By Zedeck Siew
Zedeck Siew the Kakiseni Scatterbot trawls the internet to find interesting art and culture beyond our shores, virtual or otherwise.
Flying Spaghetti Monsterism
Exactly a week ago the Association of Christian Schools International filed a civil rights lawsuit against the University of California, alleging that university admissions officials are refusing to certify high school science courses that use textbooks challenging the Theory of Evolution.
This is the latest in a series of battles, fought in American classrooms and school boards, intended to bring a pseudo-scientific theory called Intelligent Design into supremacy. Intelligent Design (ID), which asserts that certain features of the universe and of living things exhibit the characteristics of a product from an intelligent cause or agent, has a formidable champion: the Religious Right (President Bush has pledged support).
Unsurprising: while ID and claims to be neutral as to the identity of its referred Designer, the mathematician, philosopher and theologian William A Dembski, a primary advocate, has explicitly stated that “the conceptual soundness of the theory can in the end only be located in Christ.”
What can the rational do, other than write yet another article in liberal press debunking ID (philosopher Daniel Dennett’s NYT Op-Ed), or laugh? In June, an Oregon State University physics graduate named Bobby Henderson submitted an open letter to the Kansas Board of Education in response to their decision of teaching ID as an alternative theory to evolution:
“Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.”
And Bobby Henderson is threatening legal action should Kansas decide against his patron deity.
Flying Spaghetti Monsterism appears to be a carefully constructed argument (its correlation between the decline of pirates and the increase of climatic catastrophes underscore the fallacy of equating correlation with causation), and since August has exploded into nothing less than a phenomenon, primarily through such blogdigests as Boingboing.net and Fark.com, with thousands of Pastafarian converts, mostly the campus-ed, all touched by His Noodly Appendage. Icons are appearing, paraphernalia is selling (the true measure of religious success), people are putting up Pirate Fish bumper stickers – and schisms are forming.
The Spaghetti and Pulsar Activating Meatballs (SPAM) is an offshoot of FSM, and is hosted under the sheltering arm of Yoism (the world’s first open source religion; with its own public charity organisation, Yo, Inc), a Wikipedia-like faith that comes from a pedigree of other parody-religions that flourish in the apolitical, novelty-addicted Internet: the Church of the Sub-Genius (New Age movement satire), and Discordianism (the postmodernist ‘religion disguised as a joke disguised as a religion’ with emphasis on pineal glands).
The Kansas State Board of Education’s final vote is in October. Meanwhile, the three responses Bobby Henderson has received from sympathetic members of the board are despairing:
“I will add your theory to a long list of alternative theories I intend to introduce when it is appropriate. I am practicing how to do this with a straight face which is difficult since it’s such a ridiculous subject; it is also very sad that we are even having the discussion. I will be one of the four member minority who will be voting against the flawed science standards currently being proposed by the six member majority.”
This Spartan Life
Machinima has its origins in the 1970s demoscene (when bored hackers reprogrammed their Commodores to perform feats of graphical display), but today the term refers, essentially, to making films with videogames. You play a game to film it, so in many ways the process is similar to that of live action, with cameramen (photography is usually nothing more than the perspectives of another player), ‘player-actors’, and a post-production process of cutting up footage. Also, games become more visually impressive by the quarter (reference Half-Life 2’s Lost Coast). and while it will be some time before they rival pre-rendered studio CGI, they are much cheaper.
Since 3D-engined games with cinematic potential and ease of manipulation have only been around for less than a decade, there is a lot of juvenile stuff: gamer humour (Rooster Teeth Production’s Red vs Blue, also made with Halo), technical show-offishness (A Few Good G-Men, a near-total reproduction of A Few Good Men’s courtroom scene), and novelty music videos (Fett’s Vette, featuring Boba Fett dancing about his new hovercar).
But people are beginning to take notice. Rooster Teeth has been profiled by the New York Times and was part of a panel discussing machinima at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Their second film series, The Strangerhood, made with The Sims 2, is a weak-gagged sitcom and probably the genre’s first major attempt at bringing the form out of the subculture.
Naturally, a talk show is needed. Chris Burke’s This Spartan Life, which exists in a multiplayer session of Halo 2 on Microsoft’s XBOX Live service, has the staples: interesting guests (new-media pioneer Bob Stein and visual artist Peggy Ahwesh). variety interludes (the Solid Gold Elite Dancers), accompanying musicians (DJ Octobit spinning chiptunes). Its other elements are less typical: sci-fi vistas, failed vehicular stunts, explosive death.
“One difficulty with trying to transform these places into communal space,” says talk show host Damian Lacedaemion, “is just the number of weapons around – they’re hard to avoid, really.” Damian is an incorporeal alter-ego.
Halo 2, a futuristic first-person-shooter, is one of the most popular (and highest grossing) videogames ever. As such, the session in which our avatars converse is visited by other, more blood-thirsty gamers, who can’t understand why a bunch of players are standing around, apparently being easy victims. Damian occasionally breaks from discussion to defend himself.
At least some of these instances are scripted; the camera angles are rather too convenient, and the gimmickry of hosting a talk show in frag-space overindulges geeks everywhere. But the self-consciousness appears to be intentional: Damian asks Peggy Ahwesh about her 2001 film She Puppet: a feminist critique of Tomb Raider’s impossibly-built Lara Croft made by playing Tomb Raider and examining the interactions between the gamer and his / her digital marionette; it is also a precursor to This Spartan Life’s attempts at breaching the discursive potential of machinima.
While it remains to be seen how far the machinima revolution will go (and everything’s a revolution these days) it has got its merits – a solidly technical foundation, democratised tools and cost, captive audience and interactive subculture roots ripe for interrogation.
Peggy Ahwesh is asked whether she thinks of game-space as very different from movies.
“In some ways,” she answers, “But they’re both fantasy architecture which is symbolic of something, that has a very strong psychological pull.” Then she encounters a power-up: a pulsating orb in a translucent pyramid meant to make players invisible. “This world is very unfamiliar to me,” she says.
By Lydia Chai
If your art fails to be included in prestigious art collections around the world, why not make microscopic sculptures instead and surreptitiously place them in famous art galleries? That way, you’d have the Guggenheim museum included in your resume, and they wouldn’t even be able to get rid of your art!
A novel idea, or a form of art terrorism?
Jack McLean, an artist based in Tokyo, would probably say it is both. As a matter of fact, he calls it “poetic terrorism”. In an artwork titled The Involuntary Acquisitions, he travelled eight major cities in twenty-two days, visiting the major art collections and hiding his micro-sculptures within the galleries. Then he informed the relevant galleries that they were now in possession of “a Jack McLean”. I doubt any of the galleries have discovered their McLean yet, since the artist’s website states that his sculptures may still be viewed at these galleries.
He has so far insinuated his art into collections of the likes of Saatchi, the Guggenheim, the Tate London, and the list goes on. His performance/sculpture project has been widely reported in the British and Japanese media.
I recently saw a microsculpture of his at a small group exhibition currently being held in Auckland. The curator writes in her catalogue essay that McLean is for the first time “releasing” (note the terrorist lingo) from the “global involuntary acquisitions program” one of his microsculptures, to be viewed openly by the public.
It doesn’t look like much. Just a human figure modelled from aluminum foil, embedded in a small resin cube. It is stuck high on a window and is the only artwork in the entire room. I could not detect this, but it is apparently signed with the artist’s blood, so now it is encrypted with the artist’s DNA, suggesting the link between art and authenticity.
Still, it is not a very remarkable object. This brings me to conclude that it is not important for the artwork to be viewed, since by and large they resist viewership anyway, and that the paramount objective is simply to be included in a prestigious collection. McClean’s project speaks of the exclusiveness of the art world, the neediness of the attention-seeking contemporary artist, and perhaps the nature of terrorism on the whole.
First Published: 02.09.2005 on Kakiseni