Avant Gaming event examines cultural, artistic impact of video games

A partnership between the Everson Museum of Art and the Urban Video Project brought the community Avant Gaming, an event that showcased short films and artwork focused on video games.

Despite the snow shower on Nov. 12, artists, students and art enthusiasts filled the Hosmer Auditorium at the Everson Museum of Art with warmth and curiosity.

Set up in conjunction with the Everson's The Art of Video Games exhibit and Phil Solomon's short film Still Raining, Still Dreaming featured by the Urban Video Project, Avant Gaming took a critical approach to video games that departed from offering an immersive experience, which game developers aim to do.

Photo: Anita Xu
During Avant Gaming, eight short films by seven filmmakers were screened, following the video games theme.

In 2007, Chris Stults, assistant film/video curator for the Wexner Center for the Arts, created Avant Gaming. Since then, he has been putting up the screening every few years with updated lineups. Before visiting Syracuse, the screening was on view in 2010 at the 360 | 365 George Eastman House Film Festival in Rochester.

Co-curator Anneka Herre, technical producer of the Urban Video Project (UVP), spoke during Tuesday's screening about the openness of video games while inspiring viewers to reflect on the social and cultural presumptions underneath the medium.

The screening featured eight short films by seven filmmakers, including a collaboration between Phil Solomon and Mark LaPore called Crossroad.

“These films tie into traditions of experimental filmmaking of materiality, questioning the medium itself,” Stults said. “They are either condemning or celebrating video games, treating them as facts of the world."

Following Stults' 20-minute introduction, the screening began. Known as machinima, the films were either products of video game screen captures or externally recorded video footage. They were made mostly, if not entirely, from video games.

My Trip to Liberty City, directed by Jim Munroe, for example, was a video travelogue of the player’s time as a Canadian tourist in Liberty City, the setting for Grand Theft Auto 3. With no intervals, the 9-minute film explored the openness of the game, in which people are able to explore and play in ways the designers did not necessarily intend.

By re-editing footage collected from months of playing Tomb Raider, Peggy Ahwesh, director of She Puppet, highlighted female identity as featured in the game’s heroine Lara Croft. With a voiceover saying, “Why did they give me a kingdom to rule over if there is no better kingdom than this hour, in which I exist between what I was not and I will not be,” Lara Croft sets off on an adventurous journey to various places around the world. As the only female character in this film, Croft encounters a series of attacks initiated by males or other creatures.

She Puppet from Peggy Ahwesh on Vimeo.

She Puppet was done in a way that is artful and absurd,” Herre said. “It provided a point of reflection on what Lara Croft means as a cultural icon and within feminine politics.”

The screening inside the Everson ended with Phil Solomon's Last Days in a Lonely Place, in which the filmmaker transformed the virtual scenario within Grand Theft Auto into majestic beauty.

"I can see its references to film noir," said Tim Coolbaugh, coordinator of the SU Viscom Symposium. He said the film successfully embodies the mood and feeling of film noir and showcases how sound affects what people see.

Other lineups in the screening included Total Power Dead Dead Dead by Stephanie Barber, Epilogue — The Well of Representation by Evan Meaney, And We All Shine On by Michael Robinson and Rehearsals for Retirement by Phil Solomon. A special Tuesday projection of Solomon's Still Raining, Still Dreaming followed the Avant Gaming screening. In this film, Solomon employs cheat codes to exploit the hidden world within Grand Theft Auto. With virtual rain hanging around and exotic music flowing in, Solomon's lens slides over the obsolete basement of Liberty City and Chinese shop fronts, generating an exotic and haunting effect.

The exhibition of Still Raining, Still Dreaming will run through Dec. 21, Thursday through Saturday from dusk to 11 p.m. at the Everson.

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