Interview: Marco Mendeni, from the concrete to the ethereal by Matteo Bittanti

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Interview: Marco Mendeni, from the concrete to the ethereal

GameScenes is conducting a series of interviews with artists, critics, curators, and gallery owners operating in the field of Game Art, as part of an ongoing investigation of the social history of this fascinating artworld. Our goal is to illustrate the genesis and evolution of a phenomenon that changed the way game-based art is being created, experienced, and discussed today. The conversation between Matteo Bittanti and Marco Mendeni took place via email in October 2012. 

Born in Brescia, Italy, Marco Mendeni (1979) divides his creatie time between Berlin and Milan. He graduated from Brera’s Academy of Fine Arts in Milan with a thesis focusing on the relationship between videogames and art and, since 2009, he has created a series of game-based artworks on a variety of different formats (scultpures, installations, machinima). Mendeni was one of the artists featured in PLAYING THE GAME (Milan, October 26-27 2012), a show curated by Paolo VJ VISUALLOOP Branca.

GameScenes: Can you describe your artistic trajectory? Where did you study?

Marco Mendeni: I graduated from Brera’s Academy of Fine Arts with a thesis focusing on the influence of game aesthetics on contemporary art. My interest for media art grew exponentially and I enrolled in a MFA program on Art & Technology. I wanted to combine my passion for new media – videogames in particular – with contemporary art. Moreover, I wanted to find a way to use games in a creative way. I wrote my dissertation on the growing influence of game-based media on visual culture – the more I studied, the more I found. These two aspects – art history on one hand and new media studies on the other – gave me a frame, a filter to understand reality. And to create my own. This ongoing concern informs my work. Some of the Concrete Artworks pieces, for instance, were developed with traditional, even archaic techniques, to allow the quick removal of a painting from one city wall to another, or, better, from one city to another. I simply changed the theme of the paintings, introducing screenshots from Half-Life and Doom instead of maternity scenes. In my work I always try to use different techniques to depict the effects of new technologies on our environments, old and new. I believe that videogames are among the most powerful media to depict the human condition in the Twenty-first century.

GameScenes: You were born in Brescia, Italy, but today you live between Berlin and Milan. What do you appreciate most about these two cities? Which one do you find more stimulating and inspiring for your practice?

Marco Mendeni: For many reasons, Berlin reminds me of the videogames of the ’80s. Its architecture and aesthetics are incredibly stimulating, not to mention the antenna in Alexaderplatz… Terrific. As for creative stimuli, both cities provide plenty. Milan puts me in this workaholic state, but its biggest drawback is its provincialism. Berlin is all about the “here and now”, the cutting edge, the next big thing. Sometimes, however, I find it too dispersive. I would say that this combo works for me, at the moment.

Marco Mendeni, Impossible Backgrounds, screenshots, 2010

Marco Mendeni, Impossible Backgrounds, performance, 2010

GameScenes Game Art as a collective performance. How did you come up with “Impossible Backgrounds”?

Marco Mendeni: Impossible Backgrounds was born out of a desire to transcend videogames using the medium of the videogame. A closed loop. I wanted to go beyond its mere surface, so to speak, and show its true nature, which is hybrid, and fluid. For a long time I wanted to combine the “natural” environments of videogames with sounds produced in “real” life. It was crucial, for this project, to create a live performance, in real time, improvisational… I met musicians Bob Meanza and Filipe Dias De in Berlin and the project quickly took off. Bob’s passion for electronic music outside of traditional context and our collective desire to produce a live performance, with a strong element of improvisation was very rewarding. In fact, we are now planning a new series of shows.

Marco Mendeni, I Am Niko Bellic, screenshots, 2010

Marco Mendeni, ?, machinima, 2010

GameScenes Camera play: Niko Bellic and its double (the player, the avatar). What is your take on machinima’s potential?

Marco Mendeni: I Am Niko Bellic, one of my first machinima, was the result of my wild, random meanderings in Liberty City. I would often stop and use the camera to rotate around the character, creating an almost hypnotic element, a loop of some sort. That allowed me to decontextualize the avatar from the game. It also forced me to look at him closely. It was a true epiphany. After that experiment, machinima has become a key format in my work. As for its artistic potential, I believe that it is revolutionizing the way we relate to and understand videogames. Machinima is incredibly versatile and powerful, both visually and conceptually. In my case, I used machinima to express a different facet of digital gaming through the medium of the videogame. I love the self-referential nature of machinima. It allowed me to use three dimensional environments not as game arenas, but as performative spaces.

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Marco Mendeni, SimCity (Concrete Works), 2011

GameScenes: Can you describe this fascinating image? I love this idea of transforming an image from SimCity into something concrete, tangible, material. In a sense, you are creating monuments out of screengrabs…  

Marco Mendeni: My works often spawns from a grey area situated between the real and the virtual – although I am not sure that these terms have any clear and definite meaning today. Cement Works combines cement, which is also known as concrete – and what other material is more concrete than concrete? – and virtual ephemera, those elements that we sculpt in game environments. It is about conferring a physical layer to the ethereal, the digital. This synergy creates something that presents elements from both worlds, the real and the virtual, the physical and the digital. The outcome is both very heavy and very light… With SimCity, I wanted to create a monument on our obsession to replicate, control, and simulate reality. In SimCity the player is a semi-god: there is something inherently human in trying to exert total control on her or his surroundings. It’s the illusion of the simulation… And when you see an image of SimCity in stone, well, you are reminded of your vulnerability and physicality. Stone seems durable and solid, but it’s very fragile.

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Marco Mendeni, Bot (Concrete Works), 2011

GameScenes: Everybody is into drones these days, but I personally find bots much more interesting, for a variety of reasons. I love the idea of lines of codes that perform as “real” meatware. The artificial intelligence that tries hard to be more human than human… I have noticed that the bot is a recurring theme in Concrete Works (example).

Marco Mendeni: The bot reminds us that we are creating a mirror world with our digital environments, and this produces some kind of paradox, a short circuit, especially when the two realities collide or overlap. I strongly believe that the real is becoming more and more simulated. Thus bot force us to think – and rethink – our own nature as human beings. This idea inform many of my works. I started thinking about this when I was playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl almost obsessively. It’s a first person shooter that remediates some elements of Andrej Tarkovskij’s Stalker developed by a software house from Ukraine. What really struck me about this game was not its narrative or graphics, but the fact that the game designers decided to leave the corpses of dead characters visible on the screen, instead of having them automatically removed as it happens is the vast majority of games. I kept staring at these cadavers, these lines of code that were once “alive” on the screen and were now inert, motionless. So I started to photograph them and I transposed them onto concrete.

GameScenes: Visually, what do you find interesting or unique about videogames compared to other digital media?

Marco Mendeni: I am interested in the evolution of the gaming medium and its obsession for photorealism, which in turn is a symptom of a wider, broader, deeper need to recreate reality, to preserve it, domesticate it or control it. Gaming technology develops so quickly! It is constantly changes and so are the benchmarks of visual “realism”. Games introduced a new, powerful aesthetics, an aesthetics that has profoundly influenced other media and artforms. It combines so many different languages, format, and visual codes… There is no other medium that could represent and express the contemporary age better than videogames.

GameScenes: How much time do you spend in liminal zones and virtual spaces?

Marco Mendeni: We started out by painting caves’ walls. Then we switched to churches’ interiors. Both were made of stone… I love the idea that we are still creating concrete works with different media. The images we choose both remind us of our reality and of others. We crave full control of our spaces, but we also want to colonize the unknown. Concrete Works is my way of celebrating the real, to create a memento of a moment, a monument for an ethereal event. On the other hand, experimenting in the virtual is a crucial practice for me. I spend a significant amount of time facing my monitor. I would not be able to describe this world if I did not live in it, albeit virtually. Sometimes I feel like I am standing between these two realities. They are both important and meaningful to me.

GameScenes: Can you name a few artists or artworks that influenced and/or inspired your artistic practice?

Marco Mendeni: I could name so many! I will say that JoDI’s works are crucial. Also, Joan Leandre. I saw his latest works at DAM Gallery in Berlin when I was working on my project FOV and I was literally blown away! I also love Damiano Colacito‘s works. “SUPERMARIO SLEEPING” by Miltos Manetas is a seminal machinima. Eva e Franco Mattes, Brody Condon… The list is long.

Marco Mendeni, FOV, machinima, 2012

Marco Mendeni, FOV02, machinima, 2012

GameScenes: What are you working on these days? What spaces are you exploring?

Marco Mendeni: My latest project was titled FOV, a series of works based on Skyrim’s mods. I wanted to attack a digital media fetish, the videogame. I decoded and violated the original game, to transport the player to an island of disturbing hypnotism.I am very interested in the idea of representing the natural in videogame spaces. I think I will spend some quality time inside Skyrim!

LINKMarco Mendeni

This article was also published in WIRED magazine (in Italian)

Articoli collegati: Game Art Made in Italy: Stefano Spera (in Italian)

ArchiveGame ArtWorlds: Contemporary Practitioners 

Text: Matteo Bittanti

All images courtesy of the Artist

Posted at 09:11 PM in Game ArtInstallationInterviewMachinimaPerformancePhotographySculpture | Permalink




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