Grand Theft Auto Inspires Self-portraits By David Blandy And Larry Achiampong

Grand Theft Auto (GTA), one of the world’s most successful video games, has a reputation for violence, now a new art work by artists Larry Achiampong, David Blandy plus a group of teenagers use it to create “a series of self-portraits”. Achiampong and Blandy worked with the young people from Newcastle to create both the avatars that populate their film, FF Gaiden: Alternative, and the stories told within it.

Tyneside Cinema’s youth group, The Factory. Together they have used the virtual space of Grand Theft Auto 5 to explore ideas around the writings of Frantz Fanon, whilst also asking what it means to be entering the adult world at this precise moment in time.  Blandy and Achiampong have worked with The Factory to make a new video work that combines a plethora of material: script-work based on stories and conversations from the participants concerning contemporary identity; thoughts about how their relationships and identities are formed through the virtual world; and an original, encapsulating, synth-driven soundtrack that contextualises the intense, high definition visuals and stories of the film. 

‘Gaiden’ (a term synonymous with Japanese anime and videogame culture meaning ‘sidestory’) expands the artist’s Finding Fanon series as they devise the tools that they used to produce Finding Fanon 2 with the public. By doing this, they give creative agency to wider communities. ‘FF Gaiden: Alternative’ focuses on aspects of youth and community between the digital realm and ‘IRL’ (‘In Real Life’).

The piece is part of a trilogy the pair have put together based on the works of psychiatrist and philosopher Frantz Fanon, who wrote extensively about violence and colonialism.

Blandy says they decided to use GTA V to create their work for “a mixture of reasons”.

“In our series Finding Fanon, we’ve been looking at the history of cultures of violence and when we were thinking about taking that into the virtual realm, it seemed to make sense to place that within something that synonymous with violence.

“So GTA made a lot of sense.

Achiampong agrees it fit both the “practical and philosophical” nature of the work they wanted to produce.”GTA has a strong history connected with violence and we felt the question of violence had relevance with Fanon’s work. “What’s great about GTA V is the possibilities for filming within the game. “You can film any moment of activity and edit it, setting up cameras like they were on cranes or a dolly or even a helicopter. “That’s the types of logistics you would have within a multimillion-dollar film so that range of possibilities felt like a really sweet deal.” Charlene Maningding was one of the teenagers involved in creating the work and says the pair were “really cool to work with”. “They encouraged my ideas. There was never really a right or wrong answer, which made me confident in what I was doing.” She says it was “interesting to use video games” to create the work, because they are seen as “something really passive, where you just press buttons and float your way through”.

David Blandy says he ‘wasn’t expecting the stories to be as bleak or as thoughtful’ “As teenagers, we have a similar stereotype and people under-appreciate what we go through. “So it was nice that we reclaimed that and were really active in turning video games into something that means something to us, something artistic.” Her story, one of seven included in the work, was inspired by “the experiences I had had as a young adult, in the transition between a teenager and an adult”, she says.”It was about the things that I was interested in, like my role in society. “It was really satisfying, because I think I’m at the age where I just need to verify things about myself, especially when progressing through sixth form.”It made me realise more about myself.” Blandy says he “wasn’t expecting the stories to be as bleak or as thoughtful”.”They’re very philosophical pieces – some of them reflect on how we all wear masks every day, while others think about the limbo of the young person’s space, where you have all the thoughts but none of the possibilities of the adult world yet.”As a suite of works, it’s an interesting portrait of contemporary youth.” His artistic partner Achiampong says he too was surprised by “the amount of maturity that was in the stories”.”I wasn’t surprised that they came back with ideas that were intuitive and thought-provoking, but I was proud that they had enough independence of thought to take the idea away and make it their own.

David Blandy says the piece shows the virtual world is ‘actually a space for philosophical inquiry’ “We’re talking about stories that don’t belong to myself or David, that really are their own. “It was a great process to have conversations with them and see that openness returned and the bravery they applied in talking about their ideas.” Blandy says the mood of the pieces comes from “a mixture of the teenage state and life in a political situation where the youth is not the centre of political thought”. “It is all about consolidation of wealth and a lot of the cuts that have taken place have cut resources for young people and education. “So you can see why there may be a lack of optimism. “And then there’s the wider structural developments, such as the increasing robotisation of jobs and the use of algorithms to perform things people used to do – so what is the future? “It seems to lead to a dark place at the moment. I wish it didn’t, but it does.” He does, however, see some optimism in the work and thinks any audience will too. “I hope that they are both given an introduction to the thoughts of young people today and also see the virtual landscape in a different light. “It’s not just a space for escapism, it’s actually a space for philosophical inquiry and self-discovery.”

FF Gaiden Alternative is at Tyneside Cinema Gallery until 15 June. Achiampong and Blandy will be discussing the work there in a talk on 8 June.

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