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Brody Condon at Virgil de Voldere Gallery

3 Modifications
Brody Condon
Virgil de Voldere Gallery - 526 W. 26 St, New York NY
15 November 2007 - 15 December 2007

As a teenager in search of amusing diversion, I occasionally tinkered with the programming code of popular computer games. Doing so required no expertise. I only had to augment or edit source files in directories associated with the game and then run the program. The results were unexpected and often bizarre: characters appeared headless and walked on air or the game scenery lay flat, rendered incomplete in crude polygons. My monkeying was primitive, random and pointless, but always satisfying. Because of my familiarity with basic game modifications ("mods," for short), I'm skeptical and dismissive of most such works appearing in contemporary art galleries. Brody Condon's sly gaming "interventions" and mods are an exception.

Brody Condon, Resurrection (after Bouts), 2007
Self-playing computer game, custom computer.
Courtesy Virgil de Voldere.

In 2001, Condon repeatedly prostrated his character in Anarchy Online, a massively multiplayer online game. Condon's ritualistic worship of the omnipotent player (and viewer) takes place in an open square; around his character, fellow gamers move, engaged in more conventional, prescribed actions. For 2004's "Suicide Solution," Condon documented character suicides in over 50 first and third person shooters. Both gestures are artless, to be sure, but Condon's commitment to the virtual act ennobles the short documentaries; farce is transformed into pathos.

Neither "Worship" nor "Suicide Solution" are true mods, but KarmaPhysics{Ram Dass, created in 2005, qualifies. For this video projection, Condon reworks files and graphics from the game Unreal 2003 to produce a suspended, writhing pile of clones. As with his earlier projects, KarmaPhysics{Ram Dass transcends a simple premise, in this case becoming a hypnotic meditation on intellectual, physical and emotional suffering.

Of the four mods included in Brody Condon's current exhibition, 3 Modifications, at Virgil de Voldere Gallery, only one, Adam Killer, is lacking. The work is little different from the high school code play I engaged in over a decade ago. Condon has fiddled with existing Half Life game files in order to expose a trailing glitch and replicate one character, Adam, on a white plane. The "shooter," controlled by Condon, then enters this scenario and kills the Adam characters with a variety of weapons. I assume that the artist intends "Adam Killer" as a confrontation of contemporary anxiety and violence, but it is merely representative of those denominators. (With some relief, I later learned that Adam Killer is an older work, dated 1999-2001. I am not sure why the gallery or artist elected to exhibit it currently.)

The title of the exhibition refers only to the three works on display in the main gallery space. Using computer animation and rendering drivers, Condon reinvents well-known religious paintings from the late Middle Ages. "Default Properties (after Gerard David)" - based on David's 1505 baptism scene from the "Triptych of Jean des Trompes" - and "Resurrection (after Bouts)" - based on Dieric Bouts' 1455 "Resurrection" - are radiant, revelatory works that reflect our cultural and political climate. Condon's choice of source material is not arbitrary. The late Middle Ages were a period of rapid transition and uncertainty. Today as then, hybrid cosmologies, religious extremism, and philosophical relativism thrive while idealism and optimism wane.

The artist's animated interpretations of the original paintings deviate significantly in terms of specifics, but remain relatively true to composition. For example, in "Resurrection (after Bouts)" Condon has eliminated Bout's Christ figure altogether, replacing him with a smoking campfire, but the poses of both Christ and the companion angel are echoed in Condon's nude, yoga practicing zombie. Viewers should not get hung up on comparisons, however. The medieval models are a springboard for Condon, inspiration that leads him to produce wholly original works, the likes of which I have never before seen.

Undoubtedly, some professional game designers and animators will disagree. One gamer friend looked at Condon's work online, shrugged and suggested that, aside from context and scale, 3 Modifications was not unlike a quiet moment in a traditional gaming environment. Certainly he has a point, but I wonder if that doesn't make Condon's mods even more remarkable; before making these works, the artist must have learned to stop and smell the proverbial roses within a virtual world. Time slows when the viewer settles into Default Properties or Resurrection Both works — Condon calls them "self-playing games" because they run on custom computers — are meditative, cerebral and aesthetically sensational.

In the last five years, computer graphics have advanced to such a degree that a great many emerging artists are exploring the medium/technology. When the results can be as gratifying as Condon's, it's easy to understand why.

(Although the works are not as affecting at small-scale, I recommend readers visit the links provided below to watch clips.)

"Resurrection (after Bouts)"

"Default Properties (after Gerard David)"