Digital pictures, parallel play

Serendipity is defined as “the art of inventing by paying attention to what surprises and imagining a relevant interpretation”. This is exactly what happened to Swiss artist Pascal Grec when he dived into video games. Death Stranding (Kojima Productions and Sony) during the pandemic.

Pascal Greco started as a filmmaker and branched out into architectural photography. He worked a lot in Asian cities. He planned a third trip to Iceland in March and April 2020 to continue work begun with an art book. Cliché no. (Jane & Jeremy) 2013

A new closure in Switzerland has interrupted an aesthetic tourism project. the gamer therefore, he invested the money from the trip in the purchase of the Nintendo Switch console, PlayStation 4 and games deadly strandingwhich will take place in the near future in the United States.

The impression of déjà vua that was felt when looking at the cover swelled from the first dives into the virtual display of a courier on a motorcycle in a natural landscape. A closed connoisseur, he recognized Iceland, which was captured by the game’s production teams in order to serve as an environment for post-apocalyptic America.

The player then mistakenly pressed a button on his controller and launched a screenshot. Serendipity acted immediately and Pascal Greco envisioned a “relevant interpretation”.

“I had to be in Iceland and in fact, somewhere, I was there while I was in my living room,” said the artist who joined in Geneva. I continued the game while I was very careful about the sets. I was fascinated when I saw how the designers pushed the details. I was able to play for hours focused on action while watching the landscape shoot pictures. »

In short, the artist invented “attention”. Pascal Greco explored other features to adjust the depth of field of a still image, modify saturation, eliminate characters, or select the type of camera, including Polaroid, his favorite format. The result was a book entitled seat (s)including 57 photographs and an exhibition that opened on June 17 in Geneva.

“Realism is astounding,” says Pascal Greco. Of course, some gossip might say that a screenshot, it is not a photograph. It would be wrong. There is much more than just a screenshot. We really move in the virtual world and choose the parameters. I framed my virtual pictures as I would on the spot in Iceland. »


This work belongs to a certain genre that bears several names (fot in the game, virtual photography…). Players have been taking screenshots and sharing their pictures online for two decades. All action game franchises now include a screen capture mode. The London Games Festival organized a competition and an exhibition of virtual photos taken from the games in April.

“It’s a turnaround I couldn’t have foreseen,” admits Professor Carl Therrien, of the Department of Art History and Film Studies at UdeM, a specialist in video game history. Players who have playful, interactive and impressive challenges “retreat” towards a more contemplative way, ultimately the practice of virtual tourism. Virtual photography becomes like a parallel game: when you are tired of playing Great theft Car, you can just walk through the virtual universe, paint and share them. »

This game is part of a list of ten virtual universes that are the most (say) Instagramable. However, artistic appropriation in the Greek style signals something other than virtual tourism. American Cory Arcangel (born 1978) was a pioneer of this practice Super Mario clouds (2002) which represents the sky, clouds, but no other element of classic decor, perhaps by hacking a chip. Belgian Wim Delvoye transposed the frozen frames into bas-relief. The pictures he provided counter strike i Fortnite (2018) were carved with an electronic milling machine to fossilize, mineralize, and immortalize digital images.

These borrowings and quotes generate many fundamental questions about the nature of art, the relationship to the real and the virtual, the quote, inspiration or copyright, but also about video games as art in itself. the game artor the art of play, includes all the visual elements that ultimately make up play, from characters through objects to an urban or natural environment.

“We must not dwell on the recoveries of renowned artists who may have made the last two decades of institutional recognition of video games as art invisible,” he said, pointing to a dozen games that were integrated into the New York Museum of Modern Art in 2012. “Of course, like cinema, it is a cultural industry and not everything has to be raised to the level of art. »

Experts are trying to transform the game to its essence, to its purity. She suggests from UdeM that it be made “impure art par excellence, symbiotic language of all other arts, art of intermediality par excellence”. Use the definition from the exhibition catalog Video games The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which was presented just before the pandemic, making video games a total art, and Total artwork according to the German name XIXe century often applied to opera.

“Making games combines everything that is difficult in building infrastructure such as bridges and everything that is difficult in composing an opera,” reads the text of the museum catalog. The games are operas made with bridges. »

Bruno Gauthier Leblanc, artistic director of the creator of the game Eidos, has just created Guardians of the Galaxy, published in October. He explains that he usually relies on haute couture, sculpture or architecture to create a virtual world. He never tries to reproduce the “opera bridges” that already exist in his world, but yes Marvel Guardians of the Galaxyhe found references in art and illustration in the 1990s using pioneering 3D programs, “very innocent, very simple,” he says, embracing the formula of retro-digital style.


Professor Therrien is also preparing an exhibition called for the middle of September, at the crossroads of art and science at his university Retro-lucidity on the re-use of previous video game practices ( retrogaming), a large nostalgic movement that is currently in vogue.

“In this niche, video games mostly communicate with other media, such as photography and cinema,” he explains.

Grand Theft Auto largely draws from the cinematic universe. Max Payne takes over the world of action cinema from Hong Kong. Red Dead Redemption is largely inspired by westerns and offers in his second opus photo mods that existed in the late 19th centurye century.

“The game is really a place of intermediality,” the professor summed up, citing these examples. It also reminds us that cinema and television draw inspiration from this total art by offering intricate narratives (Russian dolls, Edge of Tomorrow), first-person narrativesRussian coffin, Saul’s son) or even media coverage of video gamesElephant).

“I don’t want to be quoted as saying that the great art of cinema mimics the great art of video games,” says the expert. I note that in modern commercial logic, imitating a game in format and image becomes a marketing argument. »

The idea of ​​creating for total group art pleases the artistic director of Eidos. Yes, of course, there is his personal artistic touch everywhere, but the amount seems much bigger than the contribution itself. “It’s a huge team effort,” he said. Some smaller games are developed by one artist. But Eidos can have 200 employees on the project. We all contribute and we all adapt. »

His team has just hired an architect to join former photographers and film defectors. Parallels between 10e and 7e he also enjoys art.

The initial idea for a new project usually comes from the creative director, a bit like the director. The concept was developed to define spatio-temporal anchors and narrative arc. The artistic director and his artists then create characters and sets, a “bible” of visual reference. All these clearing works require about a year of production. “I don’t work in a vacuum,” explains Mr. Gauthier Leblanc. I am still in contact with the directors gameplay or levels. »

This community signature may partly explain the artistic director’s stance regarding the appropriation and misuse of game images by artists. His last great work of total art, Guardians of the Galaxyoffers a photographic feature like other Eidos games for several years.

“Drawing inspiration from our paintings to draw something new from them, I think it’s a reward for my work,” he says. It’s a bit like when everyone starts photographing a new building signed by an architect. It is a proof of love and it is a practice that makes the original product even more famous. »

So why not use this vein? In 2010, Ubisoft exhibited works on paper taken from the game in a gallery in Montreal Assassin’s Creed. Surely there would be a market for these paintings in a world where the most ordinary digital creations can be sold for wealth. By the way, Pascal Greco does not sell paintings deadly stranding (except for the already exhausted draw which was used to finance philanthropic activity).

The artistic director of Eidos saw a research exhibition in the gallery (“it was brilliant”) and admits that he would like to see works from his games in the gallery, specifying that the commercial aspect does not concern him. Linda Duchaussoy, director of communications and engagement at Eidos, honestly answers that there are no plans for commercial exploitation of game image derivatives. “We don’t want to go there,” she said succinctly.

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