Artist Lisa Heissenberg supported Blank Noise from afar and prepared first drafts and concepts which will now be realised. She will focus in particular on the successful and expanding «I Never Ask For It» campaign.
Lisa Heissenberg was born in 1991 and studied Visual Arts at the Braunschweig University of Fine Arts, finishing as Meisterschüler (Master Student). Since then she is a freelance artist and teacher.
In her work, she focuses on digital media, nerd and geek culture, and language. The emphasis mostly lies on different concepts and strategies of storytelling, memorisation, connecting and commenting on the various set pieces that are evoked in relation to one another.
© Lisa Heissenberg The Abusive Relationship Simulator (2015) appears to be a simple text adventure which can be accessed online as well as in a fixed terminal. Contrary to its genre-abiding design, the programme deviates from the norm in some very specific ways: The game can neither be won nor can the storyline be affected in the long term. There is no ending, no high score and, all in all, only 300 words which are displayed in a semi-randomised manner. Interacting with the programme always leads to a loop until the player decides to stop playing altogether. As long as he participates in the narration’s diegesis, he becomes an ‘enabler’ who continuously passes the ball to the computer, who impersonates an abusive partner. The programme is not written solely with textbook information, but is a patchwork of experiences of an assortment of different real people who have lived through relationships like this.
In the two-channel video installation Negentropie (Negentropy, 2015-16), different complexes collide in a variety of ways. Through drawings, videos and text overlays, an acute emergency, a past vice and the process of entropy, which will lead to the end of the universe, are described. The work aims at connecting the different narratives, working with all their similarities, contradictions and forecasts, to, with minimal means, refer back to the typical big questions: Is there any meaning in our actions if the universe is about to perish? Is a temporally finite universe more threatening than an infinite one? And how connected to ‘the big picture’ are we in our daily routines?
The short experimental documentary oo-nye-doo? (2016) deals with topics like commodity fetishism and privacy, accessed through a childhood dream: Owning a Furby. Critical questions arise: Why didn’t one get a Furby, and what did the NSA have to do with that? Why does Barbie have to know what I say? And how is the hole in us always exactly the same size as the product we desire?
Lastly, the film SYMPTOMS is an hour-long exercise about far right online anime fanboys, mental and physical decline, the Ode to Joy’s reception history and the extent of drawing lessons, or, less directly: it is a take on oversaturation, the limits of causal reasoning and information overload.
In Germany, Heissenberg supported Blank Noise from afar and prepared first drafts and concepts on what to aim for and achieve during her stay in Bangalore together with the organisers of the I Never Ask For It campaign.
“You better make this decision”, A. says to E., visibly overwhelmed by the task: He, A., is a young woman in Metropolis, having to decide whether she wants to go to work or be a stay-at-home wife to write a book. Also, A. is a participant of PLAN, PLUG & PLAY, a feminist game creation workshop I host.
E. wrote the game and is the only woman in the room at this moment. She doesn’t make the decision for A., and so all the other men in the room step in to navigate the unknown terrain that is this very situation. Should they divorce their condescending husband and go back to their family? The group votes against that. Should they confront their boss about the wage gap between them and their male colleague? The group agrees to do just that and earn a belittling comment about how emotional they are from their boss.
It’s a weird and funny and frustrating situation and we encounter such multiple times. We are presented with games in which the player should cross a river, but whatever their decisions are, they will drown. Games in which we are the postman to deliver the love letters Hannah Ahrendt and Martin Heidegger wrote to one another. Games in which we talk to robots about what life we’d like to lead, and games in which we are a dinosaur who will go extinct no matter to which era we time travel. We magnify our way through weird, colourful dreamscapes and see Bugs Bunny tell us about the joy of learning something new in front of a hackneyed Anime high school backdrop.
There’s an indie developer working on a game about the universe’s expansion who wants to learn how to make his players interested in the game’s lore and empathise with the world’s characters; a woman who is neither that much into games nor into programming, but who now got interested in writing interactive fiction; a man who researches the effects of technology on interpersonal relationships and now might use games to further his studies; a man who pretty much accidentally stumbled into the middle of the workshop and then fought his way through until he understood as much code as everybody else; multiple shy young design students fighting with snippets of code and pixels and bugs and error messages to produce something that will be rough, humble, still full of error messages and bugs, but working, heartfelt, earnest and carrying a promise: That one can build on this.
We only had three days to get this far, and we part with a promise: whoever learned something of value in this workshop will try to teach someone else. To spawn something, to enable other people to create games and interactive fiction themselves. Games that can be about saving the princess and shooting everything that moves, but also about different things; the more people know about writing and designing their own game worlds, so my naïve conviction, the more diversity they’ll bring to the table and the more topics we’ll have to make games about.
I’m still in contact with many of the participants, and they keep sending me updates on their projects and game ideas. This is the best outcome we, Blank Noise, my host in Bangalore, and I could have wished for. We organised something with a small, but lasting impact, talking about race, class and gender in video games, teaching storytelling, world building, and the basics of code.
Bangalore is full of mosquitos while I give this workshop, and I earn my fair share of red and violet marks on my pale skinny legs. Dengue fever is making the rounds and every new bite and many, many people remind me that I shouldn’t wear shorts all day, no matter how much insect repellant I coated my skin with. There’s a pimple growing under my right eye, I am sleep-deprived because of the everlasting horn orchestra in the neighborhood I live in, I misplaced my comb somewhere days ago, and oh dear God my back is killing me – in short, I don’t look or feel very teacher-ly (but probably like a media artist). And yet, starting discussions about games as an art form is surprisingly easy. And Blank Noise, whose aim, among others, is to spread their outreach into the digital realm, treat me as if I’d always been working with them, and give me the feeling that my contributions to their projects are valuable.
I travel around in Bangalore quite a lot in the 4 weeks I’ve been invited, and never before did I call so many taxis.
Two strangers being imprisoned in the same car for about an hour can lead to some degree of confidentiality between them. It probably helps that I am a tourist and it’s apparent that I’ll leave the country in a matter of weeks, so quite a few of the men – I never encounter a female driver – tell me stories about their job and family problems, secrets they kept from friends or co-workers, voice criticism about local politics or their personal thoughts about human rights issues. Others try to find out as much as possible about me or my cultural background, including how much I earn and what life in Germany is like right now (“cold” is my most regular and most widely understood reply). So, when traffic is slow, sometimes I find myself giving lengthy FAQs about religion, food, vegetation, weather, language, and family relations. And sometimes, we have to use hand gestures and awkward smiles for communication, when neither of us speaks a portion of a language the interlocutor (of sorts) knows to at least some degree, and still I need to get off that vehicle somewhere and, well, let’s say it’s the street name and house number in your heart that counts and not the one you’d wish to be dropped at. Especially since street names and house numbers aren’t really much of a thing in general.
I visit places I planned to visit in Germany – the Goethe-Institut, obviously, the Blank Noise office at Srishti Institute, the Botanical Garden, the National Gallery of Modern Art – and places I either didn’t know existed or really wasn’t planning to go to. Like a hospital (remember that “Oh God my back is killing me” part? Drugs from the hospital certainly help in that department in exchange for a gastric ulcer or whatever it is that makes me vomit in the monsoon in Mysore, which is about as romantic a picture as it sounds), an arrangement of malls or a very decadent confectionery. I find myself in this Indian-Chinese restaurant, teaching a young man I befriended a week ago the use of chopsticks and act all grown up as if I hadn’t been dependent on a friend from South Korea to teach me how to eat noodle soup with bamboo sticks between my fingers just about two years ago. I spend half an hour in the crowded, narrow aisles of a supermarket, super-awed by the fact that just everything here is vegetarian. Grocery shopping just became a whole lot easier for me, given that I end up with a cashier who has access to a registry that actually knows which products can be bought from the store. In a book store, I discover that, of all things, Archie has its own aisle, right next to an Indian comic book series about Hindu deities. At a street market, I seriously regret that I brought my rope sandals along with me and now me and my rope sandals are here, in the monsoon, the roads flooded with an icky brown liquid, my rope sandals soaking up every last drop of it and as a result bearing the fine smell of dog and cow excrement even after washing them twice.
For the sake of not wanting to disappoint my parents (too much), I force myself to take photographs. I never take photographs. The only selfies I ever produced I took under peer pressure at age 16. When I arrive in Bangalore, there are exactly zero photographs on my phone, which I just got because of course I’m too cool for smartphones (oh, yeah: Bring a smartphone to Bangalore if you want to get a cab, ever), but my regular piece of astounding future technology from the year 2003 just broke and a friend gave me his old – I mean OLD, old enough for my cab drivers to pity me and give me advice on what models I could buy cheap in the mall – smartphone to at least have some means of communication here, and boy am I glad about that. Anyway, when I leave, I’ll leave with – let me count – around 60 pictures, which means I took roughly 2 photographs a day, which is an absolute record for me. Of course I never took photographs before because it makes me feel like a tourist, and I can say wholeheartedly now that being a tourist is hard work and not worth the effort because all the pictures I take are of things I find interesting and those are different from what my friends and family find interesting. What I want to say is, I mainly take pictures of monkeys, posters, power lines and my apartment’s Wi-Fi password, and sometimes particularly picturesque settings in which the thought “My mum would like that” crosses my mind (she kinda does). The reaction of my family to the photos, however, is interesting, because when I first show them, they tell me they imagined India to be more picturesque and bright and warm-coloured in general. And, well, that is the idea most people who never visited India probably have about it, I suppose – That it’s this “other” place where everything is bright and red and golden and, I dunno, full of richly decorated elephants in front of an endless array of palm trees and Taj Mahal lookalikes? And not a country in which a city, huge, stressful, busy, convoluted and rainy like Bangalore, sits on the Deccan Plateau and is very busy being huge and stressful.
Did I mention the food? I am disappointed, but that is mainly because I’m a dummy. Because I HEARD that Indian food tends to be very spicy, in Germany I trained my stomach for four weeks straight. I grow chillies in my kitchen and for one month chillies go into or onto everything. Chilli pizza. Chilli pasta. Chilli bread. Chilli salad. Chilli soup. It was a great month, by the way. I only just stopped myself when I thought about sprinkling chilli flakes onto my oatmeal. And then I’m in Bangalore and my stomach is all “Come at me, bro” and the food is rather “Good evening, dear sir. How can I tickle your palate?” because I believed what I HEARD about India as a whole instead of looking up the cuisine of Karnataka to find out that the food is known to be mild here and now I sit in this restaurant with my iron stomach and ask the staff to give me some raw chillies because my taste buds are dead. Custard apples and jujube fruits are great, though. And I like that I can buy raw peanuts by the kilogram around every corner, and I better not tell anybody how many of those kilograms I purchased and churned down during all the all-nighters I pulled to get some writing, coding or designing done for the workshop, an experimental chat room in development, some resource files, a poster, … weirdly, when I leave, I feel like I didn’t do enough. There’s so much more to be worked on.
What’s there left to say? It was a great experience. I loved working in Bangalore and hope to return to continue working for Blank Noise and on my own. And the fact that, back in Germany, the Deutsche Bahn managed to displace my luggage so that everything I had with me or bought in Bangalore just vanished for three weeks before mysteriously showing up again in Wuppertal? Not my favourite anecdote of the year, especially because of the distinct smell of rot when I finally got my stuff back for the low price of 35 bucks and a couple of nerve cells having overexerted themselves, but still in the top ten. It made me value the memories more than the petty little things, but that still doesn’t mean I’m not mad about the kilogram of raw peanuts missing from my suitcase.