Artist Profile – JODI

Published on 2018-05-16

 Artwork in the salon: JODI – 'Jet Set Willy Variations © 1984' (2002) 6 Datatapes, + Digital .audio files, 6 Software Files .sna + .tap playable in emulator, 6 Screengrab Videos of gameplay (aprox. 10min. each), 6 Game Walkthrough Maps, dimensions variable. Based on Jet Set Willy Game-engine. Edition of 5 +2AP. Loan courtesy of the artists.

When Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans won a 1999 Webby Award for their work as JODI, they used the occasion to call the attendees "ugly commercial sons of bitches" and throw a trophy at them. It’s that irreverence — plus loads of deconstructed video games and a tentacled, nonsensical explosion of a personal website — that helped build their profile as “techno-prankster” “computer imps” at the forefront of 1990s “net art.”

They haven’t bitten all the hands that have offered accreditation. Paesmans studied with Nam June Paik and then met Heemskerk at Jan van Eyck Academie and San Jose State University’s pioneering experimental media program, CADRE. The duo started working together in 1994 and went on to be featured at Eyebeam, The Museum of the Moving Image, Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow, and Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

They’ve mostly earned that artworld love for deconstructing digital interfaces and putting them back together in stupider, sillier, more useless configurations. The end result is digital Dadaism that, through its absurdity, brings awareness to the inherent absurdity in UX. The digital world has always existed in versions, updated with new releases and redesigns. Seeing purposely dysfunctional riffs can help us meditate on the forms we accept and reject. 

Click through (1995) and you’ll see a manic coding terminal that defies all conventions of web navigation. My%Desktop (2002), is a mess of reshuffling untitled folders and blinking pop-up screens. LED Puzzled (2012), puts a large-scale digital signage system askew. Burnout (History of Car Games) (2004 - 2012) documents a player aimlessly driving through racing games trying to wipeout and do donuts instead of win or follow game structures. And from Jet Set Willy to Wolfenstein 3D, Quake, and Max Payne, JODI has made digital natives’ childhood games into interface parodies. 

In the original Jet Set Willy, a newly-wealthy miner must clean his mansion, which is trashed from a party. His housekeeper won’t allow him into his room to sleep until he does so. The first release, published in 1984, had such serious software bugs that it couldn’t be completed. Software Projects, the company that released the game, maintained that the game’s frequent, unexplained, instant deaths were a feature, not a bug. They eventually fixed them. 

Players of JODI’s version can’t expect such luck. Their game’s structure is so abstracted it’s almost impossible to navigate. You’re an avatar lost in a deconstructed mess of pixels. But how different from that frustration were most games from the early 1980s? We take interfaces for granted, unable to see how they might become sleeker and more sensible in the future. We also might take for granted the conventions and world-building that puts so much subtle power in the hands of programmers. JODI’s abstracted reliefs illuminate how strange these places and that power can be. 

Further reading: Voices in Contemporary Art Journal 'TRANSMISSIONS: Traces Of The Past In JODI’s Variable Art' by Karin de Wild