Space Invaders artists and works

28 August – 6 November 2010

Art and the Video Game Environment:
Exploring the increasingly blurred boundaries between video-game space and real space.

Jeremy Bailey, Aram Bartholl, Mark Essen, Cao Fei, Anita Fontaine, Riley Harmon, JODI, Michael Johansson, Ben Jones, Yuichiro Katsumoto, Walter Langelaar, Ludic Society, Julian Oliver, UBERMORGEN.COM

In Space Invaders: Art in the Computer Game Environment the Netherlands Media Art Institute brings art and games culture together. In an artistic, playful yet serious manner, Space Invaders reveals the influence of games on art and society. This group exhibition with Dutch and international media artists examines the increasing blurring of the boundaries between game worlds and reality. In Space Invaders media art works illuminate the migration of the physical world into gaming systems. Conversely, gaming elements are more and more finding their way into physical space. By infiltrating both game environments and real spaces, the artworks clarify the nature and influence of the computer game environments, and provide greater insight into the role that computer games play in contemporary culture.

Ludic Society
Parcour Ready Played (2006)
The video Parcour Ready Played shows people who practice 'Parcour' – a growing sport of French origin in which the participants move through the city as efficiently as possible while climbing, jumping or crawling over urban obstacles, like Super Mario in real life. According to Ludic Society, in Parcour players are reappropriating the urban environment by means of play. The video and the billboard take on the appearance of a game through the use of Ministeck for a 'pixelated' C64 game quality and the placement of computer game scores in the picture. While in general Parcour is not competitive, by means of this video Ludic Society brings the sport closer to the 'city-game' genre. Off-screen, the artists urge gamers to move and to use the city as their game environment. In this work, and in Parcour, the bodily activity of the game leaps over into the physical environment. Ludic Society therefore speaks about 'Real Players' when they bring the game zones into the city. 'Real Players' return the rules of the game to daily life.

Chinese Gold (2006)
UBERMORGEN.COM's Chinese Gold documents the online gamers known as ‘Chinese gold farmers’. In their crowded offices, these underpaid gamers perform repetitive in-game actions for hours on end, collecting currency and points for characters that are then sold to American and European gamers via eBay. Online games and virtual worlds like World of Warcraft and Second Life are characterized by their own economy and have an in-world currency, which in some cases can be converted into ‘real’ money and thus generate income that can be used outside. World of Warcraft specifically relies on an economy of virtual gold which can be used to acquire, among others, weapons and equipment. This nascent economy has spawned specialized companies and workshops, especially in China where employees – so-called ‘Chinese gold farmers’ work day and night in order to produce currency, equipment and even whole characters to sell to other players in the United States and Europe. UBERMORGEN.COM explores and documents this phenomenon in the project Chinese Gold, which gathers texts, found footage and re-appropriated prints. The video Machinima No. 0 is lo-res found footage from, showcasing a teleportation hack in World of Warcraft, repeated over and over by Chinese gold farmers.

Cao Fei
Cosplayers (2004)
Internationally acclaimed Chinese artist, Cao Fei explores the growing subculture of 'COSPLAY' (costume play) on the backdrop of her hometown in Guangzhou. Here, a group of teenagers bring virtual battles to life dressed in martial arts getups from their favorite computer games. In their fantastical outfits, the teenagers cause havoc against the backdrop of one of China’s fastest growing cities. The next day, the unabashed spectacle is forgotten, as the city awakes, and the teenagers return to their everyday lives.


SK8MONKEYS ON TWITTER is a performance that was held for the first time in 2009 during the event organized by JODI. A group of skaters used wireless keyboards on little wheels as skateboards. The keyboards were connected with computers that were logged in with Twitter. With their foot movements the skaters input random letters and words as 'tweets' on Twitter. The keyboards broke very quickly and the performance ended in an almost liberating destruction of the electronics. In the exhibition Space Invaders one can once again skateboard on keyboards. Through a newly opened Twitter account named @Sk8Monkey the visitor again generates random virtual information by physical movements. With this, JODI has produced a variant on the popular skate game Tony Hawk.


Yuichiro Katsumoto
The ordinary umbrella, a common weapon against the dreary weather, becomes an imaginative device for solo augmented reality gaming. In an attempt to brighten everyday commutes through the city, the player swings the umbrella to hit an invisible opponent’s blade. A self-contained performance, the piece turns jousting into an endlessly entertaining form of independent game play.

Riley Harmon
What It Is Without the Hand That Wields It (2008)
As gamers make a kill in the popular first person shooter Counter Strike, the sculpture dispenses a blood-like liquid in real time that trails down the wall, making physical the game’s violent play data. The artist writes: "Violence is an inevitable, mechanical function of the human brain, hard-coded down through time by culture, genetics, and evolution. The trails left down the wall create a physical manifestation of nebulous kills."


Valve Software/Microsoft Xbox
Counter-Strike (1999)
A popular game from the era where the now-ubiquitous ‘first person shooter’ perspective was born. Used in this exhibition as source material for two separate artists (Riley Harmon and Aram Bartholl). A typical game from the ‘FPS’ genre, it started as a player-made modification of the earlier game Half Life, which became so popular that Valve eventually bought and commercialized it. Counter-Strike is a successful example of the kind of ‘level modding’ that game companies now actively encourage, by giving players sophisticated tools to create their own game universe.
Counter-Strike can not be described as real, complete architectural space, but rather as a ghost city. The architectural creation of Counter-Strike works in a different manner. The game makes the connections possible that are needed for moving from one space to another (ruins, swimming pool, castle). Playing this game is like moving between spaces that are normally separated. That comes close to future architecture in our mediated world: making environments accessible that are simultaneously real and virtual.


Rockstar/Microsoft Xbox 360
Grand Theft Auto IV (2007)
Grand Theft Auto, the contentious cops-and-robbers gang game, takes its urban violence one step closer to real in the latest version of its franchise. In a dark narrative this new version takes the player into Liberty City, an environment modeled after New York City with unprecedented precision never seen in the gaming world. Down to the intricate copies of buildings and an identical map that would allow the skilled Liberty City tourist to navigate New York City with ease, the game adds a virtual layer to the real city.

Aram Bartholl
First Person Shooter (2006)
'The first person shooter' perspective has become an ubiquitous image for gamers. It was devised by game designers at the time as a way of generating a realistic vision of the environment. Particularly the presence of the game character’s weapon – wielding arm at the bottom of the screen – used to shoot enemies and blow up buildings for points is typical of this perspective. Here, audiences can bring the gaming perspective to real life with a pair of do-it-yourself cardboard glasses bearing the ‘virtual’ weapon arm from the popular first person shooter game Counter-Strike. While the piece is a provocation on violence in computer games, confronting players with their actions in the game, the tongue-in-cheek nature of the two-dimensional image underlines how separate real space and game space are, each with its own rules. The aesthetic of the 'first person shooter' style is here transferred to daily life.


Timothy Hutchings
Play Generated Map and Document Archive (ongoing)
A common computer game environment is the dungeon level – an elaborate maze that a player must navigate one room (or cave) at a time, with limited directional information. Sometimes a map could be found partway through the level, helping the players orient themselves, but often the players were left to remember where they’d been and guess where they were going, essentially building the game’s overall environment in their imaginations. The more dedicated game players created their own maps, charting their routes to assist them in beating the level – player generated maps. Here, Hutchings has collated and preserved a series of these maps from gamers own collections, often sketchy manuscripts and drawings from childhood which communicate a shared imaginative space. The documents act as both a historical record of experimental play, as well as aesthetic objects in their own right.


Michael Johansson
Tetris (2010)
Using the game Tetris as a starting point, Swedish artist Michael Johansson’s Tetris uses everyday objects to reference a particular phenomenon that playing the puzzle game for too long induces. Commonly known as 'Tetris Syndrome', players report seeing Tetris blocks in objects all around them, or when closing their eyes. Blurring the limits between ‘real space’ and ‘game space’, Johansson’s piece, which is constructed from found objects, articulates a shared and puzzling trick this computer game plays on our spatial memory.

Ben Jones
Space Invaders graphics (2009)
Specially commissioned Space Invaders-themed graphics decorate the building, created by Ben Jones of the hypercolourful art collective Paper Rad. For Space Invaders, Jones drew characters and objects that at surface level look like they’re taken directly from popular computer games. However, on closer inspection, the familiar turtles, mushrooms and space aliens look slightly wrong from how we remember them – images from our fading collective memory.

Walter Langelaar
notmatch (2010)
Walter Langelaar works with open source software and hardware, consumer electronics and virtual networks. In his projects, he interweaves the virtual reality that plays an ever-increasing role in daily life with the physical reality of objects, installations and face-to-face contact. He uses games, hacked electronic devices, software, video, sculptures and performance. Created specifically for Space Invaders, Langelaar presents notmatch, the sequel to his installation n0tb0t. n0tb0t is a construction in which a joystick, which moves mechanically by itself, controls a game, making a person as a player redundant. In the sequel notmatch, the joystick competes with a robotic webcam, causing the physical surroundings of the installation and the viewer to become part of a reflexive interaction.

Jeremy Bailey
Video Terraform Dance Party (2008)
In Video Terraform Dance Party, Jeremy Bailey documents a performance where he plays an over-enthused geek creating his own dream environment in ‘God Mode’ – the all-seeing, all-knowing, powerful Creator perspective pioneered by the Sim City gaming franchise. Sporting a VR-mounted forehead controller, he demonstrates new modeling software that will, like Bob Ross, allow him to bop his head to ‘plan the ideal landscape’.


William Crowther & Don Woods
Colossal Cave Adventure (1977)
Adventure (as it was known in various versions) is an early text-based computer game. The computer acts in this game as your 'eyes and ears', describing your surroundings to you in text format. Using simple commands like 'walk forward' to explore the cave, the game space is completely imagined by the player while navigating. Yet in a strange twist, the game is based on the layout of an actual cave in Kentucky, USA – that avid Adventure players report navigating with ease on their first visit.


Mark Essen
Malfunction (2009)
From one of the rising stars of the indie game art, Mark Essen makes lo-fi games using the colorful 2D graphics that the commercial game industry has left behind. The development of Malfunction was commissioned by FACT for Space Invaders. It is a relaxed exploration of various space stations in which especially physical gravity is an important game element. The game shows the aftermath of a number of different catastrophic or life-threatening situations that overcame far-away space stations. Mark Essen found his inspiration for 'Malfunction' in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Sometimes the bodies of other astronauts are seen flying around, but they have no connection whatsoever to the game.


Anita Fontaine
The Fontaines (2010)
Anita Fontaine previously did adaptations of the environments of existing games. For Space Invaders she returned to a family that she created ten years ago in the game Sims, and named them the Fontaines. Anita Fontaine tested the family to the limits. With their dysfunctional clothes and behavior they did not fit in the world of the Sims. For instance, by feeding them only pizza and giving Mr. Fontaine a rooster comb, he couldn't get a job, and that created frustration. Frustrated and poor, the family ended up in an uncertain and chaotic situation. Then Anita Fontaine logged out and didn't log in again until this moment. Anita Fontaine imagines the Fontaines again after 10 years. The result is to be seen in this collection of animated virtual family portraits.


Julian Oliver
levelHead (2007)
Using a hand-held, solid plastic cube as its only interface, Julian Oliver’s levelHead, 2007, uses this simple device to trick and engage with the player’s spatial memory. On screen, it appears that each face of the cube contains a small room, each of which is logically connected to doors. In one of these rooms is a character, which can be transported from room to room by tilting the cube. The ultimate goal for the player is to direct the character out of the cube, where it will walk across the playing surface and vanish. levelHead' is an innovative example of simple augmented reality gaming – where virtual information is mapped over physical objects.