A month ago the Ready > Run exhibition opened in Philadelphia, and will run until November 7th at the Esther M. Klein Art Gallery. It shows works from Enso, minusbaby, noteNdo, Nullsleep, VBLANK, Animal Style, MET-Lab, NO CARRIER, Paul Slocum, Dan and Winckler. From the site: “Chip musicians and pixel artists work within the limitations of these vintage technologies by hacking their childhood toys to generate complex new genres of music and visual art that challenge and reflect the identity of contemporary art on an international level.” The text thus places the works as operating within the ‘limits’ of material systems, but expanding symbolic systems through ‘complex new genres’. Is that really what the exhibition does…?
As noted before, chipmusic is usually accompanied by either glitch aesthetics or 8-bit craftmanship; what Heidegger would label bringing-forth and challening-forth respectively. Videogame hardware or software are obviously used, and maybe more often than some artists want to admit (me?!) the symbolics and aesthetics of videogames are also used. This exhibition shows all of these discourses.
Enso and minusbaby represent craftmanship with their good-looking printed pixel graphics.The NES musicdisk Teletype by Animal Style and No Carrier, operates in a similar domain. Animal style also exhibits a Gameboy connected to a home made amplifier. Paul Slocum displays his old work ‘Combat Rock’ where a cover of “Rock the Casbah” has been added to the Atari 2600-game Combat.
There are several works that combine videogames and interaction, with glitch aesthetics. In Data Spills, Nullsleep hacks a NES-game and makes it spill program logic into the representational layer, producing glitch artifacts. No Carrier presents his GlitchNES that you can control with a Power Pad and noteNdo works with hardware-glitches of the NES that can be controlled by intercepting lazer lights. VBLANK also creates glitch aesthetics when he transcodes the ROM of an Atari XE onto the screen, and enables joystick interaction.
These works go beyond the limitations of systems in several ways. There are physical interfaces that are not inherent to the systems. There are no NES-printers and therefore printed NES-graphics can only exist outside the system. There are unfortunately no lazer interfaces to the NES either, and it is possible that the hardware modifications by noteNdo produces effects and artifacts that are out-of-system-experiences; things that software and emulators can only (try to) dream of. The ideal glitches; those that cannot be reproduced or explained.
To me, it is highly relevant to think of what constitutes a system and, from that perspective, define limitations and possibilities. How is a system empowering and disempowering? Chipstyled works are described both as remaining within systems, and transgressing the limits of systems, which seems quite true. But it would be interesting to study more in-depth what a system really is, by studying the transgressive aswell as traditional uses. It is not only relevant for chipmusic; such platform-specific analyses could maybe say a thing or two about popular culture in general. All photos below taken by Marjorie Becker.