Video Arcadia



Catalogue: Video Arcadia
Catalogue text:
Shifting Perspectives in Landscape by Claire Glossop
Catalogue text: HaHaHa: The Landscape, the Game, the Art and the Computer by Beryl Graham
Catalogue text: Press Play to Start by Guy Hilton



Catalogue: Video Arcadia
Published by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, England, 1999


Catalogue text: Shifting Perspectives in Landscape by Claire Glossop
From Video Arcadia catalogue
Published by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, England, 1999

"The past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past". 1

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 Innsbruck.

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 different culture.

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 be seen.

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 the landscape.

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.



Catalogue text: HaHaHa: The Landscape, the Game, the Art and the Computer by Beryl Graham
From Video Arcadia catalogue
Published by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, England, 1999

"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 not go."

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:

Public Art

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?

The Landscape

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.

Computer Games

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’ bedroom desks.

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 their finger-tips.

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 choice.


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 landowning.
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.


Catalogue text: Press Play to Start by Guy Hilton
From Video Arcadia catalogue
Published by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, England, 1999

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 future.

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.