Trained as a sculptor and influenced by the likes of Ann Hamilton and Marina Abramovic, Brody Condon uses game development technology as the raw material for his art, modifying games technically and visually to create works that are at once profound and playful.
In 1999 Condon produced the influential Adam Killer, which used a series of modifications on the best-selling first-person shooter game Half-Life to create a work in which digital avatars resembling his friend Adam were murdered en masse in a kaleidoscopic rampage. Sophisticated and a bit silly, Adam Killer highlighted the absurdity of digital bloodlust while offering a sly commentary on our ability to separate images of violence from their original context and meaning in the larger world. Condon continued to borrow from bloody games in subsequent projects like Waco Resurrection (2003), the game re-creation of the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas (made in collaboration with the Los Angeles-based collective C-Level), and Karma Physics (2004), which transformed the shooter game Unreal (2003) into a pink fog of floating, twitching Elvis Presley bodies, projected from a small pink computer. The convulsions of “Elvii” were controlled by the same computer code used to simulate the motions of a game character dying.
For Condon, the playful, cheeky, and sometimes bloody language of gaming is an “immediately accessible tool for cultural criticism.” But he sees his work as rooted far more firmly in the history of performance art than in the burgeoning field of video and new media art. Years before he began modifying video games, Condon created what he called “semi-ritualistic repetitive motion performances.” What he’s done with these digital works is, as he put it, “to simply exchange my body for those in the games.”
In his Creative Capital project, Youth of the Apocalypse, Condon continues to mold the material of games into ingenious new works of art. Crossbreeding the visual style of late-Medieval northern European religious painting with the pyrotechnics of current computer games, the ambitious series will feature four reinterpretations of prominent paintings, beginning with resurrection and baptism scenes by painters Dirk Bouts and Gerard David, and culminating in a recreation of Hans Memling’s triptych, The Last Judgment (1467-1471). Displayed as projections from a custom computer, each re-creation updates its originator’s apocalyptic vision as an animated scene that changes in real time. In the final piece, to be completed in fall 2007, three projectors will present the Day of Judgment—corpses ascending to heaven or being dragged to Hell—as a live process, where weather-effects, bodily movements and other elements are changed procedurally by a gaming engine. Modifying not just game technology but the paintings themselves, Condon will generate new images—rather than appropriating them, as he’s done in previous projects—that draw on the fantastical elements in both visual genres. The results are striking. DefaultProperties();, the first project in the series (presented in 2006 at Museum Het Domein, Netherlands), is a mesmerizing re-creation of Gerard David’s baptism scene and portrays barely perceptible movement of the characters and their environment, pulling viewers into a fanciful, yet familiar, moment of transcendence now filled with anxiety.
Condon’s fascination with late 15th-century European religious paintings may seem an odd match for his artistic medium and cultural milieu, but for him it makes perfect sense. Having lived the past few years in the Netherlands, where he had access to the original paintings, Condon came to see that these works have influenced the visual style of games and fantasy art, and that the apocalyptic thinking they reflect has greatly influenced current political discourse. “I found that this period was so relevant for understanding contemporary American culture,” he explained. “The references to monsters and wars, the emergence of literal readings of the Bible, the distrust of science, the faith in religious structures to solve our problems—this type of pre-modern thinking is rooted in the late-medieval period in northern Europe.” By drawing attention to the historical roots of such overheated end-of-days rhetoric, Condon hopes to highlight how this seemingly anachronistic line of thought “helped build Modern thinking, but is currently dissolving it.”
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