Josh Bricker – New Orientalism: my grand tour of duty

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New Orientalism: my grand tour of duty uses in-game photography to explore issues of post-colonialism and cultural representation. Edward Said’s critique of the West’s historical and social perceptions, as well as its visual depictions of the East, is used as provocation to examine the role video games, such as Call of Duty, play in perpetuating notions of the East as “other”. In Orientalism, Said was able to show how western scholarship and Orientalist paintings – a largely European tradition – was inherently biased by its own imperialist perceptions, producing and propagating stereotypes of the East as exotic, savage and inferior. The visual arts played a significant role in crystalizing this patronizing account of the East in the minds of many Europeans. Often functioning as state sponsored propaganda, Orientalist works traditionally depicted the East as a land of lawlessness, enlightened or tamed only through European rule. The works were largely the product of Western imagination: unbelievably, many of the artists associated with Orientalism, such as Ingres, and Antoine-Jean Gros – who was employed by Napoleon – never visited the near East themselves.

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New Orientalism contends that depictions of the East in contemporary video games, particularly Call of Duty, are a continuation of the historical narrative of Orientalism and its aesthetics of domination. Like the Orientalist paintings before them, these games are vehicles for the dissemination of western exceptionalism, normalizing western military dominance, and notions of the East as a lawless cultural backwater in need of western aid. And just like with Orientalist paintings we view the East through a prism that is entirely of a western (American) construction; there is a direct parallel between the Orientalist painters’ and contemporary video game artists who rarely if ever visited the regions they depict. Representations of eastern life center on aesthetics of collapse – bullet riddled and bombed out buildings stretch out in every direction as far as the eye can see. Streets are devoid of life; instead dread and feelings of danger are elicited in the form of thick black clouds of smoke billowing ominously in the distance – a theme shared with Orientalist paintings – evidence of some violent unseen episode presumably perpetrated by the savage “other”. The west’s role in this catastrophe is never examined during game play; instead realist narratives that favor immediate military action and devalue prudent intellectual analysis and political discourse are normalized through artistic renderings and play. Games like Call of Duty are the apotheosis of weaponized art, tacitly reinforcing the validity of state sponsored violence, while ignoring questions of jurisprudence and international law, not to mention questions of morality and ethics that come with killing.

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The title suggests that contemporary video games like Call of Duty constitute a new strain of Orientalism while also referencing Said’s seminal text. The subtitle, my grand tour of duty, alludes to the European tradition known as the Grand Tour, which was a right of passage of sorts for young, wealthy European men. With almost unlimited funds these burgeoning aristocrats travelled continental Europe in search of the roots of Western civilization, studying art, languages and history. Placed within the context of Call of Duty, I am suggesting that players go on a similar tour, albeit virtual, and focused on American military adventurism, and find not the roots of Western civilization but verification of the prevailing ethos of American exceptionalism.

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[text and images by Josh Bricker]

Josh Bricker  website: www.josh-bricker.com

Ip Yuk-Yiu

Ip Yuk-Yiu is a filmmaker, media artist, art educator and independent curator. His works, ranging from experimental films to live video performances and media installations, have been showcased extensively at international festivals including European Media Art Festival (Germany), New York Film Festival (USA), the Image Festival (Canada), VideoBrasil (Brazil), Transmediale (Germany), Hong Kong International Film Festival (Hong Kong) and Yamagato International Documentary Film Festival (Japan). His most recent solo program was featured at Experimental Film & Video Festival in Seoul (EXIS) in 2012. He has lectured extensively on film, video and media art. Currently he is Associate Professor and the Master of Fine Arts Program Leader at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong. His recent works explore performance-based and computational forms of cinema.

HD / color / stereo / 15 min. 30 sec or loop / 16:9 / 2012

ANOTHER DAY OF DEPRESSION IN KOWLOON (九龍百哀圖) is a virtual study and a digital portrait of Hong Kong as seen through the lens of contemporary popular culture incarnated in the forms of video game and screen media.

Using the map “KOWLOON” from the popular video game CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS (2010) as a field of study, the filmmaker conducted a yearlong virtual fieldwork: playing, observing and documenting “Hong Kong” as simulated in the video game world.

ANOTHER turns the violent first-person shooter into a series of vacant, uncanny and yet meditative tableaux, unearthing a formal poetry that is often overlooked during the original gameplay. It combines methodologies from both the observational and assemblage film traditions in raising questions about cultural representations in contemporary popular media, while at the same time creating evocative metaphors for a post-colonial Hong Kong through the reworking of media materials.

ANOTHER is a “found” landscape film, a ballad for a post-colonial Hong Kong seemingly trapped in endless downpours of murky political dismal.

HD / color / stereo / 11 min. / 16:9 / 2013

Evoking imagery and memories of the atomic age, THE PLASTIC GARDEN summons the ghost of a forgotten future, the grim fatality of a total nuclear war that held the world hostage half a century ago.

Hacking and appropriating the popular video game CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS (2010), THE PLASTIC GARDEN revisited the dark vision and symbolism of the nuclear drama that seems on the one hand remotely archaic, but hauntingly close and familiar on the other. The restaged scenes, devoid of bloody shootouts, are equally if not more lethal and violent than in the original game. THE PLASTIC GARDEN unravels a forgotten future that felt like an endless nightmare spinning loose, or else a collective death wish that comes to define the tragic essence of modern socio-political reality.