“We work exclusively with nerds,” says Madalina Stanescu, half-joking but also dead serious about the changing state of social capital in contemporary art and beyond. The curator behind the QT, UR, EA exhibition at Berlin’s Traumabarundkino is about to realise the ambitious new project that’s been in development for the past year, and she has little doubt about where the hybrid venue’s strengths lie. “Even in club culture, there is a lot of nerdiness going on there. I mean, it’s fantastic. It’s very complex.”
Mary-Audrey Ramirez and LUKAS8K (aka Lukas Schmeck) are two of these very nerds. They’re the artists behind the QT, UR, EA exhibition, running January 17 to March 14 and incorporating a vast universe of virtual and real world elements. They’re created a space for hosting performance, motion capture and a real-time VR environment, as well as dance, sound, even permaculture, which opens with a free event on Friday night. Along with an eight-week program co-curated with Traumabarundkino and a range of other collaborators, the project is a sensory, generative endeavour working across media and disciplines. It’s an exercise in world-building, inspired by role-playing games (RPG), live action role-playing (LARP) and the fantasy genre. In creating space for escape and community, QT, UR, EA has its own roster of contributing artists and organisations, including choreographer Ali Heffetz and A/V artists bod [包家巷], Alza54 and Simon Goff. There’ll be a dynamic lecture series with independent journal and aggregator New Models and a night of programming by art space Tropez, featuring Ange Halliwell, Jan Vorisek, among other things.
“Lukas and I were thinking of having just the game mindset when we were creating this,” says Ramirez, whose Skype window appears alongside Schmeck and Stanescu’s, who’ve all convened via video chat to discuss the dense and multifaceted project that has been a year in development. Combining her background in sculpture and fabrics with Schmeck’s experience with the more technical and commercial side of CGI and VFX, the collaborative exhibition will be the first realisation of Traumabarundkino’s mission toward full-blown integration. As a multipurpose venue built on what was a parking lot in Mitte’s government district, the space is primed for this multimedia, multi-level and expansive attempt at bringing the immersive and interactive potential of open world video games into IRL space. “The events are part of the installation,” clarifies Schmeck, about the program, that will also include a mushroom workshop and feminist gaming group. “They’re not using the installation as a backdrop.”
It’s with this in mind, that that the three architects speak to AQNB about the thinking behind QT, UR, EA. Running the gamut of topics—from the contemporary gaming scene to the neoliberal problematics of nerd culture— Ramirez, Schmeck and Stanescu introduce a complex, entangled and self-critical approach to a new evolution in bringing the club and the art space together.
**Did you both play a lot of video games in the past?
Lukas Schmeck: Yeah, definitely.
LS: In general, we work the most with video game references, more than movies or other gallery artworks, in that sense; more than music references, or all these other media. I think Bloodborne is definitely a huge influence. Other than that, I think the Dark Souls games. Also just the genre of world building games and RPGs in general, with no super-specific examples but just these genres, in terms of creature design and mapping out digital and physical space.
MAR: From the cosplay scene, I’ve always been fascinated with how they try to take these elements from video games and translate it to the real physical world. There’s always a certain disappointment within that translation because, if you do a character that’s burning in the video game, you can’t do it in real life, so what material do you use to compensate for that?
I kind of like this moment where nothing is really satisfying enough with the material that is used because everything is possible in this video game world, in this 3D world. There’s no gravity, nothing. Whereas in the physical world, how do you translate these things? Also, when Lukas and I were talking about doing stuff, Lukas was like, ‘oh, this is great. We can do this and this, and I was like, ‘no, Lukas, it’s not going to work because it’s super toxic, we’re going to die if we do this!’ I really like having this disappointment, and saying, ‘what way can we translate it in the best way in a physical form, in real life?
**Also, CGI has its own limitations, where you can’t necessarily translate a real-life gesture virtually. Like, it would be impossible, or very difficult, to achieve the same texture of putting a knife through a piece of soap.
LS: This is actually quite interesting in terms of this ideal called photorealism, which is often used in the gaming industry, as well. It’s a marketing plot and a lot of developers try to make it a selling point, that the graphics are photoreal. But there’s actually more than just the textures and the models that make something photoreal. Given you achieved that, there’s still an animation component and an interaction component that is part of photorealism, which we’re actually super far from achieving, compared to textures and 3D models. If we say ‘photorealism’ and ‘digital imagery’, in CGI or in games, we almost always just mean the textures and the models, and never the interaction between characters, for example. There’s a lot more to photorealism than textures and the models themselves.
**Can you tell me something about how the limitations of IRL, as well as VR, translates into the exhibition?
LS: An interesting point, also, is that we talked about translating elements from digital space and the virtual world into a physical space. We just had a nice talk with the people from New Models yesterday, and they will actually host an event during our install period, as well as many others. They will also talk about this way of translating RPG economic models into real life, which is actually much more progressed than, let’s say for example, the material aspects that Mary was talking about.
Of course, throughout the curation, and throughout the actual work, we’re playing with this translation from real life into digital space, through the obvious things, like the motion capture suits that we’re using with performers at the opening night, as well as the finissage weekend. You don’t really get around this translation aspect, or interaction aspect anymore at all, because the techniques of generating 3D content have become more and more centred around 3D scanning, and all types of capturing—real or as physical—as possible models.
**Talking about this failure of translation, I’m also curious about how the curatorial program will be transferred into this like augmented space.
LS: Part of our work is definitely also the co-curation of the events, and I think it’s just one part of the trains of thought we’re having. The visual work is one thing, and the other part is the curation. So they don’t necessarily translate but they’re meant to be alongside each other.
MAR: I think they are more adding, rather than translating.
LS: They’re pretty much there to get you in the right headspace to then experience a very visual and a very aesthetically based project. These events function as the downloadable content, DLC [downloadable content], version of what you would get in video games. You could see that as another translation of keeping a piece of ‘content’—in quotation marks—alive over a longer period of time, and keeping people engaged with it. What you do is you actually keep on creating content, but the universe stays the same.
**Online information is only good for as long as it’s being circulated…
Madalina Stanescu: Yeah, and we want to avoid this thing—which you often have with gallery spaces—where you have like 200 people in for the opening, and then maybe somebody comes every Saturday, or something like that, and you have 300 people seeing the exhibition. We have club events where we expect from 300 to 600 people, so I think it will reach the public really well.
When you go to a club, you enter a capsule and you basically enter a world which is not real. Also raves in clubs last for 24, 48 hours because it’s a different universe, it’s a different world. You enter there and you basically forget everything that is outside. You don’t know how late it is. If it’s day. If it’s night. This is pretty much the effect this exhibition will have on its public, I believe.
**Video games are an escape. Raves are an escape. The club is an escape. It is also interesting to bring the exhibition into the mix because if there’s any situation that brings the most detachment, it’s an exhibition.
MAR: Yeah. Personally, I find it quite funny because I’m not really a club person, and I believe Lukas also. I think we would both prefer to do a LARP party than go to a club night.
MS: Me, as well.
LS: Everyone hates clubs.
MS: This is why we have an art exhibition inside a place, which is very generically called a ‘club’ because it’s boring to only see an exhibition, or only go to a club night. No matter how skilled the curation of the club night is, it is what it is —you go, it has a peak, it goes down, you go home. But the exhibition is for the moments you want to wander around during a club night. You are not constantly on the dance floor, especially if you are a frequent goer. At a point, you just want to retreat somewhere and watch something, or preoccupy your mind with something else. And when you’re on the bus home from the club at nine o’clock in the morning, you will remember, ‘I’ve seen that video from that artists, those sculptures. It was amazing. It helped me escape more.’
**Lukas and Mary, you’re arounds 10 years younger than me, and when I started writing about art, there were a lot of people drawing on DeviantArt, forums and Tumblr, stuff like that. What you’re doing is representative of a new generation of online culture. I’m interested in what that looks like. Is it pretty mainstream for people to be into stuff like gaming and LARPing, or is it still kind of an alternative culture? When I was growing up, something like Dungeons & Dragons, for example, was reserved exclusively for nerds. Is it still a nerdy thing to do?
MAR: I think it depends on the games. Video games have evolved massively, so I would compare it to reading books, or watching a movie. Whenever I meet a new person and they have a console, I will check their games. By knowing what games they play, I will know what kind of person, or character they are.
MS: It’s like looking at someone’s bookshelf.
LS: Also, nerds have pretty much taken over since the days of Dungeons & Dragons. You’ve got people like Mark Zuckerberg running the most successful companies in human history. There are all these people that would’ve been nerds in the 80s and 90s who have a lot of power and influence right now. I’m not quite sure if it’s better or worse than before.
MAR: Yeah. Also, are they still nerds then? That’s something I wonder about…
LS: Obviously, this type of nerd economy is also tying it into neoliberal ideals of being self-sufficient and self-responsible at any point in time. This is actually where I think on a large economic scale, this idea gets dangerous and it’s actually perpetuating a much worse form of capitalism than probably the pre-neoliberal one.
LS: It’s like hyperindividualism, a super high sense of self responsibility and just being detached from a community, in an economic sense. It’s actually the dark side of the ‘nerds taking over the world’ narrative.**