Prepare to Qualify | 2008 | Circuit Bent Atari->VHS->DV | 3:08
A circuit bent Atari struggles to qualify as art.
Prepare to Qualify is short video that was made on a circuit-bent Atari using Namco’s classic 1982 video game Pole Position as source material. For those unfamiliar, circuit-bending is the creative re-wiring (and short-circuiting) of low voltage electronic devices such as children’s toys and small digital synthesizers. Circuit bending is often used by artists to create new musical instruments and/or to generate new images and sounds.
The idea for the piece began when I, a low brow, self taught artist that was new to institutionalized art, was trying to come to terms with the questions like: “What is art?”, “What is the act of art making?”, and “Does breaking video game systems and playing with lo-fi electronics at the age of 28 really constitute art making?” In the video itself, a voice announces, “Prepare to Qualify”. As the light turns green, the car remains frozen in an ever changing sea of graphical hardware errors. An internalize struggle – the difficulties in moving forward to qualify as “Art.”
Prepare to Qualify uses of video games as source material, an example of “machine cinema” or machinima. The playful re-contextualization of images from Pole Position allowing the video itself to comment on the future use and the ever-growing diversity of possibilities of this still young source of found footage. Video game images often hold a significant weight for children of the ’80s due to the enormous number of hours spent attempting to conquer them. In reality, re-contextualizing these images – or in this case, re-wiring the game console – is one way to beak these games and images once and for all.
“Enns deconstructs a racing game by circuit bending an obsolete Atari console. His real goal is to question the notion of legitimacy in art. “Does this work ‘qualify’ as good or valid art?”, he ask. Does the alleged impartial, meritocratic, skill-based nature of the artworld stand a test? The ‘START’ sign loses a couple of letters and becomes ‘ART’ before imploding. The ‘race’ is clearly rigged.” – Matteo Bittanti, “Travelogue.” Travelogue Catalogue (Italy: Festivaletteratura, 2016).
Sandee Moore, “Atari Art,” Uptown Magazine (November 25, 2010).
You can’t spell Atari without art!
Winnipeg is home to a genius named Clint Enns. Except when he, in rather un-genius-like fashion, forgets to title safe his video and cuts off the first letter of his name in the credits — then he is named Lint Enns. Anyway, Enns (Clint or Lint, as the case may be), in addition to making oodles of super-smart conceptual videos from found footage, low-res cameras, self-made computer code and broken electronics, has a master’s degree in Mathematics and lists “model theory of rings and modules” among his hobbies.
His three-minute video, Prepare to Qualify, will be screening on a continuous loop at Gallery 1C03 as part of send + receive: a festival of sound until Dec. 11.
The raw material for this video piece is an Atari video game, Pole Position, that Enns admits to stealing from his cousin, then circuit bending to produce the aural and visual glitches that comprise Prepare to Qualify. Circuit bending is a process of experimentation that includes connecting parts of a commercial circuit to produce spurious signals that unlock new images and sounds. Prepare to Qualify makes connections between art, video games and destruction. Enns notes that video games have a special significance for him and those of his generation.
“Video-game images often hold a significant weight for children of the ’80s due to the enormous number of hours spent attempting to conquer them. In reality, re-contextualizing these images — or in this case, re-wiring the game console — ultimately allows us to beat these games and images once and for all.”
In a clever, nerdy display of humour, the video’s source is a racing game but the car never budges from the starting line. Instead, it is stuck in a shifting landscape of flickering pixels and dancing patterns — what Enns lyrically refers to as “graphical hardware errors” — while a computerized voice squeaks “art” when it should be intoning “start.” Enns’ work underscores the role the capitalist paradigm of competition in all aspects of our lives — from play to art-making. Instead he presents an antidote — an unwinnable, unplayable version of the game.
Deliberately provoking the screetches, squawks and blats of error, Enns orchestrates a formal improvisation of sound and image. The tape starts out slow — garbled baby talk is set against an echoey boom. Enns coaxes ever more annoying buzzing/farting noises and high-pitched electronic squeals from the Atari console, treating viewers to an psychedelic op art painting for the computer generation. Errors re-draw the scene at lightning-fast pace: the image is repeatedly scrambled into small blocks, rendering the road in a black-and-white houndstooth check, multi-coloured zig-zags or conservative brown plaid. Nearing the end of the video, the digital noise increases even more and the game-world sky comes alive with flickering horizontal bands of black and white.
Prepare to Qualify not only qualifies as good art, but takes the checkered flag!
Who Will Give Up Their Distinctions?
cheyanne turions, “Who Will Give Up Their Distinctions?,” Swarm Catalogue, (Vancouver: Cineworks Independent Filmmakers Society, 2008).
I began by asking a question and the question is what I am left with, still moving, still uncertain, vastly more complicated. A question to beget more questioning, as in, “What does it mean, this giving up of distinctions? Which distinctions? And, how to give them up?” The question was born of a gut feeling, knowing that I must question without knowing what else. I would like to have come to easy answers or simple replies, but what I am left with is, appropriately, a complicated mass that resists distillation.
What is your connection to your blood, your chromosomes, the soft matter of your flesh? My connection to my flesh is a matter of containment. I am held within a certain shape, but that shape is fundamentally distinct from my identity. My self is a composite summary of, at least, these considerations: familial intimates who do not always share a history of blood, shameful denial, small towns, big towns, champagne sky, a colourful cast of lovers, words and paper and paper and words, weight, lightness, darkness, dancing. I want to be considered nothing less than this minimal constellation of experiences and preferences. What I really want is to insist on the complexity of all this and then some. By asking who will give up their distinctions, I have at least this much to certainly say: I am not a check box.
I want to insist on our common humanity before I embrace my particularities. First, “who will give up their distinctions?” is a rallying cry to acknowledge the person, simply, prior to compartmentalizing their eccentricities or specificities. Second, “who will give up their distinctions?” is a call to arms to insist on the complexity of those distinctions, to insist that each and every one of them be accounted for in an accounting of an individual. An adequate definition of what it means to be human extends far beyond the boxes we could check if we chose to. Third, “who will give up their distinctions?” begs an accounting of privilege becoming, “who will give up their luxury to be on equal ground with every other human in the world?”1 This question about distinctions is a beginning, coming along in the midst of our history, looking forward to a future and asking what we can become.
Responding to the simplistic question of who might be willing to give up their distinctions, Debashis Sinha offers a complication of the idea that distinctions can be either embraced or given up in his video work skin (2008). Clint Enns, with his Prepare to Qualify (2008), suggests a turning-on-its-head of the whole ordeal, figuring a way to employ distinctions in the manufacture of fruitful, 21st century identities. In both cases easy understandings are challenged through the breakdown/degradation/manipulation of the images presented, leaving the viewer to ask, at the very least, “Whose skin is this?” and “Does what I am seeing qualify as art?” More important are the corollaries: How does your skin play into an understanding of another’s? What relation do abstract criteria hold to concrete things? How do we move beyond talk of our distinctions, to cultivating responses to the ideas our distinctions inevitably inform? How do we ensure respect and honour in moving from talk of distinctions to talk of ideas? How can we encourage recognition of our sameness before we begin the task of demarcation? Where am I in you?
A Response to “Who Will Give Up Their Distinctions?”
Plaidcolumn, “A Response to “Who Will Give Up Their Distinctions?‘,” Plaidcolumn (2008).
cheyanne turions raises the question, “who will give up their distinctions?” as a curatorial call and, as she states, “a rallying cry.” In her printed statement she writes, “The question begets more questioning.”
Clint Enns’s film is a pregnant pause. By altering the circuitry of an Atari road race game, and then hitting play, he captures the resultant response from the electromagnetics of the toy. What sings and dances in Prepare to Qualify is an ever-changing freeze frame, a short circuit breakdown–breakdown in the sense of an exposed anatomy. (This reminds me again of Max Dean’s exploration of mechanical implosion and rebuilding in Robotic Chair.) Enns addresses the nature of qualifiers. As turions puts it, “a way to employ distinctions in the manufacture of fruitful 21st century identities.” Videogaming is an activity that seems to always demand an explanation from the non-videogame playing populace. My game skills amount to pinball and Tetris but Q has been an ardent thumb weaver since he formed the desire to play electronic games–maybe 10 years ago. His anti-gaming uncle likes to invoke disapproving slurs like LameToy and Nofriendo, and his aunts demonize screen games and freak at the hours of game-time clocked by their teenage kids. It’s not a generation thing though. I know more than a few people my age and older who live parallel screen lives in virtual worlds. But you know this is not regarded by the current power holders as fruitful. No private activity of mental process including contemplation, meditation, computation, or fabrication is regarded as fruitful until it becomes a business plan. But getting back to the abundant fruitfulness of this project–the Atari system is an active partner playing along poetically with Enns. The game itself exercises wit flashing hounds-tooth patterns, skewed checkerboards, electrically bilious colour-schemes that would make Etienne Zack investors drool. With comic timing it textually breaks up the word “START” as “ART” and “ST” in alternating announcements. Sonically the game drones and heaves in an arrhythmic pulse. It proclaims itself as art or rather claims it’s art simply by the nudge of a copper connection.
Debashis Sinhas skin uses anatomy (which means ‘to cut up’) as well. skin is a lush and hypnotically absorbing screen of subtly shifting pixels in the interpretation of colour detailing the surface of a hand. Ambiguous forms unfold accompanied by an electronic, fluttering pulse. The piece marries skin surface with screen surface. By naming the colours on the screen, more dissection takes place.
Sight is the evidence of thermodynamics. The mind is ignited. That’s the commonality of all sighted creatures. All art actions are, by nature, unifying because of this and despite this.
Still the question remains who will give up their distinctions? Giving up can be an offering or a denial.
And here’s another response to this exhibit. Can I substitute the word affinities for distinctions? When a strategy for chance outcomes is set up using a mechanical device for the purpose of denying or affirming art making I can take a look at my affinities. I anthropomorphize the Atari game as a maker because my affinities want to look for empathy and authorship. I do this to be convivial and to participate. At the same time there’s a biochemical response to standing and watching anything with a certain amount of attention in a darkened room. There’s a biochemical response in the muscle memory and tradition of entering a darkened room in public. This isn’t so much a feeling as a mechanical reverberation. One of the things I love about technology as author is its inferred willingness to bear the mantel of creator with intent. No heart is on a sleeve. No appraisal will matter. No harm can come of it. It doesn’t seduce or hint at a biography. I’m not asked to summon my BA. It leaves me alone the way the cherry tree out this window above my monitor leaves me alone.
I read a press release that mentioned a kind of neuroses in the machine as it “tries to qualify.” As if to say: Look at how it guesses–do you like this? Is it good? Look how it asks and doesn’t just tell. And there’s a comedy there somewhere of attempt and failure but how do we assemble a perch to comfort ourselves with that kind of entertainment?
If distinctions are outlines then giving up may be a call for blurring. Not naming. No contest.
In a post-meaning art world where does that leave us? Alone?
September 25, 2021. “Prepare to Qualify.” Anniversaire pour les 50 ans de Collectif Jeune Cinéma, Cinémathèque Temporaire, Mains d’Oeuvres, Paris, France.
September 3 – October 1, 2021. Play (Online). Platform, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
September 7 – 11, 2016. “Prepare to Qualify.” Travelogue, Festivaletteratura 2016, Mantua, Italy. Curated by Matteo Bittanti.
February 22, 2014. Machiniglitch, Vector Game Art + Convergence, VideoFag, Toronto, Ontario. Curated by Isabelle Arvers).
October 9, 2013. Machiniglitch, Festival Gamerz 9, ARCADE, Aix-en-Provence, France. Curated by Isabelle Arvers.
November 23 – December 11, 2010. Prepare to Qualify, send + receive, Gallery 1C03, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
October 2, 2010. Simulatan Fetival #6, Timisara, Romania.
October 1, 2010. Run.Time & Real.Time Program I, GLI.TC/H, Chicago, Illinois.
December 4, 2009. The Medium is the Message, Trinity Lounge, Gallery Lambton, Sarnia, Ontario. Curated by Cameron Starr.
October 16, 2009. Conjunction, Westpoint Gallery, Melbourne, Australia. Curated by Michael Prior.
October 2, 2009. Electro-Projections, Electrofringe 2009, Newcastle, Australia. Curated by Michael Prior and Matthew O’Shannessy.
May 21, 2009. Vision Test, clefnb, Cleveland, Ohio.
February 3 – 14, 2009. AllArtNow 1st International Video Art Festival, Damascus and Aleppo, Syria.
September 5 – 6, 2008. Who Will Give Up Their Distinctions?, SWARM, Cineworks, Vancouver, British Columbia. Curated by cheyanne turions.
- From a conversation with Julianne Claire, 22 July 2008.