Audience & Avatar

October 24 – December 19, 2008

University of South Florida
Contemporary Art Museum | Institute for Research in Art

Cory Arcangel Super Mario Clouds
Cory Arcangel, Super Mario Clouds v2k3, 2003
Hacked Super Mario game cartridge


audience: a gathering of spectators or listeners at a (usually public) performance

avatar: a player-character; a graphic identity you either select from a group of choices or create on your own to represent yourself to the other party in a chat, instant messaging (IM) or multiplayer gaming session.

Audience & Avatar brings together an international group of artists who are exploring diverse ways in which video games and video game culture are influencing how generations of people perceive participation and representation of the viewer in art. Many young artists–who have grown up playing video games and being exposed to video game culture–are using the same games, and the ways of seeing they learned from these games, as an artistic medium, exploring the tension between virtual space and real space, between game space and art space.

game space | art space

virtual space | real space

Representation of the self in videogames has evolved with advances in technology, becoming more complex, more real, and will continue to do so. Moores Law will continue to be valid given IBM and Intel’s recent announcements about new nano manufacturing processes. Avatars have developed from Space Invaders’ low resolution tank and Asteroids’ imperiled space ship to the infinitely changeable avatar that you choose to be your representation inside Second Life, or to represent yourself in a first person shooter–though in the latter you are likely only to end up seeing the barrel of your gun you (your avatar) is holding and the crosshairs on your targets. The act of watching–viewing as a third person–something that is happening (audience) but with a representation of yourself ‘inside’ the virtual world (avatar creates a tension where you are pulled into the world and simultaneously pushed back out. The hybrid space where these two meet is where the work in Audience & Avatar lives.

Audience & Avatar is an interdisciplinary museum project that will include the exhibition (proposed to travel); a symposium bringing together artists, art historians, engineers, and philosophers; and a catalog. The work in the exhibition is wide-ranging in media including painting, video, hacked game consoles and cartridges, and sculpture in various media. Artists included in the exhibition include Cory Arcangel, Jon Haddock, Damiano Colacito, Brody Condon, Eddo Stern, John Paul Bichard, Hillary Mushkin and SE Barnet, Rainey Straus, Tobius Bernstrup, Miltos Manetas, and Eva and Franco Mattes.

Artists and Works

The tension between real space and virtual space is vividly illustrated in the two works that were the inspiration for this exhibition. Cory Arcangel's Super Mario Clouds pulls the museum visitor into the game in a sense becoming your own avatar–the gallery becomes a game space. The artist hacked an actual game cartridge and removed everything except the slowing scrolling clouds. The other work is Jon Haddock's Screenshots, a series of drawings done in an isometric perspective that illustrate significant cultural events, some historical and some fictional. These redrawings of familiar images as if they are rendered in game space push the viewer–audience–back to what is referred to in games as the God's eye view, so whether you are viewing the death of Martin Luther King Jr. or Princess Diana, or a scene from "The Sound of Music" or "The Godfather", the viewer gets the sense they could start the game over again.

Brody Condon is a Los Angeles based artist who is represented by two works in the exhibition. 650 Polygon John Carmack is an appropriated avatar of game programming guru John Carmack which Condon has pulled out of the game space (Quake III) and into art space of the museum using a CNC router to create a life-sized avatar. Condon's other piece in the exhibition, DeResFX.Kill < Elvis, is a Mod–or modified computer game, this one is a first person shooter named Unreal 2003–that has been modified so the viewer floats through a pink afterlife filled with twitching multiples of Elvis animated by the original game's "Karma Physics" real-time physics system generally used to simulate realistic game character (avatar) death.

Eddo Stern was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, and currently lives and works in Los Angeles. He served in the Israeli military, so when his art comments on the military, he does so with some authority. The first of the two pieces in Audience & Avatar is Vietnam Romance, a digital video created as machinima–video created live by acting scenes inside a video game, and capturing the live created inside the game engine–inside several different games. This type of film uses the game character (avatar) as an actor. In Stern's second work, Fort Paladin: America's Army, he has removed the player all together, and created a computer controlled automaton to control the avatar inside America's Army, the US military recruiting game. This work is part of his GodsEye series of Case Mods, or modified computer cases, that reference the perspective in games of the all seeing eye juxtaposed with medieval forms and comments on the current militarism in the US national discourse.

John Paul Bichard is currently an Artist in Residence at the Interactive Institute Art & Technology Program in Stockholm. The two works chosen for the exhibition subvert the distinction between virtual space and real space, but in different ways. Evidencia #001 presents a crime scene in the gallery in the form of a small piece of a first person shooter game made real in the art space of the gallery. In the The White Room Bichard take the viewer in the opposite direction, into the game space by creating a crime scene inside a game he is intimately familiar with–Max Payne 2–and uses the game as a set for his photo shoot. In both works the viewer is left to decide the narrative.

Hillary Mushkin and SE Barnet, two Los Angeles based artists, collaborated to create the interactive video installation Mario's Furniture. The game is played, recorded and exhibited in the gaming space. The play happens in a hybrid real and virtual space created through the camera and projected live into the space, with players struggling to reconcile the multiple scales of furniture and create a unified space.

Rainey Straus collaborated with Katherine Isbister on SIMVeillance, a project that uses surveillance video captured at a venue before the exhibition opens. These anonymous strangers, are used as a basis to model avatars, that then recreate the real public space as a game space. Visitors to the museum may be surprised to see themselves in the game space when they visit the exhibition. The piece seeks to provoke discussion about surveillance in the urban environment as well as how one's perception is changed when viewed through the lens of a computer game. Rainey Straus also has a solo work in the exhibition. F.L.E.M.A. is a mixed media installation that encourages visitors (audience) playful interaction with small soft flesh-colored sculptures, while video of the interaction is projected in the space.

Swedish artist and musician Tobius Bernstrup

Symposium Participants

Cory Arcangel | John Paul Bichard | Katherine Isbister | Eddo Stern



Cory Arcangel

Super Mario Clouds v2k3, 2003. Hacked Super Mario game cartridge

Jon Haddock

Screenshots, 2000. digital C-prints, 22.5" x 30"

Brody Condon

650 Polygon John Carmack v2.0, 2004. CNC Milled Polyurethane, Archival Inkjet Prints

Eddo Stern

(with Jessica Hutchins) Landlord Vigilante, 2006, Digital Video, TRT 30:00 minutes

Darkgame, 2006. computer game / hardware / software

John Paul Bichard

The White Room, 2004. In-game photoshoot of manipulated gamespace interiors - Digital Prints - 8in.x6in.

Evidencia #001, 2004. Installation: aluminum, turf, tree stump, earth, leaves, feathers, bullet cases.

Hillary Mushkin / SE Barnet

Mario's Furniture: A Mushkin-Barnet Game, 2006. Interactive video installation.

Rainey Straus

(with Katherine Isbister) SIMVeillance: San Jose, 2006

F.L.E.M.A, 2003. Mixed media

Damiano Colacito

Tobius Bernstrup

Miltos Manetas

Gerhard Mantz

Gazira Babeli