"The Night Journey" trailer
“The Night Journey is a video game/art project based on the universal story of an individual mystic's journey toward enlightenment.
Visual inspiration for The Night Journey is drawn from the prior works of Bill Viola. Narrative inspiration comes from the lives and writings of great historical figures including: Rumi, the 13th century Islamic poet and mystic; Ryokan, the 18th century Zen Buddhist poet; St. John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish mystic and poet; and Plotinus, the 3rd century philosopher. The interactive design attempts to evoke in the player's mind a sense of the archetypal journey of enlightenment through the "mechanics" of the game experience - i.e. the choices and actions of the player during the game.
The player's voyage through The Night Journey takes them through a poetic landscape, a space that has more reflective and spiritual qualities than geographical ones. The core mechanic in the game is the act of traveling and reflecting rather than reaching certain destinations - the trip along a path of enlightenment.
The game is being developed with video game technologies, but attempts to stretch the boundaries of what game experiences may communicate with its unique visual design, content and mechanics. The team has created a set of custom post-processing techniques for the 3D environment that evoke the sense of "explorable video," integrating the imagery of Bill Viola's prior work into the game world at both a technical and creative level. “
credit GameInnovationLab @ youtube
Players crossing the virtual landscape of The Night Journey encounter unsettling sights.
COURTESY BILL VIOLA AND USC GAME INNOVATION LAB
"In Bill Viola's new video game, players who slow down and relinquish control are rewarded with a spiritual journey
by Hilarie M. Sheets
The Night Journey, an experimental video game by Bill Viola, offers something quite different from the fast-paced, shoot-'em-up world of a typical video game. There are no aliens or terrorists taking aim, and if players' on-screen surrogates run too quickly in trying to advance to the game's next level, the landscape smears.
"It's a game that rewards you for slowing down and for introspection," says Viola, 59, a pioneer in the medium of video art for more than 35 years. "You're alone and you're not even told why you're there. You just fall out of the sky into the middle of this amazing landscape with mountains, sea, desert, and forest, and go wherever you want," he explains. "The more you do things mindfully, the more is revealed to you."
Gaming might seem an unlikely fit for Viola, known for installations that address life and death, consciousness and spirituality. The artist—who is graying, yet lean and youthful in jeans and a T-shirt—played video games with his kids when they were young, but he found the experience uninteresting. What did intrigue him, however, was the technology behind the games, as well as the concept of an interactive virtual realm. With the idea in mind of re-creating the experience of a journey toward enlightenment, Viola made his first attempt to develop a game with a San Francisco-based tech company a decade ago. The project petered out, because Viola felt it got mired in traditional video-game architecture.
But in 2005, one of the people he had collaborated with on the project connected him with the Game Innovation Lab, at the University of Southern California. "They were waiting for someone like me, and I was waiting for someone like them," says Viola, who lives in Long Beach, California, and conceptualizes all of his art through writing longhand in notebooks. Since then, he has brainstormed several times a year with programmers at USC to find ways of integrating images from his prior projects into a gaming environment that feels three-dimensional.
Viola wanted to model the look of his video game after his six-screen, room-size 1994 installation Pneuma, in which images emerge from and recede into shadowy surroundings. The installation was part of his recent exhibition at James Cohan Gallery in New York, "Bodies of Light," which showed works priced between $18,000 and $525,000. Pneuma was made with a black-and-white infrared surveillance camera that Viola bought for $250 at a swap meet in the late '70s. One of the video-game programmers at USC spent nine months digitally re-creating the film's grainy texture for The Night Journey's poetic landscape.
At certain points in the game, the screen goes black and the remote can no longer be used. "The idea that you have to relinquish control comes up in most spiritual traditions," says Viola, who is interested in the commonalities between Eastern and Western religions. With their power to direct the game removed, players can then sit back and watch "dreams" based on how they have moved through the game’s world up to that point. These dreams are created through a search engine, which compiles clips from Viola's archive of video work from the past 25 years. The visuals may be disconcerting (a dog lunging out of the darkness, a child walking alone) or beautiful. "The core of this world is dreams—not just the scary dream of being chased but dreams of ancient cultures," says Viola, who counts among his inspirations the writings of the Islamic mystic Rumi and the Greek philosopher Plotinus.
If players continue the game for long enough, their dream sequences acquire color and eventually carry them, along with a group of virtual people, through streams and toward a lighted pavilion. "It's like the transmigration of souls," says Viola, who shot the footage for that sequence when he and his wife and collaborator, Kira Perov, were looking at a nocturnal volcanic eruption in Hawaii.
While The Night Journey won't be finished until the middle of this year, it was previewed at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology in Liverpool, as well as at several conventions, where it was field-tested by both aficionados and novices. "In the end, each of the groups were very satisfied," says Viola. He is still debating whether to distribute it as a commercial video game or make an edition solely for museums, where the public could engage with it.
The blend of the esoteric and the pragmatic in The Night Journey reflects the manner of the artist himself. Viola has a strikingly direct way of speaking about the most weighty experiences—including his own. The loss of his mother, in 1991, "affected my art dramatically," he says; it made him realize his work was about "life and death" rather than "esthetics or technology." This intensity informs all of his pieces, including the one he did for Durham Cathedral in England in 1996. In the monumentally scaled projection, called The Messenger, a bundle of light gradually assumes the shape of a man suspended in a deep pool of water. He breaks through the surface, opens his eyes, and gasps for air before receding back into the water. This startling metaphoric image of birth and extinction repeats several times.
The piece initially caused a controversy, because a moving image of a naked man could be considered pornographic under British law. The church leaders ultimately ruled on the work in "spiritual terms," as was reported to Viola, and unanimously agreed to install it in the cathedral.
The church subsequently sent The Messenger on the road to other countries and to churches around England. When it was shown at St. Paul's Cathedral in London in 2004, it prompted discussions between the church authorities and the artist about creating a permanent installation there. Last summer, St. Paul's announced that Viola would make two plasma-screen altarpieces for the cathedral's side chapels on the themes of Mary and the martyrs of Jesus, to be completed by 2012.
Mindful that these will function as both contemporary-art pieces and devotional objects, Viola is planning to configure wing panels on his screens that can be closed on hinges, in a manner similar to historical altarpieces. This is the first time Viola has accepted a commission with predetermined content—the chapels long ago had paintings of Mary and the martyrs—but he's found it exciting to study ancient visual and literary representations of these subjects, including in apocryphal texts. "One is concerned with women and the female energy, and the other with violence and sacrifice," says Viola, who is still distilling his research and intends to start shooting imagery later this year. "Those are pretty provocative themes in today's world."
Hilarie M. Sheets is a contributing editor of ARTnews."
liens / links:
site de l'artiste / website: http://www.billviola.com/