Art, Games, And Video.
Miltos Manetas speaks with Lionel Bovier, Christophe
& John Tremblay.
Brooklyn–the 6th of April 1997
At the end of a very normal day, Miltos Manetas is
lying on a brown psychoanalyst’s couch that constitutes
the only colorful furniture in the entire white and
gray loft that he inhabits with Vanessa Beecroft. He
has positioned three seats next to it, albeit placing
himself in the situation of an analyzed. The conversation
below is the exact transcription of this lacanian “floating
Lionel Bovier: Yesterday, we were watching your new
videos and discussing the precise nature of the gap
existing between them and their referent (i e some specific
and actual video games) How could you define your relationship
Miltos Manetas: I suppose that I have to make some
videos because it’s easy to handle-it’s convenient and
cheap - but I also hate video. In a way, it’s even worse
than cinema: you have to watch them in a box, framing
the images. If I had to make a real video film, I would
have to work hard for something that doesn’t represent
me entirely, even if it’s very effective as a demo of
an idea. Anyway, this process of creation implies a
position that I am not really interested in. So when
I bought my Sony PlayStation I discovered a fast way
to make videos: I just have to record a part of a game
that linked to something I’m interested in showing or
expressing. The images are coming from a precedent scenario
that I can use and are appropriate just by playing the
For example; for the video series Flames, 1997, which
I made from the game Tomb Raider, I had the girl (Lara
Croft) run into a cave with arrows coming from all around.
She got hit with them until she fall dead on the snow,
mourning a moving “ah”. I had her run, repeatedly into
a tape for ten minutes. Ten times she tried to cross
the corridor,r but she always faltered and died. It
fulfilled my wishes for a story about weakness, beauty,
and tragedy. It was as if it was designed for me, waiting
for me in the stores to buy it and use it. Moreover,
it’s technically made exactly like a real video because
in the game you can decide how to move the girl, you
can decide from which point of view you want to film
her, etc.. So you are actually the real director of
the game session. The only difference is that the actor
is virtual and the sets, stage lighting, and so on,
are ready-made from the game’s programmer.
A second video is made from a flight simulator in which
you are supposed to fly an airplane in the sky, but
it runs endlessly on the water. The video is called
“Miracle 1996,“ in memory of the famous Jesus miracle.
I like Jesus miracles, which as Gerald Lynn said are
very credible because they include such astonishing
detail, that you end up believing them. Once, in a wedding
(not a proper occasion for a miracle), Jesus transformed
a whole river into wine...
John Tremblay: I just performed a miracle: I transformed
regular bread into toast! If somebody needs some...
Lionel Bovier: I understand that you are using an error
in the programming of the game to have your work done,
is that right ? Some kind of free space in the preconceived
Miltos Manetas: Yes, I like mistakes, bugs, and failure
of computer’s functions as much as their abilities and
performances. “Miracle 1996” is an experience of the
limits of a game situation and the sudden implosion
of every competence.
The main subject that I choose to represent with my
work is the moment when ability fades. It’s a classical
topic. You can find it, for instance, in the book of
Heinrich Von Kleist, The Prince of Homburg. In the story,
young prince falls asleep and forgets the battle he
supposed to go into.
Lionel Bovier: Do you really always need to organize
your work on such specific themes?
Miltos Manetas: I need a subject. I don’t believe in
abstract art. I think I am always relating to representation.
Lionel Bovier: That reminds me of the collection of
characters that you started in 1993 (and called, as
in the “figuration” side of cinema’s jobs, Extras)
John Tremblay: What?
Lionel Bovier: Miltos collected in his computer hundreds
of descriptions of fictional characters and just edited
the list. You have to read that “book,” it’s exciting
and at the same time reaching a point of perfect void.
John Tremblay: Is it infinite?
Miltos Manetas: Yes, it’s a never-ending process. I
go to libraries and copy in my Powerbook the descriptions.
What I wanted to do was to create a book from the material,
which I usually avoid reading.
John Tremblay: Why don’t you read these type of descriptions
Miltos Manetas: Because my focus in literature, as
in life, consists of the generic and not in the individual
or the particular, I try to avoid looking at the features
or the details of things. I want to see the whole image-or
the image as a whole. This attitude is then pushed to
I make art just to be able to make the opposite of what
I really should do. I even became a painter recently
... because I never had any interest in painting something...
John Tremblay: Here, I’ve one description from Boris
Vian to add to your collection: “He was reasonably tall
and slim-hipped; he had long legs and was very, very
nice. The name Colin suited him almost perfectly. He
talked to girls with charm and to boys with pleasure.
He was always in a good mood-and the rest of the time
Christophe Cherix: I played the game [Tomb Raider]
yesterday and found very perverse that you continuously
killed the girl in your video. The death you are showing
is in fact the one of your own identification with the
game. I wouldn’t call it a failure, because this is
inscribed in the main purposes of the game. Look at
the delicate way in which the character is dying! What
I would like to know is why you choose these specific
sets (in a cave, with arrows or different cutting objects)
and not others. And how would you interpret the suicidal
way you purposely played?
Miltos Manetas: First, I like that confusion of identity.
As a player, you are the girl character, but you are
also the director of the video in which she is (or you
are) acting. Then I choose specific sets that underline
what I wanted to express. Moreover, when the character
dies it is impossible for you to see the rest of the
landscapes in the game, which are actually very beautiful.
With her death, understanding becomes impossible because
what is in real life is movement and motion, is in the
field of representation, comprehension. When motion
stops, comprehension finito.
Christophe Cherix: In a game where you are supposed
to have the maximum “freedom”, you have cut any possibility
of it. Is that a metaphor of your own artistic condition,
in the same way as you said before that you “had to
make“ videos or paintings?
Miltos Manetas: There is no freedom. Art is interesting
because you are never free, because you are under specific
Lionel Bovier: But isn’t it precisely the kind of situation
in which, as in a video game, you should look for a
failure in the system ?
Miltos Manetas: Beauty is the failure! I mean by being
a painter, I also know that when you come close to beauty
you are on a verge of failure. As an individual one
should not look for qualities but for the loss of them
all. That’s also the line that separates the artist
from a philosopher. The philosopher knows about beauty
but avoids it. The artist doesn’t avoid beauty, rather
he prefers to become a human mistake. Plato considered
artists as low figures in the hierarchy of his ideal
society because they deal with real objects and simulation;.
while the philosopher is treating the ideas that define
reality. When you are making art, you are always accumulating
qualities: beauty, success, experience, and so on, instead
of reaching the state of abstraction, essence and ideas.
Look at Picasso, the guy wearing shorts on the beach
and trying to sleep with as many girls as he can, he
has the same kind of agenda for paintings: accumulating
more and more experiments with forms.
Christophe Cherix: Starting from this philosophical
premise, how did you become interested in such formal
issues as painting?
Miltos Manetas: My identity is to work with philosophical
tools, but my attraction in art would be to access the
ability of, say, John Armleder. The video, Soft Driller
1994, was about that kind of paradoxical and desperate
artistic position: one guy saying that he will fuck
up the other and this one constantly denying this perspective:
both sides of my own position. That’s why I am working
with machines that were built to help us, but finally
end up complicating our entire life as they become mirror
sites of it. This room is packed with computers and
electronics and that’s something that I’m not comfortable
with. It’s like women.
John Tremblay: But you are not surrounded by women...
Miltos Manetas: No, but Vanessa embodies them all...
John Tremblay: Which is precisely what she is up to
in her performances, using all different type of characters
to delegate herself to the audience...
Lionel Bovier: You said that, before this year, you
could not contextualize your own work. How did it happen
that you now seem able to do it?
Miltos Manetas: In a way, painting was the point I
had to reach to be able to have a perspective on my
work. In the process of oil painting on canvas, you
apply layers of memory on a projection surface and you
end up with a kind of window. David Robbins once said
that “wall painting is a door and a painting on canvas
a window” .
Lionel Bovier: And what about size?
Miltos Manetas: Size is not important. Pollock made
bigger paintings and the museum just became bigger...that’s
“Playstation Time” is an interview taken in 1996, NY.