Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The 8-Bit Art Trend

“8-Bit Artisan”
The Austin Chronicle
May 4, 2012
Vol. 31 #36: 48-49

I am struck by the ongoing rediscovery of 8-bit art and games.  The article referenced above in the latest Austin Chronicle by James Renovitch profiles Rachel Weil, a self-taught programmer of 8-bit video art and games on the highly obsolete 1980s Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).  Remarkably, Weil began this hobby in high school, long after the heyday of 8-bit and NES, in fact after it all ended, when electronics stores were, in her words, “filling Dumpsters with NES carts.”  Now Weil is a one-woman game and performance company named Party Time! Hexcellent!  Her demos, videos and games have been shown in North America and Europe.  Her game “Track + Feel II” has just been showcased in Austin and is available for purchase.  Without a doubt, Weil is a creative whose hobby became her career.  We can only wish Rachel Weil the greatest success.

Naturally, I cannot overlook the parallels with Tutto’s premiere of The Dudleys!: A Family Game by Leegrid Stevens, which opened at the Blue Theatre almost exactly one year ago.  That show was partly live stage play and partly 8-bit video art and chiptune music.  Austin’s own Gary Jaffe directed it.  The play’s characters moved back and forth between the live and 8-bit worlds, so that often the planar boundary of the 8-bit video world with the live stage set was indiscernible.  Admitting my biases, I declare again that The Dudleys! was some of the best multiple-arts theatre I’ve seen in the year since; I am not alone in my praise: the B. Iden Payne awards committee showered The Dudleys! with accolades. 

This 8-bit revival has about it an atmosphere of sharing which may be the aspect I like most.  The Dudleys! offered a concurrent 8-bit art show in the gallery next to the theatre, and in pre-production The Blue Theatre held events featuring chiptunes—dejayed by The Dudleys! playwright Leegrid Stevens.  Some of that music was featured in the play and was composed by the playwright himself; the 8-bit visuals were created by several artists from around the country, in collaboration with the playwright.  In his Chronicle article, Renovitch says of the “archaic programming language” that makes 8-bit possible and Rachel Weil’s mastery of it, that together they “made an interactive experience that brings people together.” My own experience confirms the truth of this statement, and I encourage the growth of the 8-bit art trend in our culture.  I don’t know if Rachel Weil attended The Dudleys!, but if she had, I’m sure she loved it.   

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