INTERVIEW WIth MARIEKE VERBIESEN


Interview with Danish journalist Thom Hermansen and new media artist Marieke Verbiesen at the Bergen Centre for Electronic Art in Norway.

Marieke Verbiesen is a new media artist that has exhibited her work internationally, amongst others at the Brooklyn Museum, Chicago Museum for Modern Art, Centre d Pompidou in Paris, Haus der Kulturen die Welt in Berlin and the Institute for Contemporary Art in London.
We interview her at the Bergen Centre for Electronic Art in Norway where she is working on her latest creation “The Mayhem Machine” that will be up for show at NIME, New Instruments for Musical Expression in Brisbane, Australia.

 
Can you briefly explain your practice?
I´m an animator & artist, and I work with sculpture, sound, animation and electronic art. A lot of my artworks contain some form of interactivity or control input from the audience, so they can influence the installation and sequence of events. Another key element in these works is the physical translation and materialisation of spaces and objects that have their origins in the digital sphere, such as computer games, 3D objects, or data generated objects. As an animator, I’m interested in playing with new visual languages, and this is where this translation comes into play.
I often attempt to bring in a certain amount of humour to these works. A curator at the British Film Institute once described me as an “audiovisual comedian”, …I think that makes sense.
 
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Moviestar - Interactive Installation - Marieke Verbiesen -Melkweg Mediaroom Amsterdam, NL
 
What is the role of the Bergen Centre for Electronic Art?
The Bergen Centre for Electronic Art (BEK) functions as both a research centre and support hub for electronic art. BEK offers facilities for artists that work with electronic media, as well as collaborating with local art producers, concert venues and exhibition spaces.
There is an electronics lab and workspace that can be used for projects and workshops, as well as a library with electronic & sound art books.
There is a weekly “hacklab” aimed to form and support a community exploring the relationship between art and technology.
Another less tangible aspect of BEK is the knowledge development within electronic art itself. Artists that use the facilities here are continuously expanding their experience within their own area, such as hardware & software programming or other related expertise that is all part of the broad landscape of electronic art. For example, BEK has been involved in the development of the open source platform Jamoma, Modular Patching software for Real-time Media, which can be used for installations and live performance using real-time processing of sound and/or image, which is now created by a team of collaborators that are spread all over the globe. In this way, BEK is a resource hub for electronic art on both a local, national and international level.
 
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Marieke Verbiesen, Bergen Centre for Electronic Art
 
What was the reason for you to start working with interactivity in your work?
In my installations, I try to include visual traces of the operational process, making them into an essential part of the work itself. Letting the audience see the magic box inside and out, intentionally visualising the process that previously only existed behind the screens, which usually we never get to experience on the surface. This process becomes visible in the interactive part of the installations.
By letting the audience control the installation, their role also changes from spectator to participant. In a way you could say that when using interactivity, as I do in the form of joysticks or using your body or voice as a controller, the audience engages with the work “by default”, and I think it’s a beautiful thing when there is something for them to explore, add or discover.
 
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2 Player U.P. - Interactive Installation - Marieke Verbiesen & Maurer United architects
 
Can you explain the thoughts behind Pole Position?
How and why did you come up with the idea... And how do people react to it?
Pole Position is an interactive installation based on the first race games for classic
game consoles. Since their existence, race games have gone through something of an aesthetic
evolution, yet the basic and simple concept of the race game has never changed. This has turned the race game, amongst other early computer games, into a cultural icon, that is as relevant today as its forefathers roughly 40 years ago.
"Pole Position" is a visual translation this iconic game with the same name, using physical materials and custom made hardware to emulate what we normally see on screen in 2D graphics. When people walk into the gallery, at first they only see only the installation, a small car moving followed by a camera in an installation with moving objects. When they walk around to the other side, they see that it’s a game they can play where they control the car and these moving objects.
The audience plays the game against a computer - fighting digitally generated objects - while the
car and surroundings they control are "physically present" and directly visible in the work.
The game is full of surprises along the way - people have a lot of fun playing it.
 
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Pole Position - Interactive Installation - Marieke Verbiesen - Centre for Contemporary Art s-Hertogenbosch
 
I was interested in seeing what would happen if I made a “physical version” of a game
that is entirely digital. I have played with this concept before, but at that point I stayed within the digital realm, for example when I made my game Tombraider 0.1, which is a reverse engineered Commodore 64 version of the 3D game Tombraider, which has only ever existed as a 3D game. I filtered out the most distinguishing visual elements from the game, re-drew all the parts and characters, and converted it into a primitive Commodore 64 game with limited colours and sound, using early ‘game play’ that was considered “groundbreaking” in those first games that we now laugh about. “Pole Position” uses much the same approach - of visually translating an existing, digitally born game - but differs in method in the sense that it takes the video game out of the digital realm and into the physical one, using sculpture and animatronics that can alter in speed as you play the game. It’s amazing to see that everyone who sees the installation and looks at the controller immediately starts playing it, and knows what to do without any explanation whatsoever. I think that shows that we understand the language games use, and that it is far more embedded in us then we would think.
 
For a long time technical devices and fine art have been securely separated.
Now it seems they are coming together.
What is your view on that; is art and new media hooking up?
And if so, why is it happening now?
I think it’s because technology has become a much more natural part of our everyday lives.
New Media and games have been around for almost 50 years: a relatively short time.
However, in this age, mobile phones, internet and games have become part of our cultural history. Artists that grew up into this evolving media, naturally use it as means to express themselves. This is just like the impact that film and video had when Super8 and VHS became consumer products. Artists started to use these media because they provided a natural and accessible way to express themselves visually.
The same is happening with video games, mobile phones and the internet.
At this point, I think we can already see a “post net-art” development, such as “The Internet
of Things” the network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings and other
items— things that are embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables them to collect and exchange data.
Each object is uniquely identifiable through its embedded computing system, but is able to inter-operate within the existing internet infrastructure. Experts estimate that the “Internet of Things” will consist of almost 50 billion
objects by 2020. We can already see how this is being applied in artworks. It’s interesting to see what further developments we can expect.
One rather recent art movement that already reflects on the “Internet of Things” as a phenomenon is Addivism: a call for the radical rethinking of new technologies like 3D printing, the plastification of the world, and the position of humans within it. It posits plastic as the most significant material of our age — in that the substance and its remains will define the current geological age for millions of years to come. From this critical foundation, Additivism expands on a theory of weirdness, disruption, and sabotage of technological techniques and “innovation,”. These are aimed at finding a mode of understanding, as scientists think we are in a new geologic age in which we are the first species that has actively influenced the planet, and that is aware of this reality. This phenomena is also known as “The Anthropocene”.
 
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Moviestar - Interacitve installation - Marieke Verbiesen - Norwegian Film Institute, Oslo, Norway
 
What do you think about the fusion of disciplines and mediums that is ever so present now?
Many, Clement Greenberg for instance, wanted to keep artistic disciplines apart.
Theatre is theatre. Film is film. Painting is painting. And so on. Does he have a point? Is it confusing and unnecessary to blend everything together - for example computer games and art?

For the past few centuries, theatre, film, painting and sculpture have been separate disciplines
because they are crafts that had be mastered, These mediums each have their own visual language and use their own platforms:
film in the Cinema, art in a museum, theatre plays at the theatre, and so on.
It wasn´t until the post-war era that artists started to use "mixed media" - away from the traditional frameworks that existed in these various art forms.
Performance Art, for example, was born from a mix between theatre and visual art,
yet had its own laws and means of expression separately and independently from both theatre and visual art. However, it took many years before "performance art" was regarded as a separate category within the arts as a whole.
The same can be said for sound art, video art and more art forms that started out as somewhat of a hybrid. In my mind, most of the new media used in art blend different media by default. Computer art, for example, can involve sound, video, animation, sensors, networked connectivity, physical objects and so on and is spreading to other art forms such as performance, video art, theatre, dance and sculpture.
It seems very hard to separate new media in different categories because they embody all these different visual languages. Traditional art forms are changing along with new media.
Sculptures can contain some form of interactivity or be controlled via the internet, or
dancers can control sound and video with movement sensors, and so on.
Since interactivity has become widely used in many art forms, viewers no longer by default assume a passive role, but can assume another, more active role, as either a participant or controller of an artwork. Computer art or game art, are perfect examples of this evolution, although “Game Art” in a sense can still be regarded as a derivative of the “Electronic Art” genre as a whole. Even within it we can make a distinction between “Art Games”, “Game Installations” and “Machinima” - Cinematic works created with a game engine. But I would say the largest distinctions between Interactive Art and Game Art would be that in the latter, Game play can be regarded as the concept of the work itself, not as a means to communicate something else.
At the same time, a lot of game art deals with the evolution of the medium itself and reflects on the use of obsolete technologies. To quote Mary Heilman "The emergence of the video-game aesthetic in contemporary art might be explained that for a generation who essentially evolved from birth alongside their Ataris, Commodores, Amiga´s, and Nintendos, the crude digital landscapes, bleeping primary-coloured graphics, and foreshortened three-dimensionality of computer-generated worlds have been burned in the memory perhaps as deeply as the layout of a childhood house."

 

 
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Plan10 - Interactiveinstallation - Marieke Verbiesen - MOCC Boundary Crossings, Portland USA
 
I guess it’s fair to say that it’s hard to define a genre that is still evolving so rapidly and has not yet established itself as an art form in the same way that other, longer existing media have. Marcin Romocki´s documentary “8 BIT”, centred around Art and Videogames, shows that in the 21st century, Game-Boy rock, Machinima and Game theory all share a common root: the digital heritage of Generation X.
Art critic Tom Moody mentioned that even though there is a visible timeline showing the progression of artists using games a medium, we simply have not had enough time yet to reflect on the genre. Arguing that since there is no historical context or framework for the genre yet, it can be considered a free zone, averse to conventions. Much like an unexplored, lawless country.
 

In 100 years, will the categories that we operate with today be gone?
I mean, will it be irrelevant to distinguish between art, film, computer games, etc.?


All of these existing art forms carry their own traditions, craft, codes and language that I think
therefore will remain to exist as separate categories within the arts.
I do think that the fusion of these mediums will become more and more natural - and that the use of interactivity and will evolve with the media we use to communicate.As well as the platforms that host these art forms, like cinemas, theatres and galleries, it’s up to them to embrace more hybrid art forms within the traditional framework - works that are less singular and cross over into the various mediums and forms of expression. These art forms should be embraced, not orphaned or disregarded because they don’t fit a category.

Mashall McLuhan said in 1964 "The medium is the Message" - the meaning of message is not more important that the message itself - embracing all ways in which it is expressed.
Each of these media has its own laws and conditions by which the subject is represented.
The challenge for my generation and generations to come that use new and mixed media, is to
master the language of the medium, whether that is theatre, film, sculpture, game art or computer art. What we can learn from traditional art forms is the way they show an artist’s strong, captivating handwriting where the medium, art form, technique and concept became a single, powerful image, film or performance. That one powerful work contains many different aspects that often took many years to master. In order to understand and use a multiplicty of these languages, it’s important to know their possibilities, limitations, history and purpose.

 
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Mayhem Machine - Audiovisual Interactive Installation - Marieke Verbiesen -Incubate Festival Tilburg, NL
 
I think the categories in art that we know today will continue to exist - as they carry a context and history that will not simply disappear or be replaced, but they will continue to reinvent themselves along with the generation that operates within these art forms.
Since experimentation often forms a fundamental foundation for the birthplace of new crossovers, I think artists will continue to do what they have always done; to derive within that what already exists, and that is somehow a completely natural process.
 
Thank you.
 
Intervieuw with New media artist Marieke Verbiesen by journalist Thom Hermansen
 
 
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Marieke Verbiesen, Bergen Centre for Electronic Art, Bergen, Norway