Gamescenes – Art in the Age of Videogames– 25.09.2012
von Mathias Jansson

Text: Mathias Jansson
Editing: Matteo Bittanti

GameScenes is conducting a series of interviews with artists, critics, curators, and gallerists operating in the field of Game Art, as part of an ongoing investigation of the social history of this fascinating art world. Our goal is to illustrate the genesis and evolution of a phenomenon that changed the way game-based art is being created, experienced, and discussed today.

Maja Rohwetter is a German artist whose work focuses on spaces and landscapes. Her environments are a curious mix of virtual and tangible worlds. The influence of videogames is manifest in her aesthetic sensibility, palette, and shapes. Even the titles of her paintings, e.g. Vice City, evoke the ludic. As she writes in her statement,  „I collect the material for my paintings on photographic trips through real urban and suburban space, as well as on screenshot-trips through computer games.In the digital sektches, I combine cutouts from different games and photos of construction sites. These areas are submitted to a steady process of reorganization, intended forms existst next to temporary forms as well as forms from the past.“
Rohwetter is current featured in the group exhibition “Hjärta spel” at Datamuseet in Linköping, Sweden. Rohwetter has also a special relation to Sweden, a relation that can be seen, for instance, in her series Stockholm. 

GameScenes: The series “Space Oddity” and “NURBS” are paintings of virtual landscapes. How did you create these works? Did you first develop your landscapes with help of a computer program and then transfer them onto the canvas?

Maja Rohwetter: All paintings refer to a 3D model that I built reconstructing a painting from 2005 („gerüst“) that was based on screenshots from computer games mixed with digital photos of urbanenvironments. I originally did the 3D model for my first interactive gaming environment („proceed“), where you can navigate through a painted virtual world. The production of this animation unexpectedly gave me a lot of input concerning fundamental painterly questions, for instance the relation between object and texture, that I (with help of lots of screenshots) continued to explore in the NURBS paintings. Since then, I have developed an ongoing dialogue of painting, gaming footage, photography and 3D modelling.

For the „Space Oddity“ series, I develop my ideas mostly in collages of renderings from digital material with real physical material (paint), that I translate into painting and/or rebuild the picture or parts of it in 3D, sometimes I build physical objects based on paintings that I rebuild in 3D. The visual material is going through a permanent media transfer. Every medium brings its own principles, sometimes they get into conflict with each other. On these crossing points, there is an enormous potential for new image concepts and research in aesthetic conventions. 

So it’s not really about „transferring“ virtual landscapes to the canvas, also transferring painted elements from the canvas to 3D. I use the collages merely as a starting point, with a lot of parts that I have no idea about how to paint that. When painting, things often turn out quite different from what I expected, so the painting process has its own decisions, sometimes leaving alone the digital printout, sometimes making it necessary to return to 3D. So, the elements shown on my current paintings are relicts of the painting from 2007 that the first animation started from. That’s why – even if they look quite abstract- they still have a notion of landscape.GameScenes: The aesthetics of videogames and virtual worlds are a leit-motif in your works. Is the screen your main inspiration? Is the canvas the analog equivalent of a gamescape?

Maja Rohwetter: I experience computer gaming mostly as a spectator or observer: my partner and now also my son play a lot and I often sit and watch. I relate to the visual appearance and inner structure of games rather than to their narrative content. Confronted with the every day gaming practice  of my partner, I was really fascinated by the look of the environments. I started to prow in games to go back to the interesting sites I had seen. Since I was really bad in navigating, I almost by chance got into the fringes and outskirts of the virtual worlds: I got fascinated by the parallelity of perfection and unwillingly revealed construction in gaming environments. I found out that computer games deal quite a lot with reality constructions, to query them corresponds to my general mindset. So, in 2005, I started to undertake foto-safaris in games purposeful provoking bugs in the realtime rendering (which still was easy at that time), that I documented and used as source material. At the moment, I mostly use my own 3D material from the animations „proceed“ and „something somewhere“.

GameScenes: Landscape painting has a long tradition in the history of art. Is your practice a rumination on this theme? Are you „upgrading“ landscape painting for the age of digital media? 

Maja Rohwetter: I’m working with two apparently opposite visual cultures, the handmade painterly slow traditional „high culture“ and the accelerated technical „trivial culture“ of gaming. I focus on the different concept of landscape or space in art history and computer games, not so much on the „look“, the gaming environments look often quite traditional.

Since the invention of central perspective construction in the renaissance, the world in paintings is geared to the spectator/painter. So an individualistic world order is established. This order is static and manageable. I’m especially fascinated by those painters who pick out the reality construction as their central theme, as Paolo Uccello. At first glance, this seems similar in an „ego-shooter“ perspective in computer games. But computer games are bead on a totally different spatial concept: The real time rendering implies that the world is always calculated for the current viewpoint of the user. Things you don´t look at, are no longer represented to save data amount. Going to places that are not intended for that, or moving towards objects from inconvenient perspectives, quickly changing your position, things disappear, seemingly three-dimensional objects turnout as flat and vice versa.

Navigation is an act of structuring the world for the moment, moving through it means a permanent process of constructing and deconstructing it. Like painters during art history related to real landscape environments in the „Newton world“, I relate the fringes, outskirts and transitive spaces of 3D environments, that I use as field for visual and conceptual experiments. Since German romanticism, landscape does not only describe an outer reality, but can be seen as a counterpart to an inner condition. A feeling of longing, where the human being is somehow separated from the landscape or not „congruent“ with the outer world, as in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, is certainly an underlying theme of my paintings.

I see landscape as spatial constellation that provoques certain feelings. Franz Ackermann depicted that is his „mental maps, giving up a perspective representation. I’m fascinated by his compositions, the use of colours and the combination of gesture and constructive elements.

My interest in landscape as a motive for my paintings started in 2000 during a residency in Finland and Stockholm, where I influenced by the famous nighttime nordic light, experienced the landscape as extremely virtual. This is also due to the diversity of concepts of urban planning that were realised in Scandinavia with a specific enthusiasm. Encouraged by the possibilities of working digitally, I created an archive of urban landscape fragments, which I combined freely in the digital sketches for my paintings. The contact with virtual worlds and learning 3D modelling was like the „missing link“.

GameScenes: Some video works, e.g.“Something, somewhere” (2011), are virtual fly-through three dimensional landscapes. This piece is very poetic and it also provides a viewer a radically different experience compared to a painting. Are you interested in exploring video – and perhaps even interactive media – for your future projects? 

Maja Rohwetter: Yes, sure! I´m dreaming of an interactive gaming environment based on painting, addressing the media immanent aspects of the spatial construction. It should visualise it not only by the modelling, but more by its inner structure (programming) and interaction design. Now its a 3D landscape that looks as if there were bugs, but I would really like to play more with the visual phenomena of real time rendering and its problems.

That is a bigger project that can only be done in a team of programmers and modellers, and I don´t have the resources to realise it at the moment. I have been working with students from Jyväskylä Uniersity of Applied Sciences and Medialab in Helsinki, and really would like to co-operate with professionals in the context of game developing. 

GameScenes: You participated in several exhibition in Sweden and right now you are featured in the “Hjärta spel” event at Datamuseet in Linköping. Do you have any special relationship with Sweden? I am specifically thinking about your series “Stockholm”?

Maja Rohwetter: I came to Stockholm during my masters year in 1997 to study at Kungliga Konsthögskolan with Ann Edholm who had an understanding for my conceptual way of painting. That was a very productive stay and I made a lot of good friends and long lasting contacts. So I came back with a DAAD grant in 2000 and try to come for a longer period from time to time. I have been living in Stockholm for 2 1/2 years all in all and kind of fell in love with the city, also because of its very special urban planning and collage-like look. The Stockholm paintings relate to that. I have been working with the gallerist Jan Stene for more than 10 years and had the chance to present my work to the Swedish public. And I love the language and the light and hope to be in Sweden from time to time.

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