Creative Capital Pamphlet Text
"I play games all the time," confesses Eddo Stern, speaking with a note of pride. The Los Angeles-based artist is a former game programmer who makes artwork that employs elements of gaming, examining their intrinsic function in shaping cross-cultural fantasies and ideologies. He also writes and lectures on games, and through the artists' cooperative C-Level, which he founded, generates public discussion of gaming culture through carnivalesque, performative gaming events.
"I have always been interested in how games operate as a part of pop culture," explains Stern, "but also in looking at the deep-rooted ideologies behind them. What genres happen to be dominant, for example? Why war games, fantasy, and sports? Also, as an artist I see games as the most successful, most engaging form of interactive media. But it's a shame that these media forms always propagate the same old narratives. So I engage with gaming culture in various ways, by making games, infiltrating games, and so on."
Stern's past artworks include the acclaimed video Sheik Attack (2000) which melds Israeli pop songs with sampled computer war games, bringing to the foreground the functions of mediation and nostalgia in ideological constructs. His piece Summons to Surrender (2000) infiltrates the carefully controlled online spaces of multiplayer role-playing games, including Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Asherton's Call. "The project was about engaging a social structure that has millions of people and interjecting site-specific street performances into that space," explains Stern. "It was about trying to capitalize on an existing space, a public space, but one that is almost completely controlled by the game companies." Stern likens this virtual intervention to guerilla street performance. At any moment you can be kicked out, but while you're there, you have a great audience.
Among his current projects is Vietnam Romance, a video about the Vietnam war composed entirely of computer game imagery. The piece plays not only with ideas about the mediation of history, but also with the fact that we increasingly experience the world through artificial constructions. The constructions in turn prompt a form of nostalgia, but it's a nostalgia that's not clearly linked to the real.
Stern is also working on Redball (The Fall of the Russian Empire: Mir, Kursk, Chernobyl), which again grapples with nostalgia, both for the bygone pleasures of pinball and for the drama of the cold war. The piece will include three pinball machines, each of which will incorporate one of three icons of faltering Russian technology: the Kursk submarine, the Mir space station, and the Chernobyl nuclear facility. "The games are abusive, beating down the Russians, but there are moments where you feel sad about the whole process," explains Stern. He adds that he hopes to capture an elusive, contradictory feeling, one that includes a melancholy sorrow for a culture that was soundly defeated, and in the process, has lost much of its essence. "So one side-effect is a pathos for this other culture," he says, adding that the pinball machines will fundamentally be about encapsulating a complex, almost ineffable emotion, one linked to a complicity in cultural colonialism and imperial power.
While Stern may joke about his zeal for gameplaying, his interest in games and their connection to violence, history, and memory is anything but glib. "I grew up in Israel and came to the U.S. when I was 22 after being in the Army," he says, explaining that for people who have lost family members in the Holocaust or in wars, it's difficult to be indifferent about representations of violence and power. "It's a lot easier to simplify things here," he says, a fact that he fights with every artwork he makes, each of which in some ways complicates the simplistic, often binary oppositions prevalent not only in games, but in American political thought.