Catalogue text: Shifting
Perspectives in Landscape by
Catalogue text: HaHaHa:
The Landscape, the Game, the Art and the Computer by
Catalogue text: Press
Play to Start by Guy
Published by the Yorkshire
Sculpture Park, Wakefield, England, 1999
text: Shifting Perspectives
in Landscape by
From Video Arcadia catalogue
Published by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, England,
"The past should be altered by the
present as much as the present is directed by the past".
Over the past year I have had
the pleasure to work with KIT, on behalf of Yorkshire Sculpture
Park, on a number of different but related projects. These
notes are an attempt to unravel some of the conversations
and thoughts we shared during the evolution of these installations
and to locate them within the wider context of YSP's programme
of residencies and projects.
Since its foundation in 1977
Yorkshire Sculpture Park has pioneered the exhibition and
installation of sculpture in the open-air. Over 400 artists
have exhibited at YSP and the annual residency programme,
which was founded in 1978, has meant that YSP has maintained
strong links with contemporary artists throughout its development.
Situated within the historic landscape of the 18th century
Bretton estate, YSP compreses over 200 acres of open-air exhibition
space. There are also two indoor galleries, an information
centre and a cafe.
It was the historic character
of the site which first attracted KIT to making work at YSP.
Their earlier projects had addressed issues of territory and
the politics of geography, both in industrial spaces and through
the internet. As an historic site in which both the physical
space and the perception of time had been manipulated by successive
designers, YSP was an ideal place for KIT to explore these
aspects fo their work.
KIT's project, in the spirit
of previous YSP residencies and installations, evolved over
a period of months. An Arts Council Media Publication Award
helped finance the internet and CD Rom part of the project;
the opportunity arose for part of the installation of Joyriding
In The Land Time Forgot to be included in a group exhibition
YSP organised at Kunstraum Innsbruck; and a conference called
Sculpture and the Garden, jointly organised by YSP, artanspennine98
and the New Arcadian Press, provided a forum for KIT to present
and discuss their work within an acdemic context. By June,
the orginal proposal discussed by YSP curators with KIT in
February 1998 had transformed into a gallery installation
of the computer game and a related indoor work Re*Action
Hero; an outdoor installation; a conference paper; an
internet project; a CD Rom and a link-up project at Kunstraum
Re*Action Hero was
first shown at the Galerie Sequence in Quebec, Canada and
was recreated for the Bothy Gallery during summer 1998 to
provide a context for the main project. The installation compresed
of a row of seven punchbags which had been printed with landscape
scenes taken from the graphics of the computer game Tekken.
Tekken is a combat-based game in which the player
chooses a character, ranging from a Sumo wrestler to a guerilla-style
woman to a bear, to fight against their opponent. Each character
has different strengths and weaknesses and special 'moves'
which the player must master to beat their opponent. In Re*Action
Hero the characters have been erased and the action has
been suspended, making us aware of the landscape used as a
backdrop. And yet, the landscape is no longer a backdrop -
it has become the foreground. We are offered, amongst others,
Lake Windermere, Venice, the Painted Desert and the Acropolis
in Athens. Each landscape invites us into another world; a
The landscape is taken out of
one context, that of the game, and relocated in another. The
gallery and the installation invite us to compare our responses
in both environments. The background, the landscape which
'sets the scene' for the game, has become a site for reflection
rather than reaction.
Joyriding In The Land Time
Forgot develops this exploration of the function of background
landscapes in computer games through the internet game, the
historic landscape with the urban and modern world we live
in, parallels begin to appear.
KIT's project physically straddles
both worlds, comprising an open-air installation within the
18th century grounds of YSP and a computer game, designed
to be played on the internet. The computer game begins with
a high-speed car chase and a dramatic crash which brings the
player to the 19th century entrance of the Bretton estate.
Now on foot, the player has to navigate through the estate
finding and recovering evidence of their crime from different
ruins and historic buildings around the site including the
Camellia House, the Shell House and the 17th century quarry
well. Just as the 18th and 19th century designers of the estate
landscaped the grounds, making nature more 'natural' by the
addition of exotic trees and a planned menagerie of wild animals,
KIT created the computer game backgrounds by digitally adjusting
photographs taken in the Park, adding palm trees and features
taken from the computer game of Jurrassic Park.
In the game, even at the point
of entry, the car-ride out of the city into the landscape,
we are made to compare our actions with those of the previous
inhabitants of the Park. The game format is familiar, driving
the car, dodging obstacles and other vehicles to reach the
end - but where are we going, and why?
There are immediate parallels
between the computer game and previous owners of the estate,
the Wentworth and Beaumont families whose main residence was
on Piccadilly in central London, and the current visitors
to YSP, many of whom travel from the surrounding cities of
Wakefield, Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester, by car. But what
is the purpose of the urban-dwellers' pilgrimage to the estate
or to Yorkshire Sculpture Park?
In the Park, four tents on wheels,
printed with brightly coloured images from the Jurassic Park
computer game, have been installed on the manicured lawns.
Situated between the road and the visitor car park the tents
seem to have crashed into the Park, as if they have escaped
from the computer game. This concentration around the road
entrance to the Park, and the use of the original gateways
and fences as boundaries within the computer game, reiterate
the sense of visiting from elsewhere.
Part of my job, during the planning
stages of the project, was to help KIT get to know the estate
by taking them around and showing them the various 'ruins'
and sites where we know, from historical accounts, that there
used to be a menagerie or roadway. Other follies, including
a Shell House, Ice House, Greek temple, Camellia House and
structures such as the ha-ha and boundary fences, can still
Using reports prepared by landscape
historians and other archive material we can trace the remains
of the estate from historical fragments which are disjointed,
disparate and dry. The Bretton estate was not a single cohesive
plan since each generation of the family added different follies
and new buildings. Exotic species of plants and trees were
brought in and many disappeared again. The estate was finally
sold to the local education authority in 1949 to be developed
as a College, and later, parts have become Yorkshire Sculpture
Park. KIT's project reflected these changes in usage of the
land and the buildings. And yet it was much more than simple
archaeology. Through their installations and games the history
of the estate came alive. Perceived distances of class and
time collapsed as we were invited to play in the Shell House
and temple through the internet game, just as the 18th and
19th century owners and their guests must have role-played
when they built these follies from another time and another
place. The dry historical account of who built what and when,
was replaced by a questioning of why they built or changed
KIT's project brought the historic
landscape to life through the imaginative space of the internet,
and through the medium of the computer game in which we can
choose to be anyone or anywhere. But the project was simply
about escape, it made us question why we want to escape and
what we think we will find if we try to go 'back to nature'.
At the end of the game we escape
from the estate after finding all the pieces of evidence which
tie us to the crime and having destroyed them. We have come
full circle; ultimately, we have found out as much about ourselves
as about the former inhabitants of the estate, and in some
ways I think we are not so different.
In a period during which YSP
is, with the support of Lottery funds, poised to preserve
and develop the estate for the twenty-first century, KIT's
project sets an important precedent. Just as each generation
of the Wentworth and Beaumont families brought new additions
to the estate, KIT have revived this process of adding new
layers of experience through contemporary art. Our misconception
of the history of the estate as a static entity has been replaced
by an understanding of our place within a tradition of altering
the landscape. We are no longer so distant from the past but
have re-established our links with it and KIT have shown how
contemporary art can play an important role in revealing history
to new audiences and in new ways.
1. .S. Eliot, 'Tradition and
Individual Talent', 1919, from Selected Essays, 3rd edition,
Faber and Faber, 1951, p.15. Cited by Alistair Smith, Director
of the Whitworth Gallery, in his paper at the 1998 engage
conference in London.
text: HaHaHa: The Landscape,
the Game, the Art and the Computer by
From Video Arcadia catalogue
Published by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, England,
"You will hurt yourself,
Miss Bertram," she cried; "you will certainly hurt
yourself against those spikes; you will tear your gown; you
will be in danger of slipping into the ha-ha. You had better
In Jane Austen’s Mansfield
Park, a ha-ha (along with a locked gate) plays a provocative
role in the plot — causing obstructions to decorum,
causing ill-shod ladies to clamber, and throwing into unseemly
contact those divided by social niceties. In Yorkshire Sculpture
Park, Kit’s Joyriding in the Land that Time Forgot perhaps
plays a similarly provocative role — making visible
the boundaries within the smooth vista of ‘Art’,
making physical the journey through ideas, and throwing together
the complex issues of art, landscape and technology.
As soon as you drive into the
park, there they are — digital ridge-tents on wheels,
careering off the road and into the vegetation. They look
both cheekily inappropriate and surprisingly visually apt.
Their digital colours are brighter than a bronze , but there
again not as bright as the grass. They are part of Britain’s
always-mediated landscape, the landscape of the caravan park,
visitor centre, nature trail ... or sculpture park. Their
backdrop is not only the trees (native or foreign) but the
‘naturalised’ permanent sculptures. Kit’s
visiting flock of colourful exotics also lead inside to the
gallery space, where a computer screen installation is also
both native and foreign — is it an educational ‘interactive’?
Is it a computer game? Is it an artwork?
Where does Kit’s joyride
across boundaries take us? There appear to be several trails
to choose from:
Is not useful, otherwise it would be called architecture.
Sometimes though, it can be spotted perched on a carved wooden
bench - squirming provocatively between the artisan and the
romantic artist. In more urban habitats, it can be seen (inoffensively)
historicising State spaces, or hoping to convince (like edutainment)
that its surroundings are not a purely commercial edifice.
Moving through public art can help to provide landmarks for
the anxious narrative of negotiating urban or rural undergrowth.
Although art in a sculpture
park may be a relatively protected creature, it is still sometimes
subjected to the rough play/improvisation embodied by children
trying to kick footballs through the holes in a Henry Moore,
for example. Although often used as a punchbag, sometimes
art landmarks get grudgingly adopted as guardian Angels, or
teased as one of the family (Dubliners can now meet by ‘the
floozie in the jacuzzi’, aka the fountain representing
the spirit of the Liffey).
New technologies, new materials.
So artworks like xxxxx xx xxxxxxxx use bales of plastic in
the landscape as statements in themselves. Those evanescent
media of video display and projection have also had their
short art lives in amongst the Litter of public spaces.New
technologies, new audiences? Is the Internet a public space?
How public is it (considering who has access)? Are ‘On-line
communities’ actual communities? Global Village, or
just globally Americulture?
Is not useful (in its idealised form). We must pretend that
it is not man-made. Or we must Trust that the National history
is made digestible by the edutainment of costumed jousters/
servants/ Restoration comedians.
It is the artist, rather than the landscape, which gets to
choose whether the landscape is a charmingly rough backdrop,
an inspiration, or a ravaged victim.
Moving through ‘the landscape’,
means moving through politics and history - whose territory
is this, and who did they wrest it from? Sometimes the signs
are obvious as American ‘gated communities’, sometimes
as hidden as a haha. The ‘conversation pieces’
of xxcentury landscape design provided a structure for jaded
palates, a punctuation to the aimless narrative of leisure.Talking
of privileged leisure, the chair-bound cowboys of Silicon
Valley are still Raiding the Tombs of history to claim that
they are pushing the digital ‘frontier’, that
strange dis/embodied world where capital (unlike workers)
is globally fluid.
New technologies in the landscape
may be as hidden as the genes in a crop of soybeans, or as
obvious as the plough (a new technology at some point in history).
Revival Field uses the ‘science’ of special grasses
to reclaim some earth from heavy metals. Artworks in the landscape
must walk the tightrope of perceptions of what is a ‘traditional’
material. There is that Henry Moore for example, which is
fibreglass - made to look like bronze. Some choose materials
like Ice which leave nothing but footprints.
Are not useful, because they are merely games . But they teach
competition, and violent reactions fast enough to bypass conscience.
With a little effort however, the marketers can present them
as ‘edutainment’, that useful wedge with which
parents’ wallets and homes can be prised open. They
offer interaction ... of a kind which rarely escapes adolescents’
Moving through computer games,
Lev Manovitch is struck that “... in many computer games,
... narrative and time itself are equated with movement through
space (i.e., going to new rooms or levels.) In contrast to
modern literature, theater, and cinema, which are built around
the psychological tensions between characters, these computer
games return us to the ancient forms of narrative where the
plot is driven by the spatial movement of the main hero, travelling
through distant lands ...”Of course,
the disembodied hero-game-players need not move anything but
New technologies are what makes
computer games possible. One of their raw materials is interaction
(others being control and ‘choice’).Artists also
work with these materials, satirising the Indigestion of constant
‘choice’. They must tread carefully through the
Resonance of the game of interaction. How much control does
the artist hand over to the audience? How creative can they
be within the game? How can artists compete with hugely funded
commercial game production?
Kit’s 1996 artwork F-User
had a video game booth crashing through a wall, in an installation
which straddled both a gallery and a real video game arcade.
Their integration of virtual computer spaces with the literally
concrete [Vacancy Kit] typifies their compartment-crashing
hybrid vigour approach. Kit’s refusal to identify the
genders, and physical locations of the members of the group,
intrigues some curators, and disturbs others with the sheer
insecurity of their boundaries.
So where do these (literally)
mobile, temporary constructions of fabric, wheels and bytes
stand in relation to the ‘heavy metal’ solidity
of YSP’s permanent collection? That depends on, perhaps,
from which path one approaches the work: Those interested
in public art may be excited by new possibilities for ‘public
space’. Landscape theorists may be interested in the
temporary, yet historical nature of the work. Computer gamers
are often angry when computer-based artworks are not the same
as commercial games . Which path? Press the button of your
A ha-ha is a boundary ditch with one vertical side formed
by a wall. It can keep livestock out of a parkland, whilst
remaining invisible to those looking out from the park side,
thus providing uninterrupted views and a sense of endless
Tomb Raider, Myst.
Manovitch, Lev (1996). The Aesthetics of Virtual Worlds: Report
From Los Angeles. Ctheory, Global Algorithm 1.3.Jan
Hogarth xxx xxxxx
see also Simon Schofield, “The Exploding Gallery: New
Media and Public Art,” Creative Camera, February/March
1993. Eleanor Heartney, “The Dematerialization of Public
Art,” Sculpture, March-April 1993.
Green, Dave (1997). ‘The Art of Playing
Seriously’ The Daily Telegraph, 29 July.
text: Press Play to Start by
From Video Arcadia
Published by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, England,
KIT are an international collaboration
of artists and other personnel (architects, landscape designers)
as occasion dictates. There are no declarations of gender
or of race, no names, and no packdrill. Age is not, however,
similarly effaced. Some generations are promised tall dark
strangers, some jobs for life, but KIT it would seem, belong
to the generation who were promised a brightly coloured digital
Childhood model kits arrive
in boxes which promise life-like potential for the contents.
In practice, things start badly and worsen until they are
abandoned; victims of boredom, incompetence and the next thing
to take the eye. Adult futures are no less fragile, and if
the future is always a fiction, latterly it has been a science
fiction. Recent KIT projects have excavated ruined fantasies
of promise in an aborted civic extension (Overnight Delivery,
Turnpike Gallery, Leigh, UK, 1997), a school awaiting demolition
(KIT Homes, Widnes, UK, 1997), an abandoned bookshop (36MC,
Manchester, UK, 1997), and in empty factories (Battery Operated,
Montréal, Canada, 1995).
In seeking out spaces with a
future now foreclosed and behind them, KIT have been working
through a convergence of history and geography, of which the
projects for Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Kunstraum Innsbruck
are the most mature investigations.
Territory is a key concern of the artists - witness the habitual
tactility of the floor in their installation work, covered
with woodchips or soil, upholstered, turfed or heaped with
rubble. Here they unearth the buried grand plans (miscarried)
of successive generations to own and to mould the physical
shape of the landscape. KIT’s work to date has been
almost entirely non-figurative, but if the landscapes they
map are created uninhabited, it is because they demand to
be populated by an interacting audience.
KIT refuse either to buy or
to perpetrate the fads endemic among digital artists for cheap
novelty and easy interactivity. Interactivity KIT-style proudly
acknowledges its limitations, often deliberately hobbling
in pace, or cramped in choice. The idiom is gameplay, and
in the quality of the graphics, the supersaturated colours,
screen (and no better) resolution, and
convulsive SFX, arcade games are the reference points. These
games are not confined to the screen, however, but rooted
in real environments and real spaces.
Such stillborn futures
and sacrilegiously low technology are essentially subversive,
and KIT often conspire with a critical reception which portrays
vagabond cyber-nomads, hardware-hacking the gallery circuit.