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Mixed Messages: Hybrid Art Forms

SwanQuake produced by igloo

review by Cynthia Beth Rubin

SwanQuake: House
screen capture

© Gibson/Martelli (igloo)


If the medium is the message, what happens when a work combines media which are so different in their histories that they represent different ways of engaging audiences, and by extension, different ways of thinking and communicating?

In SwanQuake, igloo, the collective of Ruth Gibson & Bruno Martelli, has taken a chance in bringing together gaming structure and contemporary dance. Using game development tools they did what artists often do: they repurposed the tools, making something that the developers back at Unreal Technologies may have never envisioned. In the first version, "SwanQuake: House", presented on a March evening in London, they recreated their own living & working environment within the Game Environment, including street views and a nice step out onto the terrace. This is the first of in a series of environments to come, and the occassion for the showing was a book launch party for a collection of essays on this work and related works and histories, SwanQuake: the user manual.

Making your own environment into a game is a challenge, and takes hard work, but the knock-out artistry in this work is in the juxtaposition of the dance with the textures. These are not avatar dances floating aimlessly in space, but animated characters built from motion capture of real body movements of a human dancer.

Like texture wrapping, dance can be reduced to a series of technically competent moves. That is far from the case here. The texture wraps are rich in color and detail, and provide the right environment for dance movements which are dramatic, and forceful. The conceptual mix, however, goes beyond texture and movement.

If Games signify popular youth culture, Dance signifies established high Art culture. Putting them together challenges the non-game savey viewer, and no doubt equally confuses the gamer. But that is the point. Hybrid culture is not just about mixing East and West in a move towards "cultural diversity"'; it is also about mixing strands of culture within the same geographic location. It is about that mix representing generational differences, gender preferences (whether they come from socialization of some other root) and even differences in class and educational background which define expectations of what constitutes leisure time.

swanquake stillSwanQuake: House, screen capture © Gibson/Martelli (igloo)

So forget the goal of shooting up and winning with such speed that environment is a necessary evil to the producters. Go for the goal of fascinating spatial configurations, of unusual juxtaposition, of color against form, of sudden shifts in scale and perspective, and you get SwanQuake. And if the description of space and color sounds like it could be the formal analysis of a painting, that is the point. Good visual and spatial creative thinking does not come from nowhere, it comes from the greater cultural rules that igloo has brought into play in making SwanQuake.

SwanQuake: House will be shown at V22 ASHWINSTREET in London, 19 Sept - 3 Nov 2008. More information about the work is on the igloo web site <>, and on the SwanQuake site:<>