ITP Thesis Week 2009
Monday, May 4 - Friday, May 8

Ancient Pixels

Jose Olivares

Inca iconography and 8-bit lo-res graphics are combined to bring two eras together.

During this decade there has been a resurgence of low-resolution graphics and interest in folk art. At the same time technology has advanced to a point where complex interactive man-machine systems can be developed in different contexts such as in art and communications. I intend to merge both lo-resolution video game graphics and Andean textile art to produce the visual aesthetic and the grammar blocks for a series of multi-channel interactive video pieces depicting scenes and imagery associated with Andean and video game culture. The work would be presented as a site specific installation.

To achieve this I studied Andean textile art and the history of early video game art to identify similarities inherent in both visual styles. I believe that due to the fact that each style uses the grid as the foundation, similar looking symbols and representations of things are created. In Andean culture these symbols have different meanings, which go beyond the literal representation of a person, animal, plant or object leading towards a more ideological intent. Using this information I analyzed video game sprite graphics from the early 80's console systems such as Atari 2600 and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and combined both symbols to create a new grammar in which to explore narrative themes that are present in both Andean and video game culture. Central themes found in these stories and games such as the birth of the world, good versus evil, liberation from oppressive forces, among others are illuminated in my investigation. During my research I have found that Andean textiles, specifically ancient rugs, have their symbols organized in a hierarchical system in which the center of the rug contains the central point or fable of the story, and around it there are a series of symbols that take care of the descriptive elements of the story and that set the context in which it’s developed ultimately building a graphic formula for storytelling.


This piece is an interactive multi-channel video installation with an interactive video sculpture. The central theme linked to each channel of the video will be landscapes that show iconic Andean structures and buildings found in adventure video games. The symbol mash-up style is what I will use to re-contextualize the imagery associated with the original sources and use them to populate the videos. To do this mash-up I will wok on a series of pixel art illustrations that will be based on ancient Incan construction methods such as Cyclopean polygonal masonry and I will use this info to recreate these blocks in pixel art. Since we are working with buildings and structures, my main interest is to work with scale. Because of this, the projections would be massive, covering a huge amount of projection space so that the animations could be more dramatic. Also, color will play a very important in this manifestation. I would like to work with morphing primary colors to use as skyline, thus not only re transforming these structures, but placing them in a fantastic setting to strengthen the feeling that I want the audience to get or feel.

A series of animations will be done to demonstrate the merging of stories found in both cultures They will take the form of video projections that will cover a central piece which will be a blank Andean textile (rug) and on top I will project an animated story using the new symbols. I will organize the story in segments, or zones, similar to the hierarchy of the authentic rugs. The interactivity of the component of the installation lies in the action of the user walking in front of the video and by walking from one end to the other, some of the animated segments of the rug will start to pixilate, via a mosaic effect or other procedure thus reducing it's resolution and subtracting information from it bringing it back to the building foundation which is the block. To achieve this I will use hidden proximity sensors. Also this type of human input could also affect other elements such as color and scale to make the change more evident The rug will be placed on top of a frame, no higher than 2-3 feet. Inside that frame there will be proximity sensors that will send data to Max/MSP/Jitter. The projection will be done from the top and the rug will be placed far enough from the edges of the cabinet so that people can lean in and not block the video. By having this interaction I think that the dynamism typical of video games can be applied to, otherwise static, mediums.