Milan Machinima Festival
Milan Machinima Festival
Published 10/06/2022Matteo BittantiMachinima, landscape painting, first-person shooters, walking simulators, and photogrammetry. Jason Rouse’s new artwork is a triumph of remediation as it incorporates, repurposes, and transforms a variety of media, formats, genres, and aesthetics. It is simultaneously an art history lesson and a meditation on current events delivered via Unity 3D. As the title indicates, this work is about Leon Kossoff (1926-2019), one of the most influential British painters of the XIX century, who was also the son of two Ukrainian refugees fleeing persecution during the 1903-1906 pogrom. Kossoff Flees Ukraine reconstructs that miraculous escape through the forests and mountains of Europe, while updating the narrative to another tragedy, the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The outcome is a document about the past that speaks of the contingent moment.Jason Rouse (b. 1985) is an Irish artist living and working in Cardiff, Wales. In Rouse’s work, digital and traditional arts converge, creating unexpected results. Rouse has painted game landscapes, developed interactive games, and experimented with generative spaces. Rouse has been a finalist with Lumen Prize for Digital Art, exhibited at the inaugural Westmorland Landscape Prize and selected for the 2020 BEEP Painting Prize. He has received a Wales Art International grant for SWITCHed, an exchange program between Arcade Cardiff and Galerie RDV, Nantes. His album of solo Irish traditional music on Uilleann Pipes has won critical acclaim from both press and peers.Matteo Bittanti: Can you describe the genesis of Kossoff Flees Ukraine? What kind of creative and technical challenges did you encounter and eventually overcome?Jason Rouse: Much of my work in the past has come from using found data sources–things like topographic information and scanned objects. I have dabbled in 3D scanning and printing a few years back, but I found it quite prohibitive in terms of time, cost, and scale. Luckily, the technology has moved on and we now have this kind of capability in everyday smartphones. I had been playing around with photogrammetry for a project about my native Northern Ireland, but as the idea evolved it took on a wider commentary on conflict in general. This was the genesis for Kossoff Flees Ukraine. I suppose scanning that Kossoff painting was the last piece of the jigsaw to click, and the rest of the work fell into place from there.I’ve been working with Unity for the past ten years or so, but I would say I was far from being an expert. I like to think of myself as an artist and not a programmer at all. Luckily, a platform like Unity is fairly forgiving and very well supported online, but I did hit a number of technical speed bumps along the way. I had major problems creating a final cross-platform build, but this was not so important as I was eventually able work around it with a frame by frame capture directly from Unity.It was certainly a conceptually and technically difficult piece to produce, but I enjoyed watching the project alter and materialise. What started life as an autoethnographic exploration into my own experiences from the border region in Northern Ireland, evolved into different autoethnographic exploration of my experiences in video games.Matteo Bittanti: Both painting and digital media feature prominently in your practice. In many ways, Kossoff Flees Ukraine brings them together in a novel, unique way. Why did you decide to explore Leon Kossoff’s art through a video game engine? Jason Rouse: We’re in a bit of a golden age for contemporary artists embracing emerging technology. The link between traditional art methodology and contemporary techniques has always fascinated me and I think that this is still in its infancy. The relationship between painting and digital art is also developing, and I wanted to create work about it through the medium of a game. Video games bring together so many different disciplines such as visuals, interaction, audio, storytelling and emotion. I love how game art can be such a powerful medium, and we now have the technology to create games that are complex and realistic enough to fool a casual viewer. I often get people mistaking my game work for, say, photographs or film. I find the whole concept of game art so much more exciting than, say, David Hockney producing paintings on his iPad.Matteo Bittanti: Kossoff Flees Ukraine is a textbook case of remediation, in Bolter and Grusin’s definition, which they define — in the simplest possible terms — as the incorporation of a medium in another. You took the scan of one of Kossoff’s London paintings — itself an act of remediation — using photogrammetry and subsequently imported the outcome into a video game development toolkit. Several of your works feature layers upon layers of mediation. What fascinates you about this constant process of translation or adaptation from one context to another? And if the medium is the message, as McLuhan suggests, what would be the ultimate message of Kossoff Flees Ukraine?Jason Rouse: There’s an aspect of detachment and reference in remediation. I enjoy self-imposed limits when creating art, and working from the confinements of a given source allows me to develop ideas around a stricter initial concept. Limiting the toolkit, and indeed, leaving a lot of the process up to chance (in the case of some digital methods) really gives me something to work against. I made a series of sound art ‘sketches’ using an audio detection algorithm with several recordings from my daily commute. The outcome was an algorithmic music score, with notes popping in and out of the melody dictated by the computer. Although not a pleasant listen or even a particularly deep or meaningful piece of art, I’d like to think this is a good example of translation in my work, and perhaps one my purest forms of medium vs message. In the case of Kossoff Flees Ukraine, I’ve chosen the media of a first person shooter, a genre of game typified by the glorification of the foul acts we see shocking the world with the Russian invasion. Turning the physical brushwork of Kossoff into a digital world created a new link between the two media which I found rather surprising. With Kossoff’s Ukrainian refugee heritage, the emotional connotations worked exponentially with all the codifications associated in that genre of game, elevating the experience to something new and invigorating for me.Matteo Bittanti: Crucial to Kossoff Flees Ukraine is a procedurally generated landscape: you used an algorithm to automatically populate the scene with flora and fauna. Based on your personal experience, what role do artificial intelligence and algorithms play in the creation of art today?Jason Rouse: I find the act of removing myself from a lot of the processes and decisions equally liberating and challenging. Working with computers, theres the opportunity to have a number of aspects decided or even randomised, and that informed my decision in using algorithmically generated parts. There’s also the excitement of seeing what the computer will produce for you; the landscape in Kossoff Flees Ukraine is perhaps a few miles across, and virtually walking around and seeing what the algorithm has made up was compelling. It was like discovering a new continent for the first time, or finding a street in your town thats been forgotten for decades. There’s an aspect of virtual archaeology to the whole process that I find enticing.I’m also interested in using the same tools as game developers. For example, the Perlin noise algorithm features heavily in my work. This algorithm is a main stay of game development, used perhaps most famously in landscape/biome generation in Minecraft. Sharing some of the same tools helps to anchor the work in the world of gaming and adds additional layers of depth.When discussing algorithmic art, maybe most people think of computer generated NTFs these days. This feels like a little bit of a novelty, but I do appreciate the link between the intense computer processing power to both create these artworks and also the currency they are used to purchase them.Matteo Bittanti: Kossoff Flees Ukraine is permeated by a powerful element of urgency and nowness, which you express both at the level of audio and text. Specifically, the subtitles are taken from real accounts of fleeing refugees from the 2022 conflict in Ukraine, while the soundscape repurposes recent live capture in Kyiv under attack by the Russian invaders. Kossoff Flees Ukraine is perhaps one of the most politically charged machinima about the ongoing conflict that I have seen so far. But what can art realistically achieve in times of extreme violence, cluster bombing, civilian executions, and genocide?Jason Rouse: I never really considered myself a ‘political artist’ until a chance meeting with artist that I had often admired. They were (surprisingly to me) familiar with my work and asked about the political aspect, highlighting that I was from Northern Ireland and making work about borders, oppression, military aggression, and emigration. It hadn’t really occurred to me up to that point that my work was political and that I had something to say. As far as what can we achieve in the grand scheme of things, I’ve always thought of art as in the same boat as science. It’s a case of artists or musicians or writers or directors making experiments and building on their work (and the works of others) to create these cultural breakthroughs. Scientists research and produce their own breakthroughs for things like diseases and viruses. Not everything is successful, but sometimes we get a new miracle cure or vaccine or treatment. I see art in the same way – creating small cultural impacts that eventually shape the world in which we live. Matteo Bittanti: Formally, Kossoff Flees Ukraine juxtaposes sublime landscapes, evocative of a specific artistic genre, with the harrowing and brutal violence of many first-person shooters and open world games such as Call or Duty: Warzone and DayZ. Are you suggesting that video games provide the same (as in, “equally effective”) aesthetic arsenal to understand the contingent as painting did in the previous centuries? If not, how do they differ?Jason Rouse: It’s difficult to say as working with video games (as a medium) is still relatively new. I find it fascinating how art often attempts to emulate the ‘medium du jour’ of the previous era; at the birth of photography we have portraiture attempting to legitimise the medium by posing with a paintbrush and easel in a faux self-portrait. Indeed, we can look at Andy Warhol producing work very much in the vein of his traditional print pieces on computers like the Amiga in the 1980s.I think with video games is a little different as we have a canon of evolving development tools that get more advanced with every year. You can do anything with current computers, and indie developers are increasingly producing experiences with all different kinds of functionality and aesthetic choices. I like finding games that take risks in these areas.I’m definitely guilty of emulating existing media in my work. Perhaps this may be a subconscious attempt to legitimise my own pieces within the traditional art canon, but I’d like to think this was more directed towards being self-referential and embracing the cliches and characteristics of other video games. After all, we are in the post-internet age of memetic artworks. Whatever the outcome, it will certainly be interesting to see how other artists approach working with video games in the future. Matteo Bittanti: Video games and their iconography strongly inform your practice. Can you describe your own relationship to this medium? What does an artist look for in a video game? And what kind of video games does an artist design? Jason Rouse: I think its tricky to consider video games as a medium without addressing the micro-connotations of gaming sub-genres. Specific genres have inherent cultural baggage which I’m interested in exploring. For example, I wanted to make a piece about historical mining in the adopted country of Wales, of which, a big aspect was leaving school at an early age to work in the mines. I thought about my own upbringing and wanted to make a game that reflected the aesthetics of the 16-bit era. The outcome was a self-playing game called Schoolday’s End, where a Legend of Zelda/Pokemon-esque character worked in a never-ending coal mine, relaying the words of a related Ewan McColl via on-screen text as they laboured. I thought a lot about what aspects of this paralleled the real-life struggles of the child workers, implementing things both visually and fundamentally, like introducing a score counter as a metaphor for the economic hardship faced in the Welsh valleys. So as far as for making video games, I would always consider the implications of what kind of games I was trying to emulate, and how it affected the work as a whole. Matteo Bittanti: In your work Digital Border, you explore the notion of “barrier” through the medium of the video game. This work is especially relevant today in an age of walls, surveillance, and permanent displacement. In many games, borders are often artificial: invisible walls prevent the player from continuing their progress even if there are no visible obstacles. IRL, borders are often equally arbitrary: they are the outcome of inflexible policies. In Digital Border, the game becomes both the material used to produce the artwork, and a metaphor of the hic et nunc. Like Kossoff Flees Ukraine, Digital Border is pervaded by a strong painterly style and mostly devoid of human beings. Are video game spaces inherently post-human, or is the genre of landscape painting influencing your choice to omit/remove the human element from such works?Jason Rouse: I did a number of tests over various projects introducing digital characters into the scenarios and found them much too busy, with the message and nuance getting lost in the chaos. I decided to take the work in another direction and instead focus on the quiet stillness found in pre/post conflict, which I found heightened the emotional response and created an aura of mystery and unease. I was heavily inspired by Alan Clarke’s 1989 film Elephant for its sparse portrayal of the conflict in Northern Ireland.In retrospect, the work in Digital Border and Kossoff Flees Ukraine owe as much to my interest in traditional landscape painting as they do to the quiet and unsettling events punctuating the general chaos in games like DayZ. I like to think this general discontent permeates into my physical paintings of the typical border scenes from around my native area.Matteo Bittanti: The influence of painting on your digital work is all but manifest in Skybox Friedrich, in which you use game design tools to generate landscapes reminiscent of Casper David Friedrich’s works. As you write, “The result is a series of images that simultaneously reference the history of art and contemporary gaming culture”. The “Friedrich connection” can be also seen in Claire Hentschker’s GTA Image Average, which incidentally won the first prize at the 2021 How did it best at in-game photography competition at fotomuseum Winterthur. She wanted to investigate Grand Theft Auto as a subject of art that transposes Friedrich’s subjective Romanticism to the digital age. Why do you think that such convergence is so strong? Jason Rouse: There are a lot of correlations between contemporary video games and German Romanticism. In video games, developers often strive to create something visually striking or memorable. If you have the tools to fashion any world or creation you desired, why settle for something dull and boring? Beautiful visuals will sell games, and the constant emulation of real life video techniques such as bloom, HDR and lens flare in a digital world are all rather telling. We see a similar approach in the work of Romantic painters, heightening the beauty of nature to extreme levels of kitsch. Whereas my decision to lean into the typical video game aesthetic with Kossoff Flees Ukraine was intentionally over the top, my painting work is often understated, desaturated and withdrawn. I wonder if I have an unconscious bias against this approach in my physical media. Perhaps in the future we’ll see a rejection of these Romantic ideals and some games will emerge with a more realistic approach to the visuals – a Realist future to the gaming aesthetic. But then again who would want to spend their time exploring a dull, dry and uninspired virtual environment? Even games like Euro Truck Simulator are guilty of artificially enhancing their visual ambience. Matteo Bittanti: The relationship between painting and digital gaming goes both ways in your oeuvre. Several of your projects incorporate gaming aesthetics onto canvases. In DayZ en plein air, for instance, you recreated some landscapes from the popular online post-apocalyptic game DayZ. You wrote that “Painting from a game displayed on a screen is much more enjoyable than painting from a photograph”. I find this statement very interesting. Can you elaborate? Can you describe the process of creating DayZ en plein air?Jason Rouse: With DayZ en plein air I really wanted to break the concept of painting from video games down into its most basic form. I had previously painted a number of landscapes from Half-Life and Half-Life 2, but these were typically staged scenes–screenshots that had been set up and meditated over with sketches, studies and preliminary paintings. I wanted to get away from that stoic stillness and really dig into the medium in a more sporadic and immediate manner. I looked to the plein air paintings of impressionist/post-impressionist artists as inspiration. Having set up a monitor and computer in the studio, I found that painting ‘live’ from the game offered more than just immediacy. The whole experience heightened my senses, consciously taking in the ambience while painting.I also had a number of mishaps during the painting process. Due to the volatile nature of the game, a few of the paintings ended when my character was killed by a zombie, another player, or even a server crash. This became a happy accident as it led to a different approach to the painting–blocking and moving on as quickly as possible, trying to capture something of an impression before time would run out.
Irish Music Magazine, 2022 Annual: JASON ROUSE’S ROOTS OF TRADITION Gráinne McCoolTyrone born and Cardiff based uilleann piper, Jason Rouse has gone right back to the root of tradition with his new album, Fieldish Recording, which was recorded on an old cassette player. Gráinne McCool quizzes the piper about his passion. Gráinne: “How’d you begin playing the uilleann Pipes?”Jason: “It’s kind of a long story but my dad used to play bouzouki in a band, but he quit playing when he had kids. I didn’t know he played at all until they had a reunion gig in Glenties (Donegal) in memory of his best friend. I would have been 11 or so, and my brother a year older. The piper in his band was noel Devine, who got us started playing, myself on whistle and my brother on fiddle. noel came to our kitchen every week to teach us new tunes and we’d have a session after, followed by watching Geantraí on TnaG. It was a fantastic introduction to the music, and I was keen to move on to the pipes very early.” Gráinne: “Were there many uilleann pipers in Tyrone when you were younger?”Jason: “I’m from Sion Mills. My teacher noel, was from the next town over, Strabane. He’s a fantastic piper and teacher, and got me up and running pretty quickly. noel is responsible for teaching so many of the musicians in that area, including a few other pipers like Ciarán McPhilemy, Christopher McMullan, and well-known pipe maker Martin Gallen. Chris and I grew up playing sessions together and we’re still really close friends. any semblance of a local piping style certainly owes a lot to Noel.It’s also worth mentioning the work Na Píobairí uilleann are doing in Donegal. I always try to make it back for the Tionol in Gweedore, which is an amazing experience. sheila Friel has recently moved there too, and there’s Eoin Orr, amongst others, igniting the passion for piping in Donegal.” Gráinne: “What inspired your new album?”Jason: “I wanted to do something to mark my journey through the 21 years of piping. I’m a big fan of the old, historic sets of pipes. not many players would take on the challenge of owning these kinds of instruments, as there is really a lot of maintenance involved. I’m lucky enough to own a few of these from some of the top makers from 100 and 200 years back, but I was inspired to make this recording after receiving a set made by Geoff Wooff through a friend of a friend. Geoff made this lovely big set in 1986, and it’s as close as you’d get to an historic set, but without the maintenance issues. It really feels and plays like a pre-famine set. When I got this new set, I was instantly inspired to put it to tape.” Gráinne: “Why did you record the album on cassette tape?”Jason: “There’s a lot of pressure in Irish music to release something slick and polished, which really doesn’t sit well with me. I really love the weird notes and tend to lean into the unmusical, discordant side of the instrument. There’s magic and character in those strange and wild sounds. I’m a total nerd when it comes to old pipe recordings and much prefer listening to bootlegs and personal recordings than a polished, over the top affair. We have such a wealth of material available these days, through the work of archivists and the Internet, that it’s relatively easy to find this sort of music if you dig deep enough. I wanted to make something of a tribute album to that era, and to the music I grew up listening to and learning from. I felt that recording the old-fashioned way opened up my piping to a more immediate and personal approach.”Gráinne: “What’s next for you?”Jason: “I’ve actually recorded another album, based loosely on the idea of ‘narrative pieces’, that is, tunes that create a story as you go. I guess this was popular in times before television. I’ve taken this concept in a new and unique direction with a lovely set of uilleann pipes made by George Glen in 1900. I’m not sure the world is quite ready for this one just yet. I also co- chair the south Wales uilleann Piper’s club, in my newfound home here in Cardiff. We’ve a fantastic community of pipers and musicians locally, and I’m looking forward to organising some new events, recitals, and tuition now that restrictions are disappearing here.”You can listen to Fieldish Recording at www.pipingrouse.bandcamp.com
Irish Music Magazine, 2022 Annual: JASON ROUSE’S ROOTS OF TRADITION
Axis Artist of the Month
Axis Artist of the Month
Published 03/06/2016I’m an Irish artist living and working in Cardiff, Wales. I produce physical and digital work that explores the relationship between traditional art and contemporary technology.A few years ago I naively drew up something of a ‘manifesto’ for the type of work I’d like to create. This included creating work of a large scale, using historically important techniques, colour and composition with a 50/50 blend of modern digital. Much of this still stands true but I’d like to think my work has since evolved to something more culturally relevant.I’d say I am first and foremost a digital artist, even though I still (generally) use a paintbrush. This is much in the same way that David Hockney is very much a painter, even though he produces work on an iPad.
Gamescenes.org interview: Jason Rouse's Painted Gamescapes
Gamescenes.org interview: Jason Rouse's Painted Gamescapes