Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Drawing Classifier For Games

Douglas Bagnall: Te Tuhi Video Game Machine
Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts, Pakuranga, Manukau City
17 November 2007 - 10 February 2008

Douglas Bagnall is well known for his interactive robotic or computer installations, works that often make films or select television programmes, or even classify cloud shapes. His practice tends to have a community inflection, a strong sense of the relational.

Like his Cloud Shape Classifier, he is in this current Te Tuhi project interested in the morphology of shape structure. This time it is children’s drawings the Bagnall robot scrutinises, with the aim of incorporating them as visual ingredients in electronic video games.
The computer looks at each coloured crayon drawing that the children or their teachers or parents scan and decides if they are ‘boring’ and worthy of being abandoned, or ‘interesting’ and able to be fitted into competing sides of missile firing villains or heroes.

Obviously there are templates involved that assess the scanned images of animals, plants, buildings and people to decide if they are to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ guys. And different games with set rules that devise point scoring. I particularly like the genre-mixing idea behind this project but as I’m not a video gamer, am ignorant of the nuances around different sorts of contest. My own efforts at drawing tended to get rejected by Bagnall’s software system (so much so my graphic skills jammed the cyber programme) so I’d be interested to see a bunch of successful games demonstrating new ‘avatars’, and how the standard rules can be reapplied, and if visual patterns in players are detectable.

If there are seasoned ‘gamers’ reading this that can comment on Bagnall’s project, it would be stimulating to hear your views. Maybe the ‘primitive’, smudgy and graffiti style of children’s art lessens the emotional impact of these games, making the images less compact and sharply defined. Perhaps they are design disasters that impede the efficacy of the rules and procedures? Yet as bizarre gaming concoctions they do intrigue, especially with the unnerving mix of innocence and brutal aggression in their codes. I enjoy Bagnall’s perversity and cynicism in corrupting the very young while pacifying the macho military.

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