Tobias Bernstrup and Palle Torsson interview – jonCates (2007)

In Uncategorized on 10 listopada 2010 at 8:18 pm


„Make your own exhibitions. Examine it, rip it apart and learn from it and do copy it. Don´t forget that stealing is everything.” from the Museum Meltdown README by Palle Torsson and Tobias Bernstrup (1996)

Tobias Bernstrup and Palle Torsson collaboratively created a series of Art Games in the form of Art Mods called Museum Meltdown from 1996 to 1999. these Art Mods are among the first of their kind, New Media Art interventions into the site of their own exhibition which utilize the possibilities presented by the First Person Shooter as a genre of games. i interviewed Bernstrup and Torsson in 2007 to discuss these Media Art Histories for an essay of mine called Running and Gunning in the Gallery: Art Mods, Art Institutions and the Artists that Destroy Them, which will appear in From Diversion to Subversion: Games, Play, and Twentieth-Century Art, edited by David Getsy. our discussion is both technical and conceptual, involving questions of Institutional Critique, site specificity and personal reflections of the often self-relfexive process of making museums meltdown…


Q: how did you arrive @ the idea of developing the first instance of MUSEUM MELTDOWN in 1996 @ Arken Museum of Modern Art?
were there any previous works (artworks, levels, mods, etc) that particularly inspired or influenced you then in making the first MUSEUM MELTDOWN?

A: „At that time I was collaborating a lot with artist Palle Torsson. We met in art college and shared an interested for video computers performance and Internet. We did an early web based project ‚Join Hands’ in 1995. We both played a lot of computer games and was fascinated by the revolutionary game Doom and the possibilities of modifying the actual game. The initial idea of MM came while planning a new piece for a show at Arken MoMA, we went to see the museum space and were struck by similarities between the museum and a 3D shooter game. The museum interior had a lot of game like texture details such as fake metal panels and big sliding metal doors. So we came up with the idea of designing a game map based on the plan drawings and textures of the space. The in game artworks were to be reduced to low res pixelated images, working as recognizable symbols. The game engine we used was Duke Nukem 3D. Museum Meltdown 1 was followed by two more museum project until 1999 when Palle we did the a version of the Modern Museum in Stockholm based on the Half-Life graphical engine.” – /tobias

A: „I remember playing Marathon for Mac and Wolfenstein 3d… But We were very very stocked by Doom. The impact of space and sound, hallways, the shotgun and monsters. I think at the same time we were concerned (frustrated and interested) about the game that the contemporary art world is. We were invited to take part in a show at Arken Museum of Contemporary art… We
paired together the concrete setting of the postmodern architecture resemblance to FPS games… we felt like the fake metal panel and distorted perspective for the museum could be mapped to the in-world textures of games…. this sign based architecture made us feel the simulation at hand and we took that to make the first Museum Meltdown. More over that representation of space in this respective world has a shadowed relation to the game of this spaces.
When it comes to other artworks I can not to tell …” – //Palle

Q: i am very interested in this point, the artworld as gameworld. what kind of gameworld did or do you think of the artworld as being? what were/are the particular rules of play for the art world game? how did you intend for MUSEUM MELTDOWN to address those issues?

A: „The First,  players point of view: the make fake game, something you have to respect as a learning devise. I mean to crack the codes and use them as you would in any social sphere. And Secondly the system: the codes of hierarchical self-manufacturing Artworld where power upwards works as an isolating layer to the access of production of meaning, most like mass
media. Not for very much of gain I think and allot of frustration. A frustration that you could get rid some of by blowing up masterpieces in Museum Meltdown I guess. This System which aura I do not find very attractive for the moment.
This was not addressed directly as narrative in Museum Meltdown but was more produced in the context of the setting by letting the consepts blead into one another. Like one day I saw a kid pointing his finger formed as a gun at  on of the real guards of themuseum going: – bang. Or like when the head of security showing fear of Museum Meltdown being used as a way to
learn to master a robbery of the museum.
More over that representation of space in this respective world has a shadowed relation to the game of this spaces.” – //Palle

Q: this seems to be a very important key to MUSEUM MELTDOWN, that when you play you literally stand at an intersection between the simulated space and the institutions’ architectural space that exhibiting the work and so you have a sense self-reflective or recursive presence within the game (and within the game within the game). do you agree?

A: „yes !” – //Palle

Q: also, isnt it also accurate that this doublecoded placement, being simultaneously within the physical and virtual museums, contributed to the project’s end? i am also interviewing tobias + he said that you both got to a place where you weren’t interested in simply modelling every museum that invited you to exhibit the project. so perhaps for the player being at this intersection or in this doublecoded context is @ the heart of the work, but couldnt you also say that for you as artists, as a collaborative, you lost interest in being in that place?

A: „Yes I did but I was sort of directed out of that intersection by making a videowork . The videowork was a re-cut of an old Swedish classical children’s movie called Pippi Longstocking and was censored for its content about the manifest discourse and crack of the sexualized gaze on children. A conversation that in my work was force to silence by copyright  and copyright holders of the re-cut movies I made, Swedish Film Industry. I came to find the art world not being strong enough to help that expression. I am not at all sorry for this turns but rather in the end this helped me broaden my view on the production of art and life.
Now I am deeply involved in the Swedish pro piracy movement that I find to be very productive in it discourse and again reconnecting to the the artworld via this organisation.” – //Palle

Q: in your more recent personal work, that physical/virtual intersection of spaces is still very important, correct? did working at thaty intersection w/MUSEUM MELTDOWN lose interest to you personally? collaboratively? does this have sum thing to do w/the artworld as a gameworld?

A: „As I see it the artworld, alone, as mem, is not strong enough to help fight the posthuman  battles of the 21-century where the intersection between life, death, simulation, entertainment, code, law are getting more and more undisconnectable. Above all this is more important then mine and Tobias collaboration – as answer. Our collaborative effort are seeing light again as in the workshop we are putting together for the Royal University Collage of Fine Art in Stockholm called Analog vs. Digital.” – //Palle

Q: tobias, for the first version of MM made for Arken MoMA where players able to destroy the art objects +/or architectural features? if so, how did you choose which elements to make destructible? were all artworks destructible or only certain pieces?

A: „In MM #1 the player could only fight/destroy monsters, artworks were more as a dead props or as a set. Some part of the architecture interior could be destroyed. such as glass, and a mezzanine floor that would explode entered the museum. Toilets could also be smashed to cause a little fountain.
In MM#2 at the Cont. Art Centre of Vilnius we made the artworks destructable, destroying an art work would spawn a flying suicide bot that would attack and explode in the player face if not shot down.
In MM#3 at The Moderna Museet Stockholm, we used a new game, that allowed more realism. we more or less represented about 75% of the originals works hung according to the collection. The debris was more realistic, for example when breaking Duchamp’s Large Glass with a crowbar you would see both scattered glass and wood! :) And shooting off a Donald Judd would make metal pieces fly through the room…. everything could be destroyd, just a matter of taste…. if you disliked certain works or not. David Elliott the director of the museum at that time turned out to be a very good player and would stop by the installation from time to time. He never broke any of the works…. but would focus on killing monsters.
In 1998 during the development of MM#3 we launched a beta version the Moderna Museet on national TV’s web space. This was a online multiplayer game using the Quake game engine. However for the final version we decided to use a different game that was Half-Life.” – /tobias


Q: so for MM #1 the toolset was: Duke Nukem 3D + BUILD + MM #2: also Duke Nukem 3D + BUILD + MM #3: Half-Life + Worldcraft. so you never used Quake + Radiant during the MM project? is that correct?

A: „Exactly just build and Worldcraft plus the extra texture programs, EditArt for duke3d, and something for half-life can’t remeber think it was Wad something…
In MM#2 at the Cont. Art Centre of Vilnius we made the artworks destructable, destroying an art work would spawn a flying suicide bot that would attack and explode in the player face if not shot down.” – /tobias

Q: how did the work change for you @ this point? in the „Museum Meltdown FAQ (1999)” you + Palle Torsson stated that the concept of „the Museum versus The Game” was more important than skinning the characters to represent specific curators or otherwise altering the game play. also, as i understand from your 2003 interview with Francis Hunger, it is important to you to retain the rules of game play (even when you negate the expected patterns) that are constants or givens within whichever engine may be used. in the case of the MM project these factors make the context or placement of the work (in the museums that are modeled) critical to the work. with MM #1 the main hinge that the work seems to turn on is that the player is inside the space of the museum + inside the space of the game which is played inside the museum. also, in MM #1, the standard form of game play is the main form of experiencing the work. but it seems that w/MM #2 + #3, w/the added ability to destroy the artworks, the context of the museum becomes a prerequisite for the possibility of destroying the art [works/objects] held inside the gallery. many who have written on + been inspired in their art practices by MM focus on the ability to destroy the art [works/objects]. do you feel that this is an important key to understanding the MM project? was it an important part of the process, to add the ability to destroy the artworks?

A: „Yes as mentioned the first mods dealt a lot more with ideas of space and representation. the look of things.
In the later MM when we wanted to develop this and made artworks breakable. we wanted to turn the game more against the idea museum, institution and the artworks. This gave more distraction towards the environment, you would not experience the space while busy with shooting and destroying. The player was suddenly very occupied with playing and forgot what was happening outside of the game. Like a unaware performer. The breakable artworks were an important aspect of this. It also brought the player in the position of making more personal decisions.
After the MM projects Palle and I continued working separately with game based work, I returned to the idea of less action and more environment.” – /tobias

Q: when you made the various instances of MM did you think of them as new versions of the same project? as upgrades? numbered pieces in a series? has your thinking about that changed now, over time?

A: „Each museum/game was a new different piece. it’s important to remember that they were site specific. Every museum had it’s long or short history. i.e. in MM2 the building was an old Soviet style architecture museum in Lithuania.
However we came to a point where we would get a lot of requests and could start to imagine ourselves just continuing to build museum after museum in the world. We did not see any challenge in this so we both moved on to new projects.” – /tobias

Q: you mentioned that you both moved on to new projects, did you stay in contact?

A: „there was a geographical move. After college in 1998 I left Stockholm for 6 months going to New York with my partner (video artist Annika Larsson).
Museum Meltdown III was developed when me and Palle where on different continents. I recall sending game map files back and forth over a slow modem connection…. :) we once met up in a Quake version of Moderna Museet during a lecture. Then later we moved to Berlin in 2000 after MM 3, and then later to New again York in 2002.” – /tobias

Q: do you remain in contact?

A: „Yes, we’re still best friends and have a strong bond. We actually discussing a workshop idea right now.” – /tobias

Q: did this moving on also mark a more general move away from collaborative strategies in your work?

A: „In one sense, my performance and animation based work took a very personal and individual direction. But on the other hand I have been collaborating with Annika for several years now when composing sound and music together for her videos.” – /tobias

for more info and versions of the Art Games in the Museum Meltdown series goto:


Tobias Bernstrup and Palle Torsson interview – jonCates (2007)


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