dimanche 16 février 2020

Lucila Mayol

Lucila Mayol is a young contemporary artist that I discovered totally by chance on a Facebook group dedicated to interactive fiction; she was looking for beta-testers, and I volunteered, I don't know why – I was a bit out of charity, no doubt, expecting something inept and unplayable, as is unfortunately often the case.

I quickly realized I was wrong: from the very first minutes, No Sign Should Remain Inert plunged me into an abyss of perplexity, uneasiness and fascination. I have already talked about it on this blog, in my post entitled A comfortable Hell:

It's like going through someone else's memories. A childhood home plunged into darkness – perhaps the darkness of the memory that is lacking – where one wanders without knowing why, and whose rare objects, the rare decorative elements are charged with a mysterious sadness – perhaps the sadness of the revelation that is coming. We are visited by vague memories, voices and snippets of phrases that come back, sometimes about banalities – an Asterix comic strip – that reinforce this bittersweet impression of summer reverie (the dark house overlooks a light-flooded garden, where one is trying to get out) and of a tomb. I have many such childhood memories. Real memories or memories of dreams – including a recurring one that still makes me uncomfortable thirty years later. I wake up in the apartment, obviously alone. It's very dark but I don't know if it's day or night. I move around as best I can, in my room, then into the corridor, then into the kitchen, groping around, and when I flip the switch, nothing happens. The light doesn't come on. And I understand in this dream, even as a child, that this is not a simple power cut. Something in the whole universe, in reality itself, has changed. In a variant of the same dream, the switch works, but the light bulb emits only a very weak, yellowish light, and I understand here too that this is not just a simple technical problem – the light itself, the Light with a big L, is somehow diminished.

Lucila Mayol is a neophyte and her game, designed to be integrated into an installation (see above), has a number of bugs and clumsiness. It is moreover written in a sometimes approximate English. But these imperfections are nothing compared to the evocative power of the writing and the staged environment.

I will publish here, later, my own transcripts. In the meantime, Lucila has agreed to answer a few questions:


Can you introduce yourself, and your work ?

I am an artist living in Bergen, Norway since a couple of years, I am from Argentina. I was educated as visual artist and cinematographer, but in the past few years my practice has been opening to not so conventional formats, varying according to the main aim of each project.

"Educated as a visual artist" – what did you study and where ? what's your cursus ?

I did a Bachelors in Fine Arts at the National University of Arts (UNA), and another sort-of-bachelors in Cinematography at the National School of Cinema Realization and Experimentation (ENERC) both in Buenos Aires, some years later I came to Norway and graduated from the Master in Arts from the University of Bergen.
I started studying painting, but was mainly drawing, and then when I was studying cinematography I started to include photographs into my drawings, on the side of working for short documentary and fiction films.

I am part of some collectives, TEXSTgroup, which is dedicated to text, and Turbida Lux which uses archives, photographs, films and other media.

My last couple of works (without distinguishing individual or collective) include a small theater piece, an interactive fiction computer game, some publications and art books, and a 30 minutes film.

In my work I usually use materials from the past, old photographs, old texts, old computer games, old vhs tapes, film (which is not necessary old, but is not so commonly used nowadays). It is like revisiting different moments to re-interpret what is concealed in the material and create a new fictional world around its imagery.

Can you tell me more about this theater piece ?

Sure, Introspection Cabin is based in a box of slide photographs of a family with four integrants on their holidays in different locations. From the observation of this pictures, and some research in different archives in Buenos Aires, we found a manual for Navy personnel, in which every behaviour and every task, every role in the hierarchy is ruled and organised, and every location in a vessel has a function and a person whose role is attached to its function. We related this role and function structure with the roles that are asigned socially to a standard family, where everyone has an assigned role and function (in the theory). We transformed the text of the book from a manual for the navy to a manual of the family, and that is the script of the piece. The audience is conducted one by one in a line to their seats and given a copy of the Manual for the Family, one sailor reads the text from a stand while the sldes from the family are displayed matching each article of the script.

The scene is meant to look like a staff briefing, where one gets the instruction for the navigation of the family vessel.

These old photographs you use... are they yours ? From your own life ? Or do you use found material ?

Depends on the project, I have some photographs from my own family, taken mostly by my grandfather, but I also have pictures found in flea markets, donations from friends, and from institutions, but I also use archives and museums. It all depends on the theme and the ideas.

When did you discover Interactive Fiction ? Lots of authors started playing that kind of games when they were teenagers, or even kids. Is that your case ? Or is it a recent discovery for you ?

I used to play a lot of computer games as a kid, I specially liked visual adventure games, which can be the heirs of IF if you wish, but no, I didn’t play any IF as a kid or even as a teen.

It was a couple of summers ago, in Bergen, that it was so rainy for several days and I was so bored that I decided todo some retro-gaming, so I was looking for some of the games I used to play. Then, I think it was through C-64 emulator which had a browser for games, that I stumbled with the title A Dark Sky Over Paradise for C-64, and I felt immediately attracted to download and play that game. When the blue screen loaded and it was just text I felt a bit lost, but with a trial and error method I could learn how to play it (I lost and had to restart do many times). It was fantastic! At the same moment I was struggling with some ideas that I was ruminating for a project, but I wasn’t able to find them a shape or an outcome until that moment.

I started playing a lot of IF games in the different formats, clicking, and writing and dragging, with and without images, etc. It became like a research project into which was the better format to adapt my idea to it, and to have fun at the same time.

Do you think and/or hope that interactive fiction can become more « arty » in the future, I mean, less used for pure games and more in an experimental manner and introduced in the world of art and exhibitions ? As a new artistic medium in itself, like painting, videos, photo and so on ?

I think it can become something else, and there are some more “experimental” games around, like the tribute to Anchorhead (Cragne Manor), Harmonia, or Photopia, which besides being games, explore something else too or use different aesthetic resources.

But I’m not sure how it would be received in the world of art and exibitions, as IF in its more traditional way can be quite demanding for the public, in terms of having to sit down and read and interact for a while to be able to get something from it, and some of the art world is now driven towards specularity and impact, and a passive spectator… But I guess is also a tool for an artist, and it can definitely be a medium, so I don’t now, I hope it can be recognized as such at some point.

Can you cite a few computer games you liked as a kid / teen and that may have influenced your work (in general, not only regarding No Sign...) ?

I liked very much Grim Fandango, that I played not long ago when it was remastered. I liked adventure games like Broken Sword, Carmen Sandiego. I remember some very old platformers like Prehistoric, Fairy Godmom. Or some strategies like Starcraft or Age of Empires.

I think they all somehow influence my work, and even life, like Tetris, that you end up organising your luggage fitting stuff in every small hole without leaving a single empty space.

Why did you choose Inform 7 and to make a parser game ?

I think it was a practical necessity, I wanted to have a parser game where multiple roads could be taken to achieve the objectives, and I also wanted the player to write in order to advance in the game, as I felt it makes them more engaged, and forces you to pay attention to what are the signs in the previous paragraphs that might be giving you a clue to continue the game.

Other platforms for parser games were not so easy to use in my computer, so Inform ended up being the more open, the one who could give me the possibilities I wanted, and also a practical choice.

I had to learn whatever platform I was to use, so Inform was quite accesible in terms of the documentation and the manuals and the forums. I got some help with the programming from Joey Jones, who was there every time I was stuck with impossible things, making them possible.

Without spoiling too much, what is "No sign... " about ?

Well, it is somehow a roaming around my grandparent’s house, through its history. As many years were overlapped, and reinterpreted or recreated from memory. I was trying to picture in my mind every element in each room, but also trying to create a challenging game and an interesting atmosphere for the reader. Maybe it was a little bit too ambitious, as my plan was to make a small game but as I was adding more rooms (because the house used to be a hotel before the town went into almost disappearance) the game became massive.

It is mainly about the atmosphere and how the memory transforms and recreates a reality to please us.

The main point, as the title suggests is that by discovering small objects or spaces you unlock access to other rooms or situations, at the same time you lock some other rooms, or the rooms get changed.

It has an end, but it is not really necessary to reach it to experience the environment.

There is not much to do in the game and the few narrative parts, strictly speaking, are very cryptic, but as a player I immediately felt very engaged and it was also pretty intense, on an emotional side. There is a kind of terrible sadness that emanates from the descriptions, the memories...

It is mostly about walking around and feeling the space. There are some puzzles to be solved, but are mainly about discovering the different scenes, once you have experienced all the scenes, the final one gets unlocked and the game "finishes".

It is a bit more like nostalgia, and that might be why it feels sad, it is a way for me to evoke my childhood and the vacations spent there, and of course about my grandparents who lived there.

Are there fantastical elements in the game, or is it a dream ? Or maybe are we dead ? Who is the character, actually ? Is it a person, or just an abstract look ?

We are not dead that is for sure, aren’t we?

There are some fictional rather than fantastical elements, even if it can be not absolutely realistic, I wouldn’t say it is fantastical, but I guess that is subjective too, and the reader could experiment some fantasy in there too.

The character is each of the players, it can be a person, but more like an abstract entity… The player, as described in the game wears some clothes that they don’t remember wearing before, and that is an example of the abstractness of the character, and it is gender neutral, and quite open, the clothes are not yours and so on. I don’t know if that makes sense for anyone else than me, but it seemed quite logical at the moment when I was writing it.

Can you tell me about the installation in which you used the game ?

Yes, It was part of my graduation show, in a quite big gallery space with my classmates. I was planning to make something intimate and to somehow separate the spectator from the other stimuli from the adjacent works, so I was planning a very loaded and ambitious installation emulating a teenager bedroom in the 80s, like a timewarp. Finally through a depuration process all the ‘decoration’ was not necessary anymore, as it was taking the attention out from the important thing which was the game and the text and its atmosphere, and all in all was becoming another project, where the computer was more like an accessory to an epoch.

I don't know if you play interactive fictions on different kinds of machines, but would you say that playing an I.F on a desktop computer is the "real" experience ? More than playing it on a smartphone, for example ?

I am not sure, I sometimes play it in a tablet too, I find the telephone too small, and I find it more practical to type with a keyboard, but I wouldn’t say that one is more real than the other… for me IF is about creating the story and the images in your head, and you can do that from every screen size I guess, it just varies the facility to write...

The installation consisted in a very simple desk that I took from my studio at the school, plain, white, very boring, a desk lamp, as the work was located in one of the darker rooms with other pieces, an all-in-one computer with a keyboard and two chairs, as it is always better to play computer games with another human being, at least for me, it is nice to try to find an answer together, and it worked quite well during the exhibition period, as many people were playing together.

The last part of the installation were the elements of a publication, spread on the table, the feelies in the Infocom jargon: a map of the house, an instruction manual that I designed using architectural patterns taken from some old Letraset (those old dry-transfer sheets with textures and symbols or elements), all printed in Risograph, and a set of black and white hand printed photographs, taken from negatives that I found at my grandparent’s house, but processed with the enlarged out of focus, referencing to one part in the game where you stumble with some pictures that your eyes cannot focus on.

How did the people react to that installation, including the game itself ? Have you had testimonies about their experience ?

I've had some general comments, but I think the set up, or the novelty of the format didn’t allow people to interact too much, connecting with one of the questions above, I think it can be a bit too hard on the spectator this kind of media too. But also some people really tried to spend time with it too, even if I sound contradictory, I think it depends on the people too, some will like it, and some other not. And again, the novelty of the format was something that made some people feel curious and wanting to know more.

Even having said that, people did give it a try and the education team of the gallery told me that it was one of the most visited pieces in the exhibition, especially for kids and youngsters.

The comments about the game itself were mainly about the writing being evocative, the transmission of the atmosphere, and sometimes the difficulty to get out of the bed or to understand what can actually be done and accomplished. Maybe it lacked some kind of ultimate objective or final goal.

From the 20 copies of the booklet I only have two left, we took it to some art book fairs and it was a good seller, one of the two remaining copies is the one that was in the gallery that ended up quite used… So I guess people liked it.

It would be very interesting to release a final version of the game, one day, in a box, with all these feelies for each customer. Can you imagine doing that ?

Yes, I can imagine that, at the moment there are just a few copies left from the 20 there were from the manual and the pictures as they were hand printed with an enlarger with photographic paper, and it includes a small card with the link and the QR code to fetch the game in its online and downloadable form, so it is just a matter of making more copies if there would be the demand for that…

And actually the game is in its last version at the moment as I debugged and cleared it up a little bit and simplified some of the puzzles.

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