Twelve customised and fully-functioning arcade games are jingling, talking, shooting and whooshing. There are life-sized cut-out figures, comics, posters, Lego models and drawings by leading Manga artist Inko. Later in the month, there’ll be an 11-hour gaming tournament in which the audience is invited to participate.
This is ‘Odysseys’, a new solo exhibition by artist David Blandy, co-curated by Phoenix Brighton and Lighthouse. It’s his debut in Brighton since moving to the city from London in 2011, and the first act of this year’s Brighton Digital Festival. The games are of his own devising, and the show also features his new animated work, ‘Anjin 1600’, inspired by Homer’s Odyssey.
“The support from Lighthouse and Phoenix has been fantastic,” says Blandy. “They’ve helped to commission the first episode of ‘Anjin 1600’, and they’ve helped me to realise a highly considered installation.”
The size of the Phoenix gallery has allowed Blandy to turn part of it into a functioning gaming arcade, and the rest into a video installation of ‘Anjin 1600’ and 2010 piece, ‘Child of the Atom’.
Blandy’s work draws on the visual language of Japanese anime to tell deeply personal stories from his own life, that resonate with the Western pre-occupation with existential questions about life. ‘Child of the Atom’ is a meditation on the tragic effects of the Hiroshima atom bomb of 1945.
If the bomb had not been dropped, Blandy’s grandfather would not have survived as a Japanese Prisoner of War, and Blandy himself would not have been born. Narrated by the fictional future voice of his young daughter, the film intersperses documentary footage of her and Blandy’s guilt-ridden pilgrimage to the city with apocalyptic anime flashbacks of the bomb’s devastation.
Using multiple mediums that include video, performance, digital technology, animation and comics, Blandy’s work investigates how popular culture such as television and computer games shape our identities. His works are often humorous, philosophical, ironic and profound.
“I use the various methodologies of our contemporary life,” he explains. “If I want to talk about our relationship to arcade games, I make an arcade game. If I want to talk about our relationship to Lego, I make some Lego pieces. I’m interested in how our collective iconography can be recycled.”
Blandy’s practice knowingly accesses our collective memory of popular culture and film: “I’m asking people to reconsider their relationship to popular culture and their own identity, and how much we think about our history and circumstances through the things we consume.”
Blandy and I played one of his arcade games. He designated the character of Child of the Atom to me, while he played the character of himself.
“I can’t beat you up, David!” I said, in increasing panic as I realised my character’s firepower far outgunned his own. “Do you feel like a victim?” “No,” he replied, “just that I’m not something special.” But actually, he is. And so is this show.
Odysseys continues at Phoenix Brighton until 23 September. www.lighthouse.org.uk
More on a-n.co.uk: Interface review of David Blandy & Antti Laitinen: Journeymen