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Trail: KasselDokFest-ArtistStatement


Exhibitions Example No.22

I was born in Indianapolis Indiana in 1971. After graduating high school, at age 18 I moved to New York City and studied Sculpture in the Fine Arts Department of Parsons School of Design. It is also at Parsons in the early 90s where I discovered and developed my fascination with using computers in art. None of my early analog artworks exist today. What matters to me are the reasons why I made them. My sketchbooks (which are precious to me and have all survived) are filled with reasons. I had a drive to achieve a reaction through the work and to witness the reaction but remain at a detached distance. The works were a mixture of installed environments, performance art, sculptural objects and computer printouts. In making “multimedia”, in the analog sense, computers were used as a tool for making tangental elements of my installations; prints, books, photo manipulations, drawings. But in 1995 the computer invaded me completely. I discovered the Internet and with this discovery everything I had done before combined seamlessly into a single expression. I had achieved a convergence. It was a transition from thinking of the web as a place to put my portfolio to thinking of the web as Cyberspace and deserving of artworks which could not exist anyplace else. Computers were no longer just tools but destinations. I made this the focus of my practice both as an artist and as a professional designer. I got a lot of attention at the time, being awarded a fellowship in Experimental Media by the New York Foundation for the Arts, and making websites for clients that varied from rock stars (Janet Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Depeche Mode) to net art for the Walker Art Center’s “Gallery 9” project. Little-known fun fact: I won the first two Webby awards for Artistic Website in 1997 and 1998, for my homepage Only fragments of my early net-art can be viewed with browsers today. The World Wide Web was super important to me. I still remember that early web with eternal fondness and a pang of nostalgia. A lost universe. A utopia that existed in the imaginations and hands and lives of a few for a brief time.

Computers are not books. Computers are not televisions. A clickable book is a book without suspense. A clickable film is a boring film. There is no point in translating. Hypertext is dead. Hypertext, a poor excuse for mistaken nostalgia or just a toy for nerds. Who reads on a computer screen? If one fights excess with soberness, every simple act seems improbably grotesque. We need to re-invent everything over and over again. No one will know us. There is no defense against the baroque. The human of the future is a playing one. He or she will not be satisfied with bad toys. He or she will not be satisfied with mere information. Information is not a goal, it is a means. Information overload is not a problem, it is a consequence. Information does not want to be free. Information wants to be forgotten. The human of the future wants to be entertained. (Life’s so short. Don’t bore us to death.) Navigation through hyperspace should be as natural as navigation through real space. Only better. Faster. Our senses bloom in hyperspace. Not to exist. Not to exist. The human of the future will travel through data. The faster you travel the more you see. The faster you see the more you travel. The individual is dead. Reality is fiction. Simulation is real. The vehicle of the future is the networked computer. Not hypertext but hyperspace. The metaphor wants to be free. Information will not be read or seen but experienced in simulated environments. The book is not dead. The book is just not a computer. The past is not dead. It is doubled, and doubled again. There are no doors. (Only windows.) The body is a container. The individual is a network. Space is in the mind. A heart breaks and turns into a thousand hearts. Separation. Classification. Fragmentation. Fluidity. There is no universal center. The music of the future is visual, the pictures of the future tangible. The words of the future dance to the rhythm of a thousand heart beats. – Michaël Samyn, Future, 1997

In 1999, in Cypberspace, on a server at a domain called, I met fellow net artist Michaël Samyn ( We fell in love and began our collaboration by combining our personal domains into Our projects were for clients or personal semi-autobiographical works. We were awarded by the SFMOMA for our project there called “The Godlove Museum”. Every Thursday night at midnight in Belgium we gave live/online performances using our Wirefire private VJ engine. I moved to Europe but no matter where either one of us was in the world we could meet and play with the virtual crowd. We even did it live at places like the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City. We made countless websites and small net art curios, we were shown internationally and our work was included in many books and publications at the time. Some of the works we made in those first years together can still be seen online. When the web turned into a loud and ugly shopping mall we became disenchanted and began to see it as a dead end. We had a shift in thought and became ambitious with interactive media. And at the same time we began to wonder at computer games we played on our Playstation. We wondered so much how these 3d games were made that we decided to find out. And we did.

In 2003 we turned our attention to videogames by founding Tale of Tales. We took 2 years as post-grad design researchers with the Jan Van Eyck Academy in Maastricht and taught ourselves how videogames were made. Our fist project, an epic free-roaming videogame based on the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, called “8”, was born and grew up with more questions than answers. This first project ended in failure, but was a 2 year initiation to game development. We set about taking the game industry to task for how commerce was placed over artistry. We were happy when independent game development became feasible. We shifted away from the inward looking narratives of our net art days to instead tell original stories. We adjusted ourselves to a much bigger world than the sequestered net art scene. We found out what it took to make a professional videogame project and how to speak to the audiences we would like to play with. I found that what I loved to do most was create digital environments and atmospheres. That players could feel like they were inside them and I got to receive their reaction was what I lived for. The transition into “Game Designer” and 3D Artist was significant for me. I believed that videogame technology, Realtime 3D, would prove to be just as significant a medium for digital artists as the web was, if not more-so. More importantly videogames offered an opportunity to communicate with a very large audience, one which is not so used to thinking about Art but was attentive and open minded to artistic experience, whether they were aware of it or not. Videogames are the place where Art and Interaction and Entertainment blur and can become something new.

The comparison with filmmaking has been made quite a bit with video games. But I take it back to Opera. Where symbols and archetypes speak to our collective minds. Where many things can happen at once; Characters form a chorus of action; Stages are set to communicate something universal about the human condition; Storytelling is the key. You may be thinking that this description is unlike any game you have ever heard of or ever played, and I would say you are right. Contemporary mainstream videogames mostly lack any artistic foundation or direction. Often the beautiful moments within them are, for the most part, accidents that happened somewhere on the way to the marketing department. With Tale of Tales we tried to change how videogames are perceived. And over the time we were heavily involved we had an impact which can still be felt in the games industry today. At first to make a space where our strange videogames would be accepted but then to create a context where like-minded developers could think about, talk about, and release works which expanded the audience of people who can appreciate them to include people who normally wouldn’t think of themselves as “gamers”. Currently all of Tale of Tales videogames can still be downloaded and played from our website and from major online game portals.

Over 13 years we released 8 videogames. Our first release was in 2005, multiplayer game “The Endless Forest” is still playable online and has a thriving community to this day. We wrote the Realtime Art Manifesto in 2006 based on our desire to see more artists using the medium of videogames. We further defined that philosophy with our notgames initiative around 2010, which was a call for all developers to design realtime software beyond known videogame genres and tropes. Along with Cologne Gamelab, in 2011, 2013 and 2015 we curated “notgames Fest” which was a bi-annual festival of such games. We are perhaps best known for The Graveyard (2008) which was the purest expression of our game design philosophy, and The Path (2009) which is our best-selling videogame and both were also the highly controversial when released: for simplicity of design, the focus on women, and presentation of ideas about growing up, living and dying as opposed to mere gaming. Our games Fatale (2009) based on Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, and Bientôt l’été (2011) a holodeck simulation tribute to french novelist Marguerite Duras were more passion prijects, in the sense that we just made them because we felt they needed to exist. We received the IGF Nuovo Award for Luxuria Superbia in 2014 and made our last videogame in 2015 with the release of political drama, “Sunset”. After that I felt I had nothing else to say with the format of commercial videogames.

The fact that digital media is ephemeral is frightening. One day the videogames will disappear. But all art which touches people has its lasting effects. Each “new” medium offers an opportunity for artists. Independent videogame production takes artistic practice back to a more pre-modern conception. They are made by artisan teams, and can be custom experiences, private, intimate. They do not have to be ironic or cynical or violent or even have goals but can exist as part of peoples everyday lives, like a poem, like a song. The bytes are not what ultimately matters. It is the meaning behind the data that adds sweetness to life. In a world full of conflict, people play games to help them deal with or escape from turmoil. And for the time they play you have hours of their attention unlike in any other medium. For the time that I have their attention I want to give them their escape. I want to make meaningful, emotional works that give people pleasure to experience. We said at the time of our project “8” that it was “Built for Joy” and we meant it...This is something that Art can do.

Around 2011, I had some rather formative drawing lessons at Sint-Lucas Academy in Ghent and at Studio Escalier in Paris which helped me look back at my love of Art History with great intensity. My lifelong passion for drawing became a focal point for me to remember why I started making anything at all in the first place. This was the start of whatever it is I am doing now.

After videogames, life is in motion. I look to the synthesis of what I know about artistic collaborations with computers, game engines, Three dimensional form and 3D material. I currently focus on VR projects and 3D Printing. Michaël and I have a few things in the works: VR simulaitons and physical installations. I teach. In 2016-2017 at Parsons Paris I taught drawing and digital imaging and digital sculpture. In 2018 I began the first department of Games at Kassel University School of Fine Arts (Kunsthochschule Kassel, kHkGames).
As I move forward in time, I think back on Cyberspace while engaging with the tech in front of me. I am making VR, thinking about its physical installation, thinking about how to make works which will bring up a complex array of emotions for the immersant. The only subjects I feel are worthwhile to make art about are the big ones: the afterlife, death and the joy and complexity of being alive. The virtual and material narrative and the struggle to synthesize it all with my identity is my conceptual concern. Slowly I am becoming comfortable with Mystery. I am bringing virtual characters into the physical world via 3D printing. I relate this to sculpture but really I feel it is something else. I hope one day to have the words for this. Bringing an object out of cyberspace and holding it still feels like magic to me. And bringing bodies into virtual worlds is what I feel I have always done it has simply shifted from a space in the mind to a world of the senses.