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Trail: RaphaelHasan

RaphaelHasan

April 6, 2014 - Raphael’s Birthday and A Day for Hasan

The Ufizzi self-portrait, he said, fueled his fascination with Raphael. I told him I thought they looked alike. It's the eyes.
The Ufizzi self-portrait, he said, fueled his fascination with Raphael. I told him I thought they looked alike. It's the eyes.

Hasan Niyazi is a friend I only knew a few years before he died, far too young, at the age of 37. Younger than me. I didn’t know how old he was. I never even asked. The Internet is to me a place where people with like minds meet. On the Internet one can encounter another person as something more than human, or even something less, but definitely as beings outside of corporeal restraints and open to each other regardless of “who we are” in our day to day lives.

When I met Hasan it was through his wonderful blog on Renaissance Art http://www.3pipe.net. And on twitter.

We often conversed on the nature of digital friendship
We often conversed on the nature of digital friendship

Origins

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, ché la diritta via era smarrita. - Inferno, Dante Alighieri | He may or may not have known but it felt as if Hasan were guiding me through the unspoken quagmire I was in.
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, ché la diritta via era smarrita. - Inferno, Dante Alighieri | He may or may not have known but it felt as if Hasan were guiding me through the unspoken quagmire I was in.
We met and bonded on social media in 2011. Subsequently over many emails, in conversations about art, in documents passed from one to the other through the ether.

He was a Turkish man living in Melbourne with his Austrailian partner. Away from his family and Islamic culture. He seemed landlocked but with wistful feelings to break free. I am a Black American woman living in Belgium with my husband and his two children, frequent traveller in Europe. Raised some sort of atheist but still with very strong Protestant roots.
One could point out the oddity of our fascination with European Catholic Art. We had to laugh. We both felt a pull toward these masterpieces. As if looking for parts of our missing selves within it.
He was not an an Art Historian with a PhD. He was an Art Historian, and a damn fine one, because that is what he made himself into. The calling chose him and he chose to follow. I didn’t ask him too much about his day job. I saw him exactly as he wanted to be seen. As a man on a journey.

I think we met at a moment when we needed to.

He spoke of his body and life transformations as Ovidian. An apt metaphor.
He spoke of his body and life transformations as Ovidian. An apt metaphor.

About a year before I met Hasan, after launching our videogame, The Path I fell into patterns of behavior that could only be described as burn-out and could barely work. For a long time I could do barely nothing computer related without angst. I turned to my love of drawing looking for healing. Drawing and learning about Classical Antiquity. That worked. I realised that drawing was an action weving its way through my entire life from very early childhood, through art school and on into the work I do in videogames today.
I remembered. Not only my love of the activity of drawing but the intellectual aspect of drawing. And the history of drawing. So much of 20th and 21st century Art realpolitik asks one to think of Renaissance and Baroque Art as irrelevant to today. But there I was. The art of the Classical world was speaking to me. The art of Raphael and Rembrandt and Reubens was speaking to me. Learning from these masters was healing for my soul. So I studied more, read more. In a sense gave myself the classical education I was never allowed to have in New York City in the 1990s.

Conversations

I saw a bit of myself in him. Through his writing I quickly came to see him as someone who, like me, was trying to find balance in life. We were both trying to put all of the pieces of what we found important together in our personal and professional lives.
Maybe, he saw a bit of himself in me.
He told me outright what i should have known long ago, that Art lives inside of us. He strived to bring that beauty into his life, to live it everyday.

Here, a selection of everyday images shared (click to see them larger):

Hasan and Gemma Garcia teamed up to send me a gift of the Late Raphael catalog from Madrid. | I draw from the examples of the master.
Hasan and Gemma Garcia teamed up to send me a gift of the Late Raphael catalog from Madrid. | I draw from the examples of the master.
I always tweeted him with joy at every Raphael sighting in my travels. Saint Cecilia at the Louvre, Castiglione at Louvre Lens, Madonna of the Meadow at the Kunsthistorisches Museum
I always tweeted him with joy at every Raphael sighting in my travels. Saint Cecilia at the Louvre, Castiglione at Louvre Lens, Madonna of the Meadow at the Kunsthistorisches Museum
He would send me images of Raphael's drawings... Beginning from only passing familiarity, Raphael's style grew on me. Wouldn't say I tried to emulate, but I definitely tried to improve based on his example.
He would send me images of Raphael's drawings... Beginning from only passing familiarity, Raphael's style grew on me. Wouldn't say I tried to emulate, but I definitely tried to improve based on his example.
Since his death, I continue to be inspired by the spirit of Hasan and the grace of Raphael.
Since his death, I continue to be inspired by the spirit of Hasan and the grace of Raphael.
I got interested in his quest for Raphael knowledge. Sending him articles when I found them.
I got interested in his quest for Raphael knowledge. Sending him articles when I found them.
sneaking pictures of the Ghent Altarpiece restoration for Charlotte Frost's #arthistory project. | We were planning to meet and see the fully restored painting together.
sneaking pictures of the Ghent Altarpiece restoration for Charlotte Frost's #arthistory project. | We were planning to meet and see the fully restored painting together.
I didn't even know there was a Michaelangelo sculpture in Belgium!! Hasan couldn't believe I'd lived here so long and hadn't seen it. The things I learned from friendship.
I didn't even know there was a Michaelangelo sculpture in Belgium!! Hasan couldn't believe I'd lived here so long and hadn't seen it. The things I learned from friendship.

Interpretations

I have this feeling that videogames makers everywhere have lost a friend and advocate they never knew they had. Hasan involved himself so much with the view of videogames as an art form.
Hasan was a gamer! He saw little separation between the Renaissance workshops of Raphael or Durer and the way videogames are made today. He saw videogames as an important way to educate and intimately link young people to the treasures of the Renaissance.
His blog was host to erudite articles such as “Modes of Renaissance Color” in videogames. [1]
He did great interviews with creators such as Gilles Beloeil, concept artist on the Assassin’s Creed game series [2]
And he worked to show the city of Florence how games have already linked people to it’s historic sites and how that could be the key to the cities future. [3]

On a related note, there was an essay Hasan always wanted me to write for his Why Art History [4] series. But in case you haven’t noticed, I am no writer. But, I’ll give it a shot and maybe I will make it better one day...

How is a Cathedral like a Videogame?


There is a riddle I ask my friends who visit me here in Ghent: How is a Cathedral like a Videogame?

Sint-Baafskathedraal (Saint Bavo Cathedral), here in Ghent where I live, home of the famous Altarpiece by the brothers Van Eyck.
Sint-Baafskathedraal (Saint Bavo Cathedral), here in Ghent where I live, home of the famous Altarpiece by the brothers Van Eyck.

In asking this, I am not simply trying to be an infuriating guide. The historic Saint Bavo Cathedral has been instructional to me as a videogame designer. When people think of game narrative they often think of the language of cinema. But when making a videogame we often say no to such techniques, because I feel videogames are much closer to sacred architecture.

So let’s examine Saint Bavo’s Cathedral. Foundations from the 10th century give way to a crypt where Romanesque elements can still be seen. An interior heart expanded in the Gothic 14th and 15th century soars up to Baroque decoration which is the highlight of any tour. Walking through the space one is in natural awe of the high ceilings and especially since a gargantuan carved wood pipe organ hovers over your head on one side of the transept. Since this is still an active church there are further additions of artworks right up to the current day.
It is a beautiful building.

We talked about videogames too, of course.  It was nice to know that there were things I could teach him as well.
We talked about videogames too, of course. It was nice to know that there were things I could teach him as well.

The viewing of a painting is time travel connecting you to all who have viewed it before. Likewise, In a religious building the decoding of symbol is not neutral but filtered through time and experience. What did it mean to those who built it. What did it mean to worship there, then. What is the improbability of my even being there to minds of those that built it. Sacred spaces are made to communicate to those who do not know and who wish to be educated. In Cathedrals one can read their lessons, written in art.

But how to get from a space where the stones stand forever to something so ephemeral as a videogame?

All through art school I was a very lazy student of architecture. The droning of the teacher failed to illuminate what made gothic different from baroque. Living in New York City the cathedrals of Europe failed to excite me with their flying buttresses. I don’t believe I really understood half of what I was looking at as a young adult.

I came to live in Belgium over a decade ago. Having grown up in mid-western USA, I knew nothing of Cathedrals. There was no preparation for this type of architecture, or the physical confrontation with the artworks that fill it. It is famously home of the Altarpiece of the Mystic Lamb by Jan and Hubert Van Eyck. It contains paintings by master artists such as Peter Paul Rubens and Gaspar de Crayer, hanging nonchalantly on its stone walls where they have hung seemingly for generations.
At first I probably wasn’t even curious about Saint Bavo’s, it was just another place to me. I was a tremendous computer geek and really only thought of programs and data, .jpgs and gifs. The Cathedral was a nice cool place to sit in the summer. A shelter after a long walk in the winter. A place to gawk at High Catholic Mass on Christmas and Easter, uncomprehending witness to mysteries.
Fittingly, my road to comprehension started with an Annunciation. On vacation in Munich, I went with friends to the Alte Pinakoteck. This was probably the first time I really gave a thought to how Christan art tries to tell its stories. My husband explained the basic symbolism to me. Mary holds a book, the angel Gabriel comes to tell her she is pregnant, a Lily stand between them. A dove of the holy spirit swoops down from heaven.

The Annunciation, Fra Fillipo Lippi, Alte Pinakotek, Munich | My friends and I, as the Lily, recreate the Annunciation on a hillside in Bavaria
The Annunciation, Fra Fillipo Lippi, Alte Pinakotek, Munich | My friends and I, as the Lily, recreate the Annunciation on a hillside in Bavaria

When I started making videogames in 2003 it made me look at every environment around me in new ways. So, when I went into St. Bavo and I began to wonder. What were the stories and symbols encoded in the paintings and in the very architecture around me?
It occurred to me that this environment told stories without needing to tell the story. These were stories very strong in culture which did not need to be literally retold. Each new take on the story updated it to fit into the lives and present day culture of the people it served.
This is what I take from the way Cathedrals tell stories. A way to tell stories in interactive spaces. A story that everyone knows or has at least heard of. A myth, a fairy tale, a feeling we all share. Then add something new. Instead of demanding gameplay mechanics, we allow people to experience the game world without much guidance or boundary. In the end the story that is told is the one the player tells themself. It is often up to them to retell the story through play. This is how we have come thought about narrative in the games we design. Not as linear stories but as immersive experiences.

Drawings by Gianlorenzo Bernini for his designs of St. Peters Cathedral in Rome.
Drawings by Gianlorenzo Bernini for his designs of St. Peters Cathedral in Rome.

An environment that immerses you.
Like the grand arms of the courtyard colonnade at St. Peters reach out to embrace you.
Inside you are contained by the space but you also complete it.
By it’s very design you are made to feel larger, just by being there.
That is videogames.

The Weather project by Olafur Eliassen at the Tate Modern in 2003
The Weather project by Olafur Eliassen at the Tate Modern in 2003

An effect, virtual yet also physical.
This huge artificial half sun reflected in a mirror. [5]
Everyone knows it is a fabrication.
Yet and still the effect is marvellous.
Visitors linger to sunbathe and play as if it were the real sun.
It is even better because it is not.
That is videogames.

Bernini's Proserpina. Often admired for the way marble is made into flesh. | A diagram of 3d facial topology edge loops.
Bernini's Proserpina. Often admired for the way marble is made into flesh. | A diagram of 3d facial topology edge loops.

There is a flow to the play.
One ignores the input device.
A synergy is created between what the game materially is and what you believe it to be.
An organic line is drawn from inside the screen to the mind.
That is videogames.

The Endless Forest, a Tale of Tales. No story is ever told and yet many stories are told by it's many players. A mythology embedded in its virtual landscape.
The Endless Forest, a Tale of Tales. No story is ever told and yet many stories are told by it's many players. A mythology embedded in its virtual landscape.

All that is is what we at Tale of Tales try to do with the medium of videogames.
And we plan to continue.

Continuum

da Vinci's parachute. A symbol between us for taking risks in life, fearlessly.
da Vinci's parachute. A symbol between us for taking risks in life, fearlessly.

Also Hasan’s life’s work, Open Raphael Online, will live on.
Read more Hasan tributes here.


Hasan, Rest in peace love.

http://entropy8.com/live/GIFts/pantheonraphaelmomentofsilence.gif


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