This July, I’ll be releasing a Free-to-play interactive experience titled “Bread & Butter In a Field of Dreams” for Mac/Win Desktop. But actually, you could say that this project originated as a project under a different name – “The Legend of Debbie“…
“The Legend of Debbie” was originally made as a commission for Asian Film Archive’s State of Motion in January 2021 and it was my way of trying to use the archive of my own artwork as the source material for a sprawling game, exploring the different works as strange portals transporting you to weird spatialised versions of the works, and splicing my works with a partially fictionalised narrative (approximately 25% fiction, 75% reality).
The titular “legend” for the work was this directory which categorised my works into many different categories. A map legend. When I had time I was going to put more symbols all over the place, maybe have a little radar map overhead as well. I also had a lot of fun designing different rooms to represent different works.
I originally wanted to design a LIVE VR experience for the “The Legend of Debbie” and rather than to release the game (because this would take so much more testing for the development side of the project rather than running it as a moderated tour), I would run it as a live event (workshop) where participants could come down in different timeslots to experience this VR game (facilitated by myself)….
Imagine how fun it would be rolling through these odd spaces…
But then the Phase 2 Heightened Measures kicked in again, so we couldn’t have live events like this anymore. So… I did not make a VR version for “The Legend of Debbie”. And in any case, there was something that disturbed me about the final presentation of Legend.
IT JUST WASN’T FICTIONAL ENOUGH!!!
I have come to the conclusion that there is no room for nuance. Or maybe I am not very good at nuance (it is something I am working on, but I suspect that nuance does not come easily to me mainly because my real life personality is too excitable and shouty and maybe a bit childlike and overly earnest at heart).
Instead of developing The Legend further, I somehow ended up making a completely new game from scratch. One in which very deliberately NONE of the works were shown in the game world in their original form, besides the first room which replicates the Wikicliki exhibition by the Singapore Art Museum, currently in the Ngee Ann Kongsi Concourse Gallery (Basement) of National Gallery Singapore. The show runs until 11 July 2021.
Since we couldn’t be in the gallery itself for the talk, I had re-created the gallery for a talk on 29th May (A conversation between myself and curator Mustafa, whom I have worked closely with during the last few months.) Instead of boring slides, based on the items that Mustafa was interested in discussing about, I brought them into the gallery space through the various 3D modelled props on a table, including a few laptops handily scrolling through my actual Wikicliki and a spreadsheet of the Here the River Lies cards (many credits to George for painstakingly digitizing them).
From this totally realistic representation of a real exhibition you eventually get teleported to another world where there are lots of objects which are directly representative of the projects I’ve worked on over the last 10 years, but nothing is represented in the original form that it was made.
In the world of the Field of Dreams, every single artwork I have made in the last 10 years is turned into a transmogrified version of itself – a pop translation of the work which could comfortably exist within a commercially lucrative museum retail shop (a la MOMA shop or NAIISE or any one of those shiny design shops)… or in a dusty basement reading room within an alternative community-based establishment for which there is no lack of heart but financial viability is always a question (such as The Substation’s Random Room).
Somehow making art is an act of translation for me. I don’t really seem to start by drawing or sketch, but by writing, and then I have to translate that into sketches, and from sketches into whatever digital medium I am doing. And this act of translation seems so arbitrary at times. Many ideas could have turned out differently had I chosen to make them in a different medium. Perhaps this expresses the tension I feel between making work as an artist and work as a designer/design educator (which earns me my living). The art can be poetic and ruminative and open-ended whereas the design has to fulfill the brief requirements and ultimately has to be functional (and most likely measurable).
So I thought that instead of a Space Geode rendered all in white, I would have a mildly tacky Space Geode Citrus Squeezer; instead of The Library of Pulau Saigon, its various components would be turned into functional items such as a Tic-tac-toe-set featuring the Chinese Spoon as the naughts and the Political Party Badge as the zeroes (something with the potential to be a slightly tacky coffee table centerpiece). My pulsed laser holography work, “War Fronts” would be rendered instead as a Jigsaw set. And instead of my print of 100 of my dreams from my Dream Syntax book, I turned it into a Scratch-off-chart of the 100 dreams. Because scratch off maps are all the rage now on everyone’s internet shopping list, aren’t they?
Along the way I er…. got a bit too excited because who needs to write a book when you can just make the cover for the book? I was churning out dozens and dozens of pdf book cover textures to populate the DBBD SHOP.
So, perhaps we can’t quite call this work “The Legend of Debbie 2.0” anymore. Maybe this should be called by the name that seems more appropriate for it now: Bread & Butter in The Field of Dreams.
The work takes its name from a 2013 ACES study by the NAC – apparently the first survey of its kind done on arts and cultural workers to examine how on earth do they make their living. I do not know which unnamed arts/cultural worker would give the survey such an evocative name, but here I have made the breads and butters literal, to be collected up before you can gain entry to the next scene.
Special mention also goes to another big survey I participated in not too long ago, which asked artists some very sobering questions about what we thought had advanced our artistic careers or had inhibited our careers, with a dropdown list of items that could potentially limit our careers being twice as long as the advancing list. (In an earlier iteration of the study, it suggested that we dig up our past 10 years of tax returns to examine the difference between our art-income and non-art income. Me, I almost thought this was like some cruel form of “formative assessment” – “Alright, you got me, I’ve NOT been solely living off my earnings as an artist, and in fact, at times this whole “art” thing is frequently a complete loss leader operation!”) I have many ambivalent feels about this. One one hand, my desire to make art isn’t about the money, but on the other hand I also do want to fix the current state of affairs…
There’s a maze and some other weird shizz coming up…
The world is still very much a work-in-progress and I look forward to fleshing it over for July’s “workshop” and to be able to release it as a free game for download! My goal is a release by July 2021! Me thinks I might even do it as a gameplay video – I quite enjoyed this live stream (ticketed as a workshop, but really more like a twitch stream with me having set up OBS and all the ridiculous animated overlays and chats)
I also did another detailed breakdown of the time I spent on this last week using Rescuetime. Rescuetime tracks the time I spend in each app and it is handy in that it breaks down the time I spend into working hours (defined as 9am-6am) and non-working hours (6am-9am) so I can sift out the time I spend on personal projects versus time on my day job. My secret to ekeing out the time is usually to work for 1-2 hrs after Beano sleeps at night and wake at about 4-5am to work.
It goes to show that despite working full time and having a time-consuming baby bean (with help of dingparents dutifully caring for her whilst I work), it is still possible to eke out the time to maintain an active artistic practice if one has the will to do so (and the disclipline to wake up early).
It does feel like a culmination of 3D skills I have taken years to acquire:
2014: when I realised how non-existent my 3D design skills were
2016: when I made myself try to make one blender render a day
2017: intentionally producing new works using 3D
2019: intentionally producing new works in Unity (very basic at that stage)
2020: taking the Unity Developer cert at my workplace, supervising more Unity-based projects
2021: being able to build things like this in a week (on top of a seperate full-time job)
I’ve seen several GDC talks and devlog videos on youtube detailing how every successful game dev probably has dozens of “failed games” before they finally make the one game they are happy with, that one breakthrough game. Likewise I don’t expect Field of Dreams to be perfect on its July 2021 release but I hope to collect lots and lots of feedback after releasing it so I can improve the experience!