varied to put disciplinary constraints on it. Game scholars need to have some kind of consensus on terminology, taxonomies, and the like, but I think a rich dialogue can occur even with the vast differences in our perspectives.
JF: What is your vision for the future of Vector?
SD: Well, in the short term: Vector 2014. In the long term I'd like to see it grow beyond that. In the near future our plan, once Vector 2013 wraps up, is to compile our catalogue and journal (The Vector Annual), which will act as a sort of yearly account of the festival and trends in game art and culture. It should be released in the early fall of 2013. Other than that, Team Vector is looking at partnering with other organizations for programming throughout the year outside of the festival. We're committed to supporting our community and the best way for us to do that is to showcase work as often as the opportunities afford.
Vector: Game + Art Convergence runs February 21 to 24th in Toronto. To find out more or to purchase passes, please visit the website.
James Fowler worked in public relations with organizations in various industries to achieve their communications goals and streamline their media messaging, monitoring and metrics. James currently maintains a fulltime studio practice in Toronto and has taken a keen interest in social media and eMarketing. He joined Akimbo in the spring 2011 as Social Media Director. You can follow him on Twitter @jamesfowler
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