Playstation Time.
Art, Games, And Video.

Miltos Manetas speaks with Lionel Bovier, Christophe Cherix
& 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 listening” session...

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 to video?

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 game...

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 scenarios...

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 normally?

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 the opposite.

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 he slept.“

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 conditions.

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 all.

“Playstation Time” is an interview taken in 1996, NY.