Completely Machinima Interview: David Blandy

In this month’s interview, Tracy talks with British media artist, David Blandy, whose film How to Fly was reviewed by the Completely Machinima podcast team in the June 2022 films episode of the show. David shares his love and passion for games as both forms of entertainment and tools for his creative practice, having grown up with them to the point when the choice to include games in his work became obvious. David tells us about why he chose the cormorant in How to Fly and what he really thinks about YouTube, TikTok and the future of machinima. His reflection on his creative practice makes for fascinating listening.

Tracy Harwood 00:20
This week's guest is David Bandy. David is a British artist who's been described as an artist and a nerd, not by me, I have to say, but by a curator that he's currently showcasing some work with. In actual fact, though, he's learned his trade at the Slade School of Fine Art and the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London. And his work uses video performances and comics that deal with what is described on Wikipedia as his problematic relationship with popular culture, which we'll ask him about shortly. And that particularly I think, includes gaming. He has a number of accolades to his name. In 2004, he was awarded an artist's residency with Grizedale Arts in 2008. He was shortlisted in the Jerwood Moving Image Awards. In 2010. He won the breakthrough award at the Southbank Show awards in London, and he was nominated for the Film London German award with Larry Achiampong in 2018. He has an incredibly impressive CV, his artworks have been exhibited all over the world. In fact, the list is so enormous I won't even try to highlight parts of it. But I will put a link on the website in the show notes for you. David's work can also be found in collections held in Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland, Zabludowicz Collection, London, Sindika Dokolo Foundation in Luanda, Angola, Julia Stoschek Collection in Dusseldorf, Germany, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Rosario, Argentina.. I mean, wow, what a what a collection of work all over the world. Now, we featured David's work in our films review show in June, Ricky's pick, and actually, it was something that I think we all had quite a lot to say about. So what's great now is that we get a chance to put some of our thoughts and comments to you here today. So, welcome to the show. David. It's really great to have you here. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to us.

David Blandy 02:38
Thanks so much for having me. So it's great to talk to real experts about machinima.

Tracy Harwood 02:45
How you very well, let's start with you telling us a bit more about your work then please.

Okay, so I've been making videos performances for the last 20 odd years, mostly around trying to work out who I am in relationship to popular culture, what is it that makes us who we are, and a large part of that has been video games and various other popular cultural artefacts like anime, manga, hip hop, soul music. Yeah, just you know, all these things that go into that great big soup that creates identity. And yeah, video games has been there for forever really. I grew up on the Amstrad six one to eight belted disk drive. And yeah, playing Manic Miner and JET SET WILLY, that sort of thing. And soon, kind of graduated to things like the Mega Drive and yeah, playing Street Fighter with with my brother. And then PlayStation I ended up working at a video game shop for a couple of years, where I really kind of did my apprenticeship in actually understanding the culture of video games, not just like playing them by myself in my bedroom or against my friends, but kind of finding the wider world of Yeah, broken mechanics and rivalries and comradeship through a shared passion, which is what video games are. And through this I started thinking about I was making a lot of artwork around found objects, the things that you kind of find around you and what what though, that those objects mean? And I was finding that the objects that meant the most to me were the spaces that existed inside games like Doom like Final Fantasy seven I mean, this is a long time ago. Like Tekken 2 like, yeah, my degree show in Chelsea was the background of Yoshimitsu stage from Tekken two, which is a forest. And that kind of took out all the characters and the power bars. And so it's just a forest that looks sort of kind of slightly ominous and is slightly as a slow tracking shot, which never ends. It's sort of like a kind of circular loop of this because that's that's how the arena's were formed and Tekken 2 like kind of a large photo montage background, which you kind of had it 3d characters inside. And then yeah, projected that into the wall. So you're kind of looking through the wall into this sublime vista. And it's kind of thinking about finding that sublime moment inside something that is supposed to be I don't know, throw away entertainment, or whatever, which is Tekken.

David Blandy 05:40
So yeah, so it kind of Yeah, it's been been there for a long time. I also have a kind of interesting relationship with with art history, I suppose. Because my father is also an artist, he's a landscape artist who make does pastels of mostly trees, painting the same tree every day from the same place. So you can kind of see the changes of the seasons and things. And I worked with him on a project called Backgrounds, which, where I took backgrounds from fighting games, mostly by SNK, or Capcom, and asked him to draw those backgrounds as though they were actual landscapes. And yeah, he kind of took on the task. And then we had recorded a conversation of us discussing the process and what he felt he was doing kind of drawing these kind of, in a way dead, like dead landscapes for him, because it was like, you know, they're static, whereas the things that he's used to drawing a kind of, you know, steal something from life. And then we kind of just, it becomes a conversation about art about life about Yeah, the kind of eatable complex, maybe, I don't know, all sorts of things. Like all wrapped up inside us as pixelated avatars, walking through these these incredible backgrounds from crazy fighting games.

But really, the first, the first real machinima I made was with Larry with with Larry Achiampong. And we had been making a project about the philosopher and activist Franz Fanon, who was, yeah, wrote some really important texts like Black Skin, White Masks and Wretched of the Earth. And he was reported to have written some, some works of fiction, some plays, and in some ways, the his theoretical texts really outline what the problems are around race, identity, Empire, the history of colonialism, but they don't really offer like a strict, like, humanitarian solution to where to where we go. And so perhaps we could find we could make a kind of metaphorical journey to find those last plays. They've since been found those plays, and they're, they're very beautiful. But these, these films still exist in kind of their own little world, where so the first the first film, we looked at the history of, of, yeah, this kind of, of race identity, that that relationship and our, our, our friendship, really, that's kind of the centre of the work, but then we wanted to go into the virtual realm. And that's where Grand Theft Auto came in really handy. Because it's like, here's a ready made world you know, I was talking about ready made and found objects and here's kind of the found object was the world of Grand Theft Auto. With all its problems, it's kind of stereotypes and yeah, racial stereotypes are kind of class stereotypes, all sorts of is partly satire, but it's also a kind of go it goes. It also plays to the satire so you kind of it tries to have its cake and eat it. And I think that's very, very difficult situation for triple A game. So but it was so we're looking to go inside that game and the game about violence and about kind of appropriation in many ways and twist it and turn it and make it into our own space for contemplation and talking and trying to talk through this. This kind of ever increasing issue of the day really, it's Yeah, since we made it in 2015. It feels like it's, it's become even more relevant.

David Blandy 09:39
So yeah, so that was that was us working inside Grand Theft Auto we then worked with a lot of different groups using that technology. So we have a soundtrack that we made using synthesisers and then gave the gave the game engine to various groups said You know, create an avatar, what story would you like to tell around this? And we ended up talking to paperless migrants in Oslo. And they told story of their their migration while their avatar walks through this virtual landscape. And then working with veterans who are in the criminal justice system in Liverpool, so they're, you know, they were currently incarcerated, and we're telling their stories from inside jail. It was quite hard to get PlayStation inside jail, but we managed it. And, and then kind of Yeah, they were kind of telling their stories. Some of them wrote songs. Someone wrote poems, but they all created their avatars and kind of went on little journeys, and then we kind of made films out of all of that it became, again another work of, of machinima. We've since work with with I've got forgotten the name of it. The it's a mediaeval type game, lots of mods. It's not Elder Scrolls. It's orphans creed. No, it's not Assassin's Creed. It's got it's like one of the most modded games ever. It's just got a complete blank. But anyway, that was that was actually despite me forgetting what is it was such it was much less friendly to make machinima in because you had to do it all through hacks, because it's like, you know, you kind of had to hack hack a camera in a way that creates some quite interesting spaces. Because at the end of the film, kind of let the camera just roll out into the distance. And you see, you see all the all the models getting sadly, more and more degraded until there's like almost nothing apart from just the horizon. Yeah, that was for for film about Hadrian's Wall. But But yeah, I've been working mostly with Unity and Unreal Engine recently to so so that to just give a bit more freedom, really, you know, machinima has an amazing space, but it. Yeah, it's kind of I love the aesthetic. I love the meaning. I also love working with found objects, but it just gives a bit more flexibility to kind of work within something where you can actually compress things in and out.

Tracy Harwood 12:23
Yeah, I think that's kind of the trajectory a lot of machinima filmmakers seem to have, you know, they start out with game based. Attendance, if you like, and then end up on the more bissap bespoke type stuff. Like, like you say, Unreal or iClone. Right. Yeah. And Blender even. Yeah, and, you know, move on from there, really, and I sort of then sort of sidestep that kind of, you know, indie fan type stuff to being more of an artist, which is interesting, I think, because you've done it the other way.

David Blandy 12:59
Yeah, I guess I'm always looking for the right. Or the kind of the is that Bruce Lee philosophy of like, minimum effort, maximum effect? How do you create a 3d world really quickly? And like kind of, you know, Grand Theft Auto did it, but it also had, yeah, you kind of play with all the associations that come with it. So it's, I think, as long as you are aware that it's not a it's not going to be a perfect facsimile, something else. It's kind of you're working with a game space, and you have to acknowledge that it's an interesting space to work with.

Tracy Harwood 13:39
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we, month after month, we were amazed at the quality of the work that's coming out and the breadth of work that's coming out. Anyway, what I wanted to ask you, you talk a little bit about cultural forces, or I read somewhere that you you talk a little bit about the cultural forces that inform and influence what you're interested in, in terms of, you know, how you explore that those cultural forces in your work? What kind of cultural forces are we talking about here? It's not just game, I get a sense. It's not just getting

David Blandy 14:12
Yeah, it's, I guess it's, I come from a quite a psychotherapeutic background. So I'm talking in terms of like, the I like the Keynesian theory, that that you mirror the things that around you, and you've kind of find yourself in the things that you look at, whether you want to or not, in a way like and like when you're controlling Mario in Super Mario 64 or something, he becomes a little part of you inside the screen, and it feels like he's completely free to do whatever but then you kind of come up against the invisible walls you come up about the fact that you can't pick your nose or something like that. There's only there's only so many actions that are that are allowed. So it's kind of an illusion of freedom, which kind of shifts around, and then it makes you think, well, what are the systems I'm living in, in my everyday life? And is that also a kind of an illusion of freedom? So it's sort of looking at those, those mirrors that happen. Yeah, ideas of control, I think, you know, the controller is a really interesting thing in video games, it's like, often, the perfect way to play a video game is to do exactly what the video game wants you to do, I'm just thinking of something like, say, Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution, or something, it's where, like, if you mimic the computer completely, then you've you win the game. So it's kind of like and it's, it's kind of similar with a lot of kind of pattern based recognition games, like Tetris or something. But yeah, then you've got sort of that, that thing of fighting games, where it's all about the mastery of the controls. And yet yet again, it's about you conforming to how the controller wants you to act, even though like this, sort of this kind of free will in it, and you're often fighting against an opponent. So it's sort of about, you know, you have to do combos, in this particular timing all of this stuff. So it's, it's kind of an interesting thing, we're, as humans, we're very drawn into being controlled by something. And yet, we also want to kind of, you know, have our own space. So that's, that's the, the tension that I find, and I guess, there's that the kind of the meta level tension is that these are all like, artefacts and in the cultural, culturally produced by capitalism. So it requires a huge kind of corporations making lots of money out of the fact that you're having fun. So like that, that is, you know, although I love this, you know, a lot of this output, and I love you know, I love these games, Final Fantasy seven made me cry, you know, I have kind of really intense relationships with these these spaces. It's also, you know, you're having a relationship with a, a kind of a, a piece of capital, effectively, something that that it becomes like a, you know, it doesn't actually have meaning. And so, yeah, that's the tension. I think it does, you know, I think it's really, it's psychically important. It creates incredible community, between people with people from disparate places, disparate walks of life, like, it's really the thing that brought me and Larry together as friends was the fact that we had shared memories of Salvador Ocarina of Time and, and Metal Gear Solid, like, you know, we could, I could say, Snake goo to him, and he didn't know what I was talking about. And like, it's just these kind of weird little like, it becomes a sub cultural language of, of understanding and, and really, they like shared memories, aren't they? It's like, you know, when you watch the same film, it's like, when you play, somehow games have a different intensity. It's like, because you are, because it's interactive, it feels much more like you have agency and I think that makes it kind of imprint on you in a really deep way, let alone have the longevity, you know, you're playing a game for, again, Final Fantasy seven, like 100 hours to get the bloodshed to Cobo and everything. But it's just, you know, it's it's a much more kind of immersive thing. You don't sit there watching Star Wars for 100 hours, but some people do. But it's, it's more Yeah, I just think it's more of a kind of common cultural thing. And I think the increasingly online world is mostly an online thing. Now, I would say like, my, my son, he purely plays online, it's just Apex Legends Minecraft, like, it's always with friends, it's always with, you know, a is very rarely just against AI, which is how I grew up playing games, you know, it's always just you against the machine, whereas now, it's always kind of all against all, like, all kind of, you know, playing in little teams like, it's, it's a much more kind of social space, whether that's kind of social through voice or just social through action, kind of collaborative storytelling in a way. Yeah, it's kind of it's grown from there.

Tracy Harwood 19:30
I mean, it's quite interesting that you say that, because how do you reflect that kind of change in the way that games have evolved? And in the work that you're doing, have you got a sense of how that's taking place in your work?

David Blandy 19:42
Oh, that's interesting, I think. I think there's, you know, if I look back to my early works, they very much were about my relationship to the machine space. So it was thinking about it as a space that a single person was entering into. And then the more recent works feel much more about the conversation inside, something that's going on. So, like, even backgrounds that you know, it's like the two player game, it's to be, you know, two people in an arcade playing against each other. But then it's kind of once you get into like Grand Theft Auto Five, and it's kind of your meeting spot, even the making of that that film was very much like, Yeah, I'm down by the pier, like, you know, how long do you think it will take you to get here, if you've still a car like, like we had, it was kind of that physical thing of actually kind of scouting out spaces. And yeah, getting into scrapes while you're trying to make kind of elegaic work. Work and fantasy. It's like, yeah, it feels much more about. Yeah, forging forms of community. Now, than befgore. I hadn't really considered that before, but I think that's, I think that's true. I think it has, there has been a shift in how it's understood. You know, I mean, when, when I was making that work, using Tekken 2, like, I had to explain to people what video games were like, like, in 98, 99, it wasn't like a common cultural phenomenon. It was a geek thing. It was like, you know, a thing that, just like comics were for quite a long time. It's, but now it's just like, so mainstream. You know, it's like, it's like, the way that Marvel's been dominated cinema, is it's everyone has a video game in their pocket on their phone. So it's like, you know, it's become, in a way the dominant aesthetic is is is, is the game, which is quite quite fascinating shift. [It is, but it's still pretty geek.] Oh, yeah. Yeah, I think I think I think it's, I think it's the level to which you become immersed in those things, you know, people do things casually, and then they do things hardcore. And it's like, you know, that that, that they'll always be that that kind of tension? I think, yeah,

Tracy Harwood 22:09
well, you're definitely the hardcore side of it. I mean, there's certainly the work that that we reviewed in back in June, the How to Fly, How to Live. You know, to me, there was definitely a sense there of you seeking personal meaning through the work that you were presenting there. And yet, interestingly, when I looked at some of your other work, I can't even remember what it was called. Now the one that you've got, where is it called? It is the Edge of Forever? No. Whichever. We're basically what you're doing is interrogating meaning, I think, through the relationship to another person, like Henrietta Lacks, or Darwin's taxidermist. So So So one, one side, you sort of seeking meaning to you and the other side, you're exploring meaning to these long dead folks? Seemingly?

David Blandy 23:15
Yeah, I get I guess, it's looking for an understanding of kind of, psycogeographical position of, of people and places. So, you know, what does? Why are certain ideas venerated, and why are certain ideas sort of put down Why is some sort of cultural knowledge seen as very important and other types of cultural knowledge seen as like, base or kind of to be disregarded? And I think, you know, a lot of that goes with cultural capital. And you know, what's, and yeah, essentially, like, social standing, etc. So yeah, Henrietta Lacks is life and body was not seen as a valuable thing. It was seen as almost a possession. John Edmundson's skills we're not we're not kind of lauded until he had this association with, you know, the great white man, Darwin. So it's, it's sort of how can we say, I guess it's an anxiety about ideas of knowledge and power being intrinsically intertwined. So you know often becomes about reinforcing the status quo in some way. And how do you tell alternative stories or alternative ways of understanding the world And yeah, it's sort of a, that's a lot of the thought there.

David Blandy 25:06
How to fly is sort of taking that, that kind of Yeah, I would say that's about yearning was was a yearning for escape and for nature and for I guess meaning, like you say, in, in the kind of times of deep lockdown. So like it was made right at the start of the pandemic, when it felt like this could go on forever, and you're kind of completely isolated. And me and my family were going out for kind of early morning runs as our as our kind of, you know, one hour of exercise or whatever that we were allowed. And we'd go out because we were in Brighton, we're going just driving about probably probably too far legally, to the downs. And then then kind of got going for a run seeing often seeing the sun kind of almost rising up and kind of you know, it was just it was had that real sense of almost escape and the sublime. And the idea that you could maybe find that through Grand Theft Auto seemed kind of ridiculous to me, but also absolutely perfect. Because this is where we were living, we were living inside screens, and we're trying to find meaning through our conversations through the games that we were playing. I heard so many people getting really into Red Dead Redemption two, because it has incredible landscapes, it has beautiful sunsets and things and it's like, you know, trying to get that that real connection to something other something Yeah, sublime almost kind of a taste of something unworldly in inside a video game, because you can't get it from outside because outside was forbidden, you know. So it was it was sort of playing with that, that sort of space. And yeah, the spiritual text, which I adapted from it was was very much like, you know, that's another attempt to find a different way of different type of meaning. I mean, yeah, me, I in some ways, I was taking it on in a kind of ironic way, this, you know, this is something that's trying to be incredibly meaningful, and I don't kind of believe in no animal science, etc. But at that moment, if somehow, like, all came together into something that became more than the sum of its parts, kind of added Grand Theft Auto, the Google text and then the soundtrack and it kind of, yeah, it formed this, this something that was something yet to be meditated on. Maybe. Yeah,

Tracy Harwood 27:52
and it definitely invoked meditation. I mean, the here's a question for them why cormorant?

David Blandy 28:00
it was because it was because I, I was it was going to be all about the Heron because I'd had a kind of funny, funny relationship with a with a well, a funny moment with a heron on down on the serpentine bridge, where there was one that was just flying around, and they kind of like, flew right into my face that kind of like, I just thought this kind of amazing, this huge, huge bird. Like just to sort of semi tame in London.

Tracy Harwood 28:29
pterodactyls actually, yeah.

David Blandy 28:30
Yeah. And then I started right making this piece and I was I was trying to look for a heron Inside Grand Theft Auto. And of course, like, oh, you know, the closest they've got is the cormorant so. Okay, well, maybe I can work with that. And so it became like a kind of, yeah, working with the found object to create the thing that I wanted to do. So yeah, that's, that's how it got to the cormorant. And it had those aspects of like, like in the techs that the kind of the liminality is between things. So it's neither have air or water. It's kind of it's got it's got its feet in both places. So it seemed seemed kind of perfect in the end,

Tracy Harwood 29:12
was a very, very good story. I guess, really, what we when we were talking about it, we were kind of reflecting on the fact that it starts out as a tutorial and ends up being this almost poetic piece that you just lose yourself in. It was it was incredibly well done the narrative. The narrative side of it, it just so just really fitted with what you were, you know, seeing on the screen and then you know, and how you were escaping, basically.

David Blandy 29:43
Yeah, yeah, that was the I mean, it's part of a series, yeah a kind of tutorial series and all of them. They really started from that idea of the intimacy of the YouTube voice. So because I studied under a lot of YouTubers trying to make my work I learning bits of After Effects doing bits of blender or whatever. It's always like, you know, you need to learn how to add, you know, create 3d planes in After Effects. And so you you look up some video and you've got 12 year old telling you, yeah, now you put the little put the x axis to here. And and there's but there's also real intimacy because it's like, it's like they're talking just to you, even though it's it's, you know, it could be 100,000 people have watched it, or it could be just like 50 people have watched it, it could be like, they're put it up and they've got this one little piece of information that you were looking for. Kind of thank you so much that you suddenly saved me hours of hours of work by kind of pointing out this geeky little, little aspect of the programme.

Tracy Harwood 30:49
And there isn't anything you can't find out.

David Blandy 30:51
So no, absolutely, like all of knowledge is there in a kind of very, very strange sort of disassociated form. It's sort of Yeah, it's people telling you stuff. So yeah, I wanted to kind of get to be that shift between different modes of storytelling. So you've got that kind of intimacy, that the false sort of immediacy, it's as though I'm just making up it's sort of, yeah, kind of improvised adlib monologue. But you know, I try and reveal that repeated thing a bit. Yeah. Yeah. And then, and then it goes into something kind of different registers. So in the first, first tutorial of that type is called How to make a short film about extinction. And it was, it's, it was that voice of kind of, I wanted to be the voice of the planetarium. Because I've been to a planetarium before. And there's that thing where you wear the headphones. And it's like, they're in your head, and there's, this is the world and the world is, you know, it's really portentious. And it like becomes really, it takes you into another space somehow, just the manner in which the voice works. And yeah, wanted there to be that shift within the work. And so, yeah, this How to Fly it was much more into that kind of, like, ASMR kind of, yeah, everything's cool, you know, kind of voice.

Tracy Harwood 32:14
I think it did it really well. And yeah, and then a similar tone. I don't think this is part of the same series. But Androids Dream seem to do pretty much the same thing, but with a different kind of aesthetic look to it. But the net result seemed to be the same.

David Blandy 32:29
Yeah, that was that was a response to a kind of a demand by Petra Sesmond, another artist who wanted asked me to pick make a piece of work, using, yeah, using computer technology in some sort of way. And I wanted to play with the idea of this, like, yeah, the kind of like cyberpunk aesthetic, how played out it was, I was thinking about the recent video games 2077, and then yeah, kind of a rehash of Blade Runner, but then just all of the tropes that go with it, to the extent that there are like, you'd go on to Unreal Engines Asset Store, and you kind of you know, there's there's whole worlds of cyberpunk kind of worlds that just exist there, because that's one thing that people want to make. So it was kind of taking a whole load of those kinds of assets, and then adding them to a deep fake version of my voice. So it's, I trained, I trained a one of these AIs to have my voice through kind of speaking the script a few times, and then and then kind of had them voice the entire track. So you're never listening to my voice, you're listening to the kind of an artefact of my voice. And yeah, that's, that's kind of was the kernel of that particular film.

Tracy Harwood 34:04
And, well, the bit that strikes me was where it finishes, that there isn't a narrative to follow because it's gone garbled. And I remember when I was when I was listening to I don't actually remember the point at which it changed. I mean, that was so subtly done, but I think that was a genuine, the meditative quality, I think of what you what you produce there was was it was it took you on such journey that you just were in the zone, you know, like you say that kind of almost Sagan ish type like voice that takes you there and little blue planets and it was that kind of, yeah, I loved it.

David Blandy 34:45
Thank you. Well, it was it was I think it's kind of an artefact of of the artificial voice because it reads backwards text in exactly the same kind of tone as any other texts. So it tries to make sense of it and makes It sound like makes it sound natural in a way that I think I don't think if I had read it backwards myself, I would have had that kind of same fluency. So yeah, it's an interesting kind of Yeah, moment. It just Yeah,

Tracy Harwood 35:13
it was a really interesting experiment. I really enjoyed that. And then the film I forgot the name of it's the Lament to Power. Oh, yeah. And, and, you know, I suppose really extrapolating the point that you're just talking about that in in that particular film, what what you've got there, that seems to be the the, I mean, this is really strong narrative that goes through it, but also this really sinister growing black blob just like the blob in the in the, you know, and they'll film or whatever it was, which kind of really, you know, that's that becomes so dominating and forceful Is that Is that what the intention was there with that one?

David Blandy 35:55
Yeah, it was, I guess it was a, it was a metaphor for almost this, this fear of the return of agency in a way. It was, it's that idea of Henrietta Lacks almost her revenge. So she because her body, her cells are immortal. They, they reproduce eternally. They were found through basically a biopsy. And they, they just, they're there. Yeah, they were, they were harvested in the early 50s. And they're still reproducing today. And they're still used in experiments. They were used, they were used to the escort the Haler cell, they were used to solve cure polio. So you know, they've, they've done, achieved great things. But they also were taken away without consent. And they say that, if you were to put all the halo cells together that had been grown in cultures, across the world, it would be take up more, more kind of mass than the Empire State Building like this, in that, and that's where that original, that kind of imagery came from. It was that kind of idea of just this explosion of flesh. But also yes, it's kind of like a horror movie, The Blob or kind of that kind of idea. But it's also that idea of the return of the real. It's like something that has been repressed, just sort of exploding and taking over and being. Yeah, undeniable, but it ends in darkness, that film, it's like, you know, the images. In the end, the image runs out. And it's like, all you have is the voice is like, go inside the blob and like, kind of, you have to have to kind of, yeah, give a give yourself over to it. Perhaps

Tracy Harwood 37:52
it's an amazingly powerful film, but definitely put a link to that one. Definitely have a look at that. Ya know, quite different to the others.

David Blandy 38:02
But yeah, yeah, I mean, I think it's very much like, it's a work I don't think I could have made without working with Larry, because it gives a diff, you know, the fact that we're having a conversation about these things gives a different. Yeah, it gives a different agency gives a different sense of ideas around. I guess, who owns culture and things? Which, yeah, I don't feel that I could have approached that story by myself really

Tracy Harwood 38:40
understand why he would say that, for sure. We wouldn't have the voice for telling stories like that, I think, because of our colour, basically. Yeah,

David Blandy 38:49
exactly. is, you know, you have to be aware of your, you know, part of what makes it work is is the artist and like, you know, where where we sit? And, you know, it's not everything is. Yeah, it's always every subject matter that you come across is you have to think about your relationship to that thing, and how that makes sense. Yeah, you can't kind of approach everything as though it's neutral. There is there is no neutrality. There is no, there is no objectivity, I would say so it's like, you know, you have to take that on board. And then once you've acknowledged that, and it becomes a part of the work, I think you can kind of tackle things but that's yeah, that's that's how I feel about

Tracy Harwood 39:36
the voice actor that you had on that was also brilliant. I don't know who that was. But she was great on that. Yeah,

David Blandy 39:43
no, she she was she was amazing. Yeah, we found her through we did a a small yeah show in in Texas A few years ago, and the curator there kind of gave gave us her name. And yeah, it was it was Really? Yes, she does an incredible job.

Tracy Harwood 40:04
Absolutely. I'm just looking through my questions that I wanted to ask you a little bit more about your approach to problematizing problematizing the game, which seems to be, you know, a big part of how you go about creating the work that you do. Is it always in collaboration with other artists that you do that? Um,

David Blandy 40:35
I guess I guess no. I mean, I am the Yeah, I didn't know. I mean, I guess. Yeah, I mean, I'm thinking of Backgrounds. I kind of made that by myself. But then I made it with my dad, because he was like, the other voice in it, the one for Petra. It was, you know, that wasn't made in collaboration with Petra. It was it was, you know, my own work. But I think it's something that I'm going to, and of course, the early work was really like, just totally like, it was, like pictures of me and Ray you playing video games in my front room, like, Photoshop, Photoshop thing, I made a made a video of me asking Mario, so there's kind of a little D on the cap, and, like glasses and stuff, just looking at the screen and breathing. But I don't know, I just I find that working in collaboration is often really, it brings a different energy to things which I really enjoy someone to bounce ideas off. And it becomes about a conversation. I was in a band for years and years, like making music. And I think it kind of brings that same sort of energy. Yeah, my, my solo stuff tends to be slightly more solipsistic. So kind of thinking about meaning and things. And like, yeah, like How to Fly. So I don't know. I mean, I, it's something I want to explore more over, because now now I feel much more fluid with Unreal Engine, I feel like there's a next next kind of level of things that I want to do with it.

Tracy Harwood 42:22
Well, I was gonna ask you actually, what's the work process that you have? And where does the idea come from for a project that you've got?

David Blandy 42:32
Um, yeah, often it starts with it starts with almost a space, I think, in some ways, I'm primarily a installation artist, maybe? I like to work with a space and think of that as like a, you know, what does this space mean? And how can I make an intervention into it to make it mean something different? And then once I have that kind of visual sense of something, then I'll start thinking about the meanings around things and start writing, writing a script or something. And then, yeah, and then often the kind of the music sort of comes after that. Kind of, yeah, what is what is the tone that I want to set for this piece? Or is the Yeah, what is the space that wants to find around this kind of, in the end, it all forms a sort of frame around the kind of core which I think is often the voiceover. So it kind of comes off kind of very elaborate frame for, for kind of a conversation between me and the viewer.

Tracy Harwood 43:47
When you when you talk about space, do you also talk about the physical space, like the gallery space that it's going?

David Blandy 43:52
Yeah, I mean, I think I think that's, that's there as a sort of abstract for me, I, you know, sometimes I'm working with a space that I will know what the space is, in order to work with it, but often, often you don't, at the start of a process, you know, you kind of think, and I think that's why you know, white cubes exist, etc. So that you can kind of have that default, to move into and, and disrupt and change. And, and I think, I think there's also the space of like the laptop, like here, like you're kind of thinking about this relationship to the screen. So you're thinking about it as a, as something that you can kind of enter into and kind of talk through, rather than necessarily like a no be immersed in a whole gallery space. Yeah, you kind of approach those two different spaces a bit differently.

Tracy Harwood 44:44
And yet, you've got to kind of somehow get them to intermingle, I suppose in the work for it to sort of connect to to your

David Blandy 44:54
you want you want it to work in all those spaces. And I think I think that It just comes through experience of knowing how different types of shots work in different spaces. You know what, what works in kind of in transition over those different sorts of spaces? Yeah, I think I think some of my works work much better small and some really only work once they're installed. But there's like, you know? Yeah, I mean, there was there was a piece I made, which was supposed to be like a planetarium, which is the End of the World, which this displayed on three screens kind of is, but it was supposed to be big, curved screen, but we couldn't make the curve. So it's like three screens. And, but it worked really well. It's like, you're sitting in it, and it kind of filled your peripheral vision that it kind of had that planetarium sense to it. So. Yeah, so seeing that on a laptop doesn't quite have the same effect. I don't think.

Tracy Harwood 45:56
No, it's quite, you know, VR and technologies like that would help.

David Blandy 46:00
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. VR version of that does exist. And yeah, and I quite like it. Yeah. It works a bit.

Tracy Harwood 46:09
Fair enough. Now, and Damien was quite interested in the, in the apparently happy accidents in the workflow that you you seem to have - can you tell us a bit about how you allow for accidents? Oh, yeah. And he was referring to the crashed cormorant. Yeah. Yeah.

David Blandy 46:27
That was, yeah, it was, I guess I wanted to kind of, in a way, you know, I knew where the film was going. I knew the film was going to be like this, this quasi spiritual thing. So I wanted to try and break, make it as kind of clumsy and seemingly haphazard as possible in the first day. So so yeah. Yeah, no, that crash actually happened. I was trying to try to fly by the corpsman. But I thought, you know, when going through the, through the, through the rushes, I felt like that, that worked really well as a thing. And of course, the voiceover is completely, you know, I wasn't, I wasn't talking over it as it happened. It's just like, that's just my bad acting. It's like, it's like, it's just, you know, I have this. Yeah, the eye kind of the whole of that first section is much more in the way more contrived than the second section. Because, because I've kind of constructed it as a as a video that I'm then doing a kind of pseudo freeform chat over. So yeah, I mean, I kind of even give it away by putting a lot of the text in the script that kind of pops up. But it shows

Tracy Harwood 47:52
I did see that. I mean, I think the others didn't quite, I mean, certainly, I knew it was a fake tutorial, right, from the minute I started to watch it, but I think the others are kind of drawn in more to the fact that all tutorial and then but the whole thing just didn't stack up for me, I thought it was. And that's really where I think part of your, your approach to cultural appropriation if that's if that's the right word, I think that's quite interesting, the way you've gone about doing that, as well as the fact that you're reflecting on the way that you've interacted with the, with the tutorials, simply through that kind of creative process as well.

David Blandy 48:33
I think I think all of you know, these are new cultural forms that are being formed us as the internet progresses, you know, we like I don't know, the Zoom meeting is a new new space that we can, you know, that needs needs an artwork around it, you know?

Tracy Harwood 48:51
Well, yes, I was gonna - what is your artwork?

David Blandy 48:57
Yeah, so, so far, my kind of under, in terms of in terms of zoom and things I've been working with role playing games within that space. And it's a really, that's a really perfect thing for that space. Because it's like, you know, you're having a group conversation and you're imagining a kind of, you know, if you're four people, you're imagining a fifth space, which is between all of you, and it's kind of hyper real to everyone and I've had some really intense kind of Yeah, scenarios and moments within that. What what for many, many people is like a hellish space of the Zoom meeting, you know, but it's, it's like because you will give yourself over to this, this fantasy space it becomes something other something really interesting. So yeah, that's that's what I've been kind of investigating in terms of update, the voice and, and group chat.

Tracy Harwood 49:59
So we've got some interesting zoom type machinima things to come?

David Blandy 50:04
Oh, I don't think so. I think I think I think my next thing is, is Yeah, deep dive into into Unreal five, I think.

Tracy Harwood 50:12
Well, what I was gonna say is, I mean, you clearly have a wide breadth of games that you draw on. Possibly only focusing in terms of machinima on some games, and not others and currently a preference GTA five.

David Blandy 50:28
No, I think I think we've done our last GTA five film. Like, like both me personally, I mean, yeah, I felt like I think probably with me because for a long time it was mine Larry's work was or was kind of quite GTA five ish. And then it's quite old now. That's that's like seven years, isn't it? It's feels like ancient ancient technology, I think. Yeah, there's some some new spaces to explore perhaps. I don't know what the next thing will be. But, yeah, people keep modding things. So I think I think these these spaces keep growing. Yeah, sorry. It's some extent I think it's quite, it might be quite interesting to work with something that's not so. Not quasi perfect. I thinking about much more kind of broken spaces, maybe even kind of go back into the history of gaming and see see what spaces can be found there?

Tracy Harwood 51:32
Plenty I would have thought plenty of broken spaces. That's

David Blandy 51:37

Tracy Harwood 51:41
I was gonna ask you, then how? How does the role of audiences and the way that audience is kind of changing because of online culture, I suppose how does that now fit into the work that you develop? Yeah, that's

David Blandy 51:58
That's interesting, I think, you know, I think the gallery space is a space, it's been really, it's been really useful for me in terms of kind of keeping projects going, in terms of having an outlet where I know that I'll have kind of control over how something's consumed in a way. But really, the, you know, the mass space is, well, it's Tiktok and Instagram, like, that's where, and YouTube, maybe to a lesser extent, these days, you know, those are, were moving images consumed the most. So, in a way is behoven to artists to try and engage with that space in some way. Again, it's an incredibly problematic space, because they're both, you know, artefacts of corporate culture, like what is the ownership of things once they get once they move on to that space. But at the same time, you know, I like to try and engage with, with people, you know, I don't want to just be talking to an arts gallery crowd I want to try and communicate with, with the world and, you know, that's where the audience is. That's where you have to try and engage with, you know, I haven't done that yet. But, you know, I think that's maybe an ambition.

Tracy Harwood 53:24
Well, I was just gonna ask you, are you on TikTok? And what are you doing on it?

David Blandy 53:30
No, not yet. Yeah, it's, it's, I think it's an amazing space. You know, from what I've seen a bit, I love the kind of the sampling culture that exists on there. They're kind of the answer video thing that happens there. But yeah, I haven't quite kind of got my head around what what I could how I could enter into that space yet. But I think I think it's it's definitely something I'm mulling over. Yeah, I

Tracy Harwood 53:58
think one of the big challenges with those kinds of platforms, if that is even the right word nowadays, is is the issue around discoverability. And that seems to becoming massively more problematic than it than it ever used to be. I mean, YouTube is a nightmare for finding work that's been created with certain types of assets, or, you know, if it's not tagged in the right way, you just can't find it. It's very, it's a really challenging space, I think, to be involved with. Yeah, yeah, no, that's very true. None of these platforms seem to be addressing any of that really, but whether you know whether AI was the solution

David Blandy 54:43
I would argue that they probably don't care.

Tracy Harwood 54:46
So would I agree with you?

David Blandy 54:49
You know, I think we're we're we're using these platforms under kind of, almost, you know, almost undercover isn't They're not what they're made for, they're made for things that to go viral or to be, you know, a certain type of, of entertainment that then gets shared around and becomes, you know, a phenomenon. They're not really made for kind of quiet meditations on the meaning of existence. You can find them but they're, they're pretty well hidden. So it's yeah, it's how to fight against the algorithm in some ways and in those spaces, and kind of subvert the algorithm. That is, yeah, that's that's the, the key to that kind of next stage, I guess.

Tracy Harwood 55:44
I guess we need to look forward to some of your work doing that.

David Blandy 55:49
I can have ambitions Yeah, sure.

Tracy Harwood 55:53
Well, I was gonna ask you now how do you see that your work fits into the into the current world of machinima and, and kind of real time production, then?

David Blandy 56:03
Golly, well, I guess I feel like in terms of in terms of machinima, I feel like an outsider, outsider artist in the, I'm using this form. And yeah, I'm not quite part of the culture. And you know, I would I would like to be, but I just haven't been up to this point. So yeah, I guess that's something that I'd like to get more involved with. Because I felt that with my tabletop role playing experience that I kind of made a tabletop role play game. And then I realised that there's this enormous in the world that I kind of hadn't quite understood. And now I feel much more inside. And I think that same journey has to has to take place with machinima to really, really understand where it is, you know, I'm inside the world of video games, but not so much inside the world of machinima.

Tracy Harwood 57:00
That's interesting, you should say that. Not, you know, I think I think it probably be fair to say there's probably game based communities. But the, you know, the, the creative space is there for everybody to kind of contribute to and you definitely do that.

David Blandy 57:20
It's very generous of you. But I, I guess what I mean, is in terms of like, you know, kind of a daily weekly engagement with other creators in the space. And I don't feel that I don't feel that I'm, I'm in there right now. In fact, I've just started being on a discord with some of the other artists who are in this exhibition at the Judas does a collection called world building, which is all around video games and art. And that discord has been really great. It's like, it's quite a few of the artists involved, just discussing what games they're like and what they're working on right now. And kind of Yeah, just swapping kind of under the hood kind of conversations about about this. Yeah, this this fun world, really? And yeah, that's that's kind of the closest I've felt for a while being part of that community. Yeah.

Tracy Harwood 58:14
And is that open to anybody? Or is that just you guys?

David Blandy 58:18
At the moment? I suppose it's just our skies, but we could we could open it up a bit. Once we feel a bit more comfortable. Yeah, that'd be great. Let you know about it.

Tracy Harwood 58:27
Yes, please do, because we'll definitely put a I mean, I was gonna put a link to that particular show in the show notes in any event, because that's a fascinating show. And, you know, obviously, some of your work has been shown there. Which is particularly interesting, I think. I guess. I mean, you know, certainly some of the work that we're we've been reviewing seems to suggest that machinima has a more and more of a role in the world of arts. And I guess, you know, from your perspective, how do you think machinima now fits into the world of arts practice?

David Blandy 59:05
Um, I think it's, I think it's a I think it's one tool. I think I think I think there are certain it kind of, I think it comes from the world of sort of video art of people working with tech, people working with kind of, I guess, net art and stuff. And it's all kind of come together into almost more like a video game aesthetic. You know, I don't know whether that's machinima per se. But it's, it's using that kind of visual language of video games. As a way to think about often speculative futures and virtual worlds and different ways of living. They seem to be all kind of quite tied up. And also Yeah, the problematics of capitalism, I think I think a lot of plays, is wrapped up in, in, in the kind of video game space, I think it's a very I think for some people, it's a very seductive space because it's, you know, you don't need actual materials, you just need access to the technology, so it doesn't have so much so many overheads. So it's like, it's quite an accessible medium. If, if you've got like, if you're an art school, then they have computers, so then they can use them. And I think, I think the big, kind of, I think the big schism that exists within that world is between the people who use the aesthetic, but don't kind of make the make the visuals. So they they're using it more like as a director, so they'll say, they'll say to kind of a 3d artists, right, oh, this, this, this, you know, it's gonna look super shiny. month later, they come back, it's like, here's a film and like kind of them, they do their thing to turn it into their art. And then you've got also then the kind of the other side, which is people who are just completely tinkering with, like, how I know how a Wii controller works. And then kind of turning that hat. Now, what can I do kind of a scrolling, shoot 'em up game using this particular technology? And I'll make it all about. Yeah, black trans lives inside this space. And it kind of it all works, it feels like it's very much from within, it's like, is it from within the machine or kind of from outside the machine? It's like, kind of these two sides to it. I think that's, that's kind of the very different approaches that I think can end up with sometimes kind of similar aesthetic, but they come from very different places. And yeah, I mean, I'm someone who is very hands on, it's, I think I'm mostly, I would say a post production artist. I'm working most, mostly with things like After Effects, you know, like me, using Grand Theft Auto is difficult, like, like, I would say, Unreal Engine is like very much a post production kind of, you know, it's not me making everything in Blender, and then kind of making a world that is entirely mine. It's more I'm interested in working with the found objects that exist there and kind of playing with that aesthetic, and kind of how you can put things together into interesting kind of combinations. So yeah, that's, that's where I kind of stand inside it. This is kind of Yeah, post production person.

Tracy Harwood 1:02:50
And have you got any, I was just gonna say, because we've been going for quite a while now. And I have to say, I do think the comments that I started with describing you both as an artist and a nerd are probably spot on. I think you've, I think you've demonstrated that. What I was gonna ask though. Have you got any words of wisdom for people looking to explore machinima through their arts practice? You know, what, if you had started again, what would you what would you say?

David Blandy 1:03:28
Golly, I guess I would say, don't be afraid of it, I think is a really exciting space. I think it's it, you know, there's both the possibility for making almost like sketchbook works, where it's like, you just make a simple intervention into something. And it becomes an interesting piece. Like, there's that piece of work where someone just had a deer running around Grand Theft Auto Five, and that was the work was like just following the deer as it kind of got into various scrapes. You know, that is, it's really, really simple, but very direct. And then also, you know, but then you can get into these things really, super deeply. And, and yeah, start working with video games properly, like, like making making your own games or making entire spaces. You know, I think it's it's a very flexible space, you can both approach it with almost no knowledge, but also kind of go into it so deeply that you're kind of in total control of this thing. So I think I think it's incredibly exciting space still, and it's actually very accessible. It's not, you know, I think, maybe 10 years ago, it would have been more tricky. You could have done you know, some machinima would have been possible, but maybe some of the more Unreal Engine Unity type stuff would be much more difficult, but now it's become much more like user friendly and if possible and then you can kind of mix in things like I'd know lidar scans of stuff or like found objects as you know, people have created massive array of things to that you can populate a world with. So yeah, it's it's really like a big sandbox right now.

Tracy Harwood 1:05:21
Brilliant. Brilliant. On that very note, then David, let me say thank you so much for being part of today's podcast. It's been such a delight talking to you. I'm sure Ricky's gonna be dead jealous. Thanks very much.

David Blandy 1:05:38
Yeah, it's been an honour. Thank you so much for having me on.

Tracy Harwood 1:05:40
You're very welcome. You take care

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