Georgie Roxby Smith
Interview by Matteo Bitanti
Georgie Roxby Smith works across a range of disciplines exploring new pathways between virtual and physical worlds. Employing a variety of tools - including 3D graphics, live performance, shared virtual and gaming spaces, installation and projection - these works explore the increasingly blurred border between identity, materiality, reality, virtuality and fantasy in contemporary culture. In 2010 Georgie was selected for The Watermill Center Spring Residency Program, NY, by an international selection committee of cultural leaders including Marina Abramović, Alanna Heiss & Robert Wilson. In 2011 Georgie completed her MFA at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne. Since 2012 Georgie has been focusing on gender representation and violence in video games, particularly that directed towards women on screen and in online communities. Georgie has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally including Art in Odd Places, New York, (where her work was featured in Time Out NY), Prospectives International Festival of Digital Art Nevada, Game Art Festival at Hammer Museum Los Angeles, Gamerz Festival (FR), Festival Miden (GR) and Generation i.2 - Aesthetics of the Digital in the 21st Century at Edith Russ Huas for Media Art (DE). Other highlights include curating and showing in NOW13:New Media Art Now, Substation Contemporary Art Prize and Self Help at Rawson Projects Brooklyn, curated by Jocelyn Miller (MoMa PS1). Most recently, in 2015, Georgie showed at Strafsachengalerie in Austria , QUT Art Museum, James Makin Gallery and Data Flow: Digital Influence at Town Hall Gallery in Melbourne.
In this interview artist Georgie Roxby Smith talks to artist Matteo Bitanti about her artistic influences, a machinima based practice and her work within the game world of Grand Theft Auto V. It was originally published on GAMESCENES.
Matteo Bittanti: Can you briefly describe your education?
Georgie Roxby Smith: After finishing secondary school I studied Media Arts, specializing in animation and sound art before I returned to study at the University of Melbourne, Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts as a postgraduate student. I completed a Master’s of Contemporary Art and then Master’s of Fine Art (by research) specializing in mixed reality, idealized selves, and how we role-play the self online.
M: Can you name some influences - not necessarily artistic ones - that played a key role in your evolution as an artist?
G: When I started working in the digital medium, it was not a big scene here in Australia yet, so meeting digital artists IRL at the Watermill Center in New York and travelling to Nevada to take part in Perspectives International Festival of Digital Art curated by game art pioneer Joseph De Lappe was an incredible experience. Meeting and working with my digital peers from across the globe in the one space for the first time (a number of whom I later brought together for a group show here in Melbourne “New Media Art NOW” in 2013) was pivotal. Having curators like you, bringing together artists and creating a virtual gallery and discussion space through your GameScenes blog continues to be a great inspiration.
M: When and why did you begin using video games in your practice?
G: I had been working with virtual worlds and materiality in my studio research during my Master’s but the more I delved into the work, the more it became about the self, role play, and how we perform online. I began experimenting with interventions, glitches and the insertion of ‘the other” into the virtual norm. Rediscovering the video game landscape in 2012 after years away (which may as well be eons in video game world!) was a key moment in my practice. Immersing myself as audience/player, the possibilities of the medium and my concerns with gaming culture (both onscreen and off) emerged and the work generated itself naturally out of those provocations.
Georgie Roxby Smith, 99 Problems [WASTED], 2014.
HD digital video with sound.
Courtesy of the artist.
M: Digital games often create parallel, alternative experiences for its users. How do you relate to the complex relation between reality and simulation? How do you address this tension through your work?
G: As technology advances, we are increasingly living in multiple realities at once. For a long time we have had one hand in the digital and the other in the real but it’s the slippage in between that has always interested me – how much we invest in our virtual selves and avatars, the physical and neurological connections between us and “it”, mirrored and glitched real and virtual environments. My installation work Reality Bytes attempted to address this by layering multiple realities, audiences and performances in a myriad of spaces in one time. Since then it has been a process of stripping back and isolating those moments and experiences. The tensions vary with each work – viewers know the protagonist is a “bunch of pixels” yet by repeating and looping acts of violence, as in 99 Problems [WASTED] for example, I create an unease in the viewer. In this work, the viewer's discomfort is amplified by injecting a juxtaposition of humor and a rhythmic soundtrack, courtesy of the suicide gun, that carries the viewer almost jauntily through the work.
M: The creative opportunities afforded by machinima are greatly constrained by existing copyright law, which prohibits many possible uses, including commercial purposes. What’s your take on the paradoxical nature of this art form?
G: I’m not overly concerned with machinimas limitations as I am not driven by commerciality, rather the best medium to convey the work’s concept – and in this case the concept is embedded in the medium itself.
M: Do you agree that machinima has democratized the art making process? Has it lowered the entry barrier for creators of video art, as some critics argue?
G: As a contemporary artist, I value concept and aesthetic equally, I don’t necessarily relate the majority of machinima with art making. That argument could be (and was) just as easily applied to the photography/painting debate. I don’t think artists and critics should be elitist about the medium – if the medium is the best vehicle for the work, the importance should be placed on the work being executed well both in thought and materiality.
M: How do video game aesthetics affect the overall impact of your work? What comes first, the concept or the medium?
G: For me, immersive and critical play generates the concept. That said my new body of work is sculpturally based, concept definitely lead in that case.
Georgie Roxby Smith, Lara Croft, Domestic Goddess I & II, 2013.
HD digital video with sound.
2 min 14 sec
Courtesy of the artist.
M: In your artwork 99 Problems [WASTED] how and why do you use this particular video game?
G: Grand Theft Auto comes pre-loaded with preconceptions of hyper-violence from both players and the wider community – some true, some way off the mark. The interesting thing of course, particularly in the multiplayer platform, is that the use of these violent actions (and how far they are taken) is completely up to the player. Like Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm 0, the audience (or player) drives the act and its level of severity and subsequent consequences. Being open world and dense in its environment and modability – and with these embedded nuances in-game and out - Grand Theft Auto V was the perfect platform for this work.
M: Do you think that the video game aesthetic is the more suitable one to gain attention to gender issues and to the perception of women in our society?
G: The medium has been an important tool to demonstrate my artistic concepts and feminist ideals through the de-contextualisation of female protagonists who “exist” within this illusionary world yet represent a greater and more concerning overriding culture. Since creating these works, these concerns have been aired on a wider platform through the efforts of Anita Sarkeesian and are therefore now very much in the public consciousness. As an artist, exploring and teasing out societal glitches that perhaps go unnoticed in the everyday, the wider understanding of these issues signifies to me a moment for my practice to move on and into new spheres – whether or not that includes new mediums.
Georgie Roxby Smith, Your Clothing is Still Downloading, 2011.
Courtesy of the artist.
Matteo Bittanti is an interdisciplinary artist based in San Francisco and Milan. His practice is located at the intersection of gaming, film, and the web. Bittanti's conceptual works have been exhibited in the United States, Canada, England, Australia, Mexico, Scotland, Australia, France, and Italy. Since 2012, he has been collaborating with Colleen Flaherty as COLL.EO. His curatorial practice includes exhibitions in both Europe and the United States, including GAME VIDEO/ART. A SURVEY (2016, with Vincenzo Trione), TRAVELOGUE (2016), and ITALIANS DO IT BETTER!! (2011, with Domenico Quaranta in the Fringe events of the Venice Biennale). As a scholar, he conducted fearless research at UC Berkeley, fought technological determinism at Stanford University, understood the difference between critical theory and hypocritical theory, social practice and social justice while performing as an Adjunct Professor at California College of the Arts. He lives in San Francisco and Milan.