It’s Just A Game: Ivor Scott’s Counter-Strike in Oil (English Translation) | German
by Rainer Sigl, sunday 09/14/2014 – 20:40
Jan- Christoph Keßler, author in residence, visited the exhibition “Its just a game” by media artist Ivor Scott in Hamburg.
“Terrorists win”. Distorted beyond recognition, there’s only white noise left from the original message. The naked concrete is reflecting the noisy echo from the anteroom to the long hall passing the bar up to the backroom. “It’s just slowed down, that’s what creating this spooky sound”, Ivor Scott explains the Counter-Strike-quote. His art-exhibition “It’s just a game” was taking place at Hinterconti Gallery in Hamburg’s Karoviertel. He brought five watercolors, four big canvas oil drawings and a video.
Ivor Scott is a warm person, who likes to laugh a lot and loudly. His joy is positively fulminating through the bare rooms. That’s not a way of smoothing over his excitement, which is actually showing by the clicking of his tongue, while he’s striving for his next thought. Still he is looking deep in his visitor’s eyes while answering their questions, looking for direct contact. “Of course, I need to explain more to those, that are clueless when it come to video games. I try to familiarize them slowly”, but claiming he is not accommodating the same way to gamers. “I can speak more…vigorously, since they are already speaking my language.” For him the audience is a part the creative process. He keeps on wondering how the audience is experiencing his work and which reasoning processes he might motivate. “I want to share my ideas with the audience”, Scott says.
In tinged (airy) watercolors Scott is capturing cruel scenes: Soldiers who have been shot down undignified. One of them lying with face down to the pavement, another one smirched with blood in a corner, a group draped in morbid cooperation. After the first shock there is this shame: These are scenes from Counter-Strike games that many have seen a million times already in exactly this way. But as a gamer you blind out the eliminated character, to go after the next target. In order to shave off incidental data, the graphic engine is spiriting the dead bodies away. Through his work Scott is bringing ephemerality into permanence.
“In the end, I want the water color paintings to raise some kind of empathy for those characters,” Scott is describing his ambition for the paintings. Regarding to him, this empathy can open the door to more self-awareness about one’s actions especially in a virtual realm. He is cringed to see videos online, where some people are having a casual conversation while the is violence and brutality on the screen: “It became normal; A game. It’s just a game.” That’s where the title of his exhibition is coming from.
Within this context, Scott is not just somebody with an outside perspective. He remembers having started with computer games by the age of ten years. He grew up with Nintendo 64 and discovered his passion for ego-shooter with Goldeneye. “And then I started playing Counter-Strike. I was excited. Over the years I have built up an extended family online,” he is revealing. His way to art was a blessing in disguise: Due to scoliosis he was unable to take part in sports activities in high school, why he could completely focus on painting. His further career path took him from his home in New Jersey to Boston to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, where he graduated.
“Art can criticize or glorify – I do a little bit of both”, Scott explains his approach dealing with this subject. He is aware of this ambivalence: “I believe, that this ambiguity is a part of life.” Furthermore he is of the opinion that it is beneficial for him not to decide for one side. According to him both, the art scene as well as the gamers can identify with his work.
The centerpieces of his exhibition are huge oil paintings on canvas; he is calling them “Glitch-Paintings”. Clear lines in bright, rich colors define them, while the motives are showing a great disorder and chaos: Scott shows what is happening when the game’s events are viewed from an unforeseen angle. It all began with Call of Duty and the Nuketown map: “I had an abnormal screenshot. The colors were bleeding out and I was fascinated by the visual distortions.” What he like the most about this scenery was that sense of danger that remained despite of the absence of characters. He concentrated on the level’s structure and geometry; there he is feeling the influenced of his father, who is an architect.
But Scott is also committing that the absence of certain character has another reason: “I was scared to illustrate dead bodies.”
Now three years later he feels confirmed in his creative position. He is mechanically reciting the key commands that are needed to remove disturbing screen elements like life indicator, ammunition and map and is setting out to find the next screenshot for his work: “Now I know, which rocks I have to look under (laughs).” Focus on oil painting there are these bizarre faces of the game characters: Through the missing mouth you can see the eyeball, or the face is framed by the level’s data element errors. “I like the fact that there is ambivalence and familiarity at the same time. It’s like a sense of sublime.” For him these paintings are the best connection of video game culture and art.
The most interesting piece is “A gamer’s odd attunement toward the game”: dark colors are forming the background, while deformed plants are framing the character’s body. His neck is slightly twisted; eyes half closed, they seem tired. This scene is fascinating, as it in a strange way it reminds portrayals of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. But this is only coincidence: “I just realized it afterwards. I had the option to position it horizontally or vertically. I decided for the vertical position because I wanted the viewer to see the face directly in order to recognize the character.”
Apart from the sharp brightness of the neon tubes there is a small dark room, where Scott is presenting another exhibit: a video. It is showing two perspectives of the same event on a split-screen: the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Where demonstrations occurred after an Afro-American man was shot by a police officer with six bullets during a police checkup. There was major protest and even more police presence: the publicly authority was taking action with all force. Scott’s video is a collage of live streams of the demonstrators and the police. In between you can see a window opening and Ivor Scott commenting the events on Twitter: “My work speaks for the need to take part in the exchange of information, but also about the potential to be a hostage in your own city or country”, the artist explains his intention.
But even though considering the drastic steps to be excessive and avoidable, he is not offending the constitutional right to carry a weapon. Smirking he is pointing out: “I don’t support the idea that all weapons should be taken away because I don’t necessarily have a 100-percent trust in the government. (laughs) After all you need the right to defend yourself.” However he sees the militarization of police as a proven fact. In this context he is giving a game like Battlefield – Hardline a higher relevance than some may think: “I think it’s interesting that there has to be these binary decisions. Of course there are the good and the bad ones – but who is who?”
IVOR SCOTT is an American artist best known for his video game paintings that are inspired by screenshots from first person shooter games.