Hello, welcome to my Leave Your Body Residency project that was hosted by Videotage and was done congruently with Videoclub’s Vital Capacities.
Today Im going to do a walk through of this month long project while simultaneously discussing some of the observations made through the process of its making and the concepts I am considering as a result of having done this in-game on-line residency. Minecraft is marketed as an open ended sandbox game that encourages exploration and creativity. For this video I will focus primarily on the creative mode portion of the game.
In Minecraft, a player appears in a procedurally generated world from which they can collect resources in order to create things. All matter within the game is made up of uniformly sized blocks of different materials – Giving it a underlying logic throughout the game world.
A lake is made of water blocks. Granite is made from Granite blocks, trees are made of wood blocks, and pigs are made up of pork blocks. You can see where Im going with this. Everything is made up of a resource that can either be used to sustain the player, build structures, craft tools, or geo-egineer the landscape, transforming the world as desired, on which to create a utopia. In the creative mode, the player can fly, and also has unlimited resources at his or her disposal.
Its not a perfect system. Some of the blocks are a little strange. Plants for some reason fall under the category of decorative blocks. Which could makes sense since there is no real or simulated ecology within the game. And all these animals, even mammals are spawned from eggs. It reminds me of a biologist from a bygone era trying to make all these unknown plants and animals fit types of classification within a preconceived worldview.
Minecraft at the beginning stages of this residency…, the game gave me the impression that the player is a kind of super hero or god…but, despite having god-like powers, the player can still only manipulate one block at a time – which means the only real expenditure of the player is time spent doing repetitive work. The blurring of working on a project in whats suppose to be a fun game, as work during the residency, became pretty evident at a certain point. So its a game about simulated work, a kind of idealised neoliberal capitalistic model which the player is not alienated from his or her labor. This is written at length by a scholar by the name of Daniel Dooghan.
The game promises fun, but that fun requires undertaking projects, and the projects that seem best suited to the medium are those related to using materials to create hospitable indoor spaces and display a mastery over nature. The game also rewards crafting techniques and encourage players towards a technocentric outlook. The player starts as a hunter gatherer and advances through the technological ages. There is even a whole part of the game that involves electronic circuitry.
Youtube has an unlimited number of impressive Minecraft projects, vast majority of which are technologically oriented – these projects are referred to as “inventions” by the community
At the highest levels of technical skill, players have created in-game calculators. I saw a printer that prints coloured sand, and a movie theatre that plays movie on a screen. Someone built an entire computer in Minecraft. So there is a definite leaning towards technological advancement within the game.
That said, there is something to the feeling of accomplishment having undertaken a large project, even if it is virtual, and minecraft is obviously quite fun. As a game there is a lot of depth to its lore and knowledge but there are also a lot of entry points for people to engage and grow by learning from other players. Players use youtube and a few other platforms to share ideas, to show off, or to discuss problem solving and strategy. Youtube also counts as wilful labor, but youtube can be monetised. Or so I thought, through this project I realised Minecraft was being monetised as well. My own project was largely built by a very talented Minecraft Architect named Leo who was contacted by Videotage.
Now onwards to the project.
I asked Leo to build the Towngas Ma Tau Kok Control Centre in Minecraft. I chose the Towngas control center for several reasons. Firstly, I was intrigued by this retrograde piece of infrastructure that contained the aesthetics and mechanics of the past. There is also the relationship that it has to deep time as gas like oil is formed underground by megafauna that has been heated and pressurised, festering and bubbling deep underground for millions of years. This of course is collected as a resource (similar but different to minecraft), and for a long time, this is what my family used to cook our food when I was growing up. We depend on deep time and live with it in our plastics, oils and in our fuels – I think of it as a form of prehistoric time travel.
However, fuel infrastructures are ubiquitous and therefore invisible. I didn’t realise this until recently but gas has no scent of its own, it is scented so it will be noticed.
Truth be told, I’m not interested in the Control Center as an significant piece of heritage, its invisibility, its unscented quality makes it interesting. That and and the precedence of gasometers refurbished as art spaces.
Not so much the what, or even why, but more the how. A quick Google search reveals several other formerly defunct gasometers repurposed as art spaces: Gasworks in London, as well as Gasometer Peorzheim and Gasometer Oberhausen in Germany. Tank Shanghai also has a similar story. Next door to the control center Videotage is in the Cattle Depot, a former functioning slaughterhouse, so why not Towngas Ma Tau Kok Control Center Art Space? After having fallen in love with this idea, I decided to digitise the control center out of fear of the almost absolute certainty that its art space makeover would not come to pass.
The desire to digitise something I think correlates with a fear, maybe an irrational one, that something might disappear. When it comes to Cultural Heritage there are groups like Cyark that perform 3d scanning services with at-risk heritage. Try to think back for a moment to pre-covid, when videos of the Islamic State destroying temples, sculptures, monuments, etc. proliferated on the internet. These acts of iconoclast are a way to violently reinterpret or rewrite history – in some ways similar to what happens in this city. Old buildings, monuments and pieces of infrastructure get torn down, and after a while you forget they were there. There is only a sense of loss until one day there isn’t one. And once its gone, its gone forever.
At this point I had a digital replica of the Towngas Ma Tau Kok Control Centre in a game, which required both work and play. In my past projects with video games I always found there was a point at which you had to break away from the mechanics or expectations of the game in order to make the project become art. If it aligned with the internal narrative of the game, somehow it just wasn’t art. This forced the artist to break the game, making it un-fun.
I wanted to side step this approach. So I decided to take something preexisting within the culture of the game and adopt it as an artwork, Minecraft appropriate artwork. – in some way it suggests a similarity how art making blurs play and work too, but also how the parameters and mechanics of our artistic platforms be they studios/nonprofit spaces/residencies/galleries/museums reward certain types of artwork over others depending on each ones “mechanics”.
So I wilfully followed the process of familiarisation that most Minecraft novices do by going on youtube and working through a series of tutorials to learn the functional and internal mechanics of the game as well as its lore.
Inside the main gasometer I created a staircase that led down into a space lit using organic sculptural arrangements of glowstones (a block that is in-game but has no real life counterpart), manipulating the blocks towards a chaotic configuration to react against the sterile underlying block logic of the game, but still have them function as chandeliers in this proto-gasometer turned art space. The other end of the gasometer has what I felt would be an appropriate stand in for an 2D artwork, a portal. This portal teleports the player to a place called the Nether. The Nether is subterranean and its orientation is vertical whereas the above-ground is horizontal. There is also no water in the Nether, and combustible resources will burn if they touch lava. The compass also spins uncontrollably, its a whole new system of limitations but with the same expectations – to built things. Its a dystopic reaction contained within the utopian fantasy. By following another youtube tutorial I managed to dig a space beneath the lava, and within it made an installation by reacting to lava leaking in from above, placing glass blocks in reaction, in order to contain and mitigate the lava flows. While this process was reactionary and functional in nature, formally its similar to the expressive flowstone chandeliers in the Gasometer on the other side of the portal.