Gingiva is a bizarre adventure RPG game by developer John Clowder (AKA myformerselves) where the player assumes the role of a toy-like, wind-up automaton escaping from a strange and oppressive factory. The game (and its spiritual predecessor Middens) takes place in a decidedly unsettling world… a psychedelic, dystopian landscape built from of found objects, cutouts of old texts, hand-drawn scraps, and glitchy pixel art. It’s uncomfortable, often macabre, and pretty intriguing.
I talked with John a little about building the eclectic, disorientating worlds of Gingiva and Middens:
Uncommon Assembly: Can you give me a little background about yourself? How long have you been making games or interested in making games?
John: For years I practiced meditation until once I saw the indweller who appeared to me as an infinite field both beautiful and terrifying of stars within eyes and world’s within mouths undulating over waves invisible except for their motion, and if that doesn’t make sense that’s because I’m trying to describe a secret that is essentially ineffable.I came into games partly by luck and somewhat by compunction. My first tinkerings started over a decade ago and were all terminated under the pillow before ever touching light.
Collage and photomontage seem to be a core medium that you’ve been working with for quite some time. What about it initially drew your interest?
I love collage because it is unloved. It is a harbinger too, of the death of art which must come to pass for progress to be made. Scavengers always appear before a great killing, and collage is the act of scavenging. The crow and the jackal are omens. The prevalence of collage is the writing on the wall. We’re on the cusp of a great change.
It has been noted that we are living in a “remix” culture, quite comfortable with, and captivated by, the combination of existing media, though arguably modern artists have been contributing since the early- to mid-20th century. Do you feel this ‘harbinger of the death of art’ has been building for a century?
This entropy has been building since the seminal beginning and will continue well beyond our time… Progress is like the hardening of the tissues. It is destructive. Modernity brings increasing complexity which is like heat under a pot of water, or the fragmentation of a hard-drive, or the shattering of an object. Here is a story I like to tell,
Once everything was perfect,
then someone came along and exclaimed “I can make this better”,
…and things have been getting worse ever since.
In a series of movies the first tends to be the best, the second slightly worse and the third awful. A working formula is fragile, add to it and it is ruined. This is why only unconditional love endures. Time trusses up every variable. Any condition will be met, every line crossed—if only eventually.
Art will not die alone. Its demise will be simultaneous to the end of justice and holiness. Industry and profit will be buried beside it. Realizing it all to be worthless people will purify themselves of these contaminants and return to serenity. It will be as it was in the first millennium before cities or war.
You seem to be very passionate about collage as an art form. What is it about the re-use of found materials that you find so expressive?
Words are symbols that stand for images. The craftsmanship of a writer is in his ability to communicate images through language. A word is selected from a common source so that its meaning may be shared.
A collage artist selects images from a general vernacular of images just as a poet selects words from the popular vernacular. Ultimately all work is collage work since nothing is actually ever originated. Everything that can be shown is sourced in shared or at least relatable iconography. In this way there is only ever re-use whether in collage stock or in referring to a model to portrait.
The verities of form are vast, but function is limited. A wheel works because it is round. We do not manufacture square wheels because function must coincide with form. Images which do not harmonize to formulate a relatable subject are known as absurd. Continually chasing originality leads one to images still more and more random until what is displayed is so alien that effective communication is impossible.
The source of all things can claim originality, everything after that is mimicry.
Gingiva is available for Mac and PC, and can be downloaded on its GameJolt page. More can be found about John Clowder, myformerselves, and his other projects at the dedicated Middens page, and you can see some of his personal collage work on Daily Inspiration.