Realtime Art Analysis.

‘The Realtime Art Manifesto 12 Years Later’ is the seventh chapter in the book ‘Videogames: Design / Play / Disrupt’ which is the accompanying book of the exhibition at the V&A.[1] I visited the exhibition on the 4th of November this year (2018) and experienced the Realtime Art Manifesto in the context of contemporaries. I am interested in the text as part of my search for spaces or platforms for unheard voices.

Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn are collaborative artists making art videogames. They launched their Realtime Manifesto[2] in 2006 at the Athens Mediaterra Festival of Art and Technology. The text concerns the pair revisiting their manifesto after twelve years, discussing what has changed. The artists introduce themselves, their background and the Realtime art project. They then proceed to take each declaration in the manifesto and describe and/or analyse the progress made with each statement. They point the reader to the original manifesto online for comparison.

The original Realtime Art manifesto was “a call-to-arms for creative people (including, but not limited to, video game designers and fine artists) to embrace this new medium and start realizing its enormous potential.”[3] The new medium referred to Realtime 3D as “the most remarkable new creative technology since oil on canvas”[4] and “much too important to be wasted on computer games alone.”[5]

The main thrust of the artists work relies on their belief that Realtime 3D is a medium that ought not be limited to the production of video games, and that it should be expanded that fine artists might use it as a space to create work.

Beneath this primary conviction other ideas are proposed and debated in the document which include:

  • The notion that Realtime 3D is a form of life as we experience the medium in ‘time’.
  • That author is equal to participant, and that a dialogue between author and audience is a necessity.
  • That art made in Realtime 3D should be a ‘total experience’ and therefore more than the limited experiences provided by painting, writing (novels) and film.
  • That the user, or audience, must feel embedded in the environment created by computer based art.
  • That stories ought to be told through nonlinear, autonomous structures based around spectator interpretation.
  • That the freedom of spectator interactivity is paramount in communicating meaning.
  • That the gap between the substance of art and the craft of video game production should be bridged.
  • That conceptualism should be rejected in favour of acquisition of skills.
  • That the natural phenomena that is technology needs embracing and sharing.
  • That a punk economy might evolve from working in and exploring the potential of Realtime 3D.

There are a number of unjustified assumptions within the text. In particular a statement that illustrates a binary positioning that sets up Realtime 3D against modern/contemporary ‘art’. “In the high technology of the digital we found a way to reconnect to artistic traditions that had been muffled by the abstraction and conceptualism of Modernism.”[6] The text does not explain this further or elucidate with examples. The artists so not describe how their use of digital technology connects with artistic production previous to Modernism. Furthermore “The synthetic nature of these creations allows us to express our art more directly – as did the early painters – creating a potential for depth that had to some extent been forgotten through the shallowness of photography.”[7] I am not confident I understand what is meant by ‘shallowness’, the text does not specify whether they mean that photography cannot communicate complex concepts, or, by it’s 2D nature photography is shallow and therefore inferior to a digital 3D space.

There is a strong chain of reasoning throughout the chapter. It is with consistency that the artists argue their stance that the strength of Realtime 3D is in audience participation. “A painting on a wall in a museum only turns into an art experience though the activity of the spectator. It is the spectator’s work that animates the piece. The artist merely creates context.”[8] Meaning the value of the piece of work exists in a dialogue between the creator and the receiver, through interaction with the artpiece, and, according to Harvey and Amyn, that interaction between artist and audience is stronger and more relevant in digital 3D form than in other artforms. They describe artwork as the software written by a creator, and warn against considering software as able to think. Moreover, coding software is a “form of human expression. Every algorithm was written by a person. That person carries the responsibility for what is produced by the algorithm.”[9]

The structure of the chapter is interesting as it is based on the structure of a previous manifesto that the pair wrote in 2006. The previous manifesto may have been arranged arbitrarily but as this text uses this previously established structure, then the composition of the chapter is not in itself arbitrary. It seems to be a sensible approach to an analysis of a manifesto. Harvey and Amyn assess their manifesto and describe how they have changed as practitioners over twelve years, and how their context, their political surroundings and the world they live in has changed.

Towards the end of the chapter the artists begin to speak more emotionally about where they see their practice “At this point we feel that it is very difficult to ‘embrace technology’ anymore. What once presented itself as the foothills of paradise has turned into a hell from which no escape can be imagined”.[10] This negative outlook towards the end of the paper describes the artists disillusionment over recent global events and authoritarian politics, and the reemergence of corporate broadcast models.

In terms of the quality of the arguments presented, even though a scholarly article written by practitioners, many of the concepts are based on assumptions and the personal experiences with little corroborating evidence to support the artists statements. More work would be needed by the researcher in order to trust the judgements made in the article.

In terms of the content, the artists write with passion and experience of embarking on a project with much hope to find the once open space of the Internet, through politics and economics now seems confined and managed.

I find the chapter intriguing and want to understand more about the digital space that Harvy and Amyn describe. I wonder if there is potential still that can be uncovered. Equally, I find this article biased against recent art without demonstrating a nuanced understanding of Modernism in all its various and complex forms. To disregard, or pit against, Modernism seems rather a problematic and perhaps inapposite exercise.


Auriea Harvey & Michael Samyn, Graveyard, screenshot ‘Approaching’, (2008).
© Tale of Tales. Accessed 19 Nov 2018.
<https://frieze.com/article/design-play-disrupt-va-what-happens-when-we-break-video-gamess-black-box>

References:

[1] Various Artists. (2018). Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt. Exhibited at the The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, September 2018 to February 2019.

[2] Auriea Harvey & Michaël Samyn, Realtime Art Manifesto 2006, Belgium, accessed 19 November 2018, <http://www.tale-of-tales.com/tales/RAM.html>

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Harvey, A; Amyn, M,. (2018). ‘The Realtime Art Manifesto 12 Years Later’ in Foulston, M, Volsing K,. (2018). Videogames: Design / Play / Disrupt. London: V&A Publications, pp. 90 – 97.

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid

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