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Video Game-Inspired Art Comments on Militarism

Baden Pailthorpe’s digital media works are glossy, hyperreal and unsettling.
September 11, 2015, 6:30am

Excerpt from 'HGU-55/P (2013)' by Baden Pailthorpe, courtesy the artist and Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney

Baden Pailthorpe grew up playing video games, and now, flash forward a few decades, they’ve become integral to his work as an artist. Based in Sydney, Baden has shown work all over the world (Paris’ Centre Pompidou, for example) and in 2013 he was the first artist to receive a residency at the Australian War Memorial. A perfect fit, given that much of his work is concerned with militarism and its associated technologies and politics. Glossy, engaging and hyperreal, his digital media artworks make commentaries on military aggression, often using the very tools of these institutions (such as hacked war simulators and training programs) to do so. We caught up with the artist to find out about his interest in exploring military themes and why his latest work involves a dolphin.

Excerpt from 'MQ-9 Reaper I (2014)' by Baden Pailthorpe, courtesy the artist and Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney

The Creators Project: Why does your practice focus on militarism? Is there a personal connection there?

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Baden Pailthorpe: As a media artist, I’ve always been interested in the history of the technologies I use to make artworks. Most of these have some basis in the military, including the most ubiquitous tools we use every day—screens, GPS, the Internet. At the same time, the world seems to becoming increasingly militarised, not only through international conflicts, but also in domestic spaces. The increasingly militarised police forces in the US and Australia are two obvious examples of this. Growing up playing video games was certainly influential [to my art practice]; games that are very effective tools for training and warfare. But overall, I'm interested in exploring the way these technologies shape our experience of the world, so it’s impossible to ignore the history, politics and cultures of technology.

'Formation (difference and repetition) III' (2011) by Baden Pailthorpe, courtesy the artist and Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney

Is your view of militarism ultimately optimistic or pessimistic?

I'm certainly pessimistic about the way we seem to be headed. Militarism in all its forms is mainly concerned with the use of violence to achieve political goals. My work seeks to critically present some of the ways that this power operates, to render the invisible visible in different ways.

How do you use military training simulation software in your work?

I've used military simulators as a site for the creation of artworks, such as my early series ‘Formation’. I'm often interested in working inside systems and finding strange glitches or artefacts that expose some of the assumptions or limitations of that system. I like to use things in ways that are not intended, to see what happens when you push a system to its limits, or fold it back in on itself. All spaces—both digital and real world—are highly conditioned and political. Video games and simulators are very rich sites for critical engagement, although I haven't been using them in my work for a few years now.

Excerpt from 'F-35 (Seaquest)' (2015) by Baden Pailthorpe, courtesy the artist and Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney

Can you tell us a bit about your ‘F-35 (Seaquest)’ work? What’s the concept behind it and why did you decide to use the dolphin? 

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‘F-35 (Seaquest)’ is my most recent 3D animation. It follows on from a series I did on the MQ-9 Reaper drone and broadly fits into my interest in 'military atmospheres'. This is a pretty complex topic, but it is essentially about the way the military cultivates and operates in between different kinds of space, both physically and metaphorically. The military's use of animals in conflict is well-documented, but the US and Russian Navy's use of dolphins is ridiculous. At the same time, the US military invests in planes like the F-22 that were suffocating pilots, and the F-35 whose helmet (featured in this animation), is custom built for each pilot and is supposed to make the plane 'disappear', giving the pilot a mediated and heightened sense of space. ‘F-35 (Seaquest)’ unites some of these elements into a singular, surreal space. Australia has committed to buy a number of the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, a plane that is so absurd that it has been plagued by problems. This animation proposes impossible solutions to some of these problems.

Do you have any plans to venture into virtual reality?

Definitely, I'm looking at all kinds of things at the moment.

'Cadence II' (2013) by Baden Pailthorpe, courtesy the artist and Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney

Baden Pailthorpe is represented by Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney. He is showing his work ‘F-35 (Seaquest)’(2015) at Sydney Contemporary, which runs until September 13. Find out more about the fair here and visit the artist’s site here.

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