Thursday, August 5, 2004
Game boy: Yucef Merhi
Digital-art piece at new O.C. museum mixes poetry
and video games
|ďATARI POETRY IVĒ: Yucef Merhiís
work features a TV displaying poetry that was written over an old Atari game.
Photo: Courtesy of YUCEF MERHI
The Orange County Register
COSTA MESA Ė The colorful text flying across
the vintage television screen offers a glimpse into one of artist Yucef Merhi's
passions in life. The wood-grain game console underneath the TV offers a
clue to the other.
Merhi's piece "Atari Poetry IV," now showing
at the new Orange Lounge digital-art museum at South Coast Plaza, mixes poetry
and video games. Displayed in the museum's front window, the TV displays poetry
that was written over an old Atari game. The piece would look right at home
in an early 1980s American home, only instead of a game, Merhi's pixilated
poetry glides across the screen.
"I started playing video games when I was
6 years old. But it wasn't until my seventh birthday that I got my first Atari
2600," said Merhi, now 27.
Atari changed his life. Even at that young
age, Venezuelan-born Merhi became fascinated with the technology behind the
games. He began experimenting and creating movies on the console system when
he wasn't playing "Asteroids," "Berzerk" and "Kaboom!"
He later worked for AT&T, setting up
electronic bulletin-board systems. But his love of poetry and fascination
with technology led him into life as a digital artist.
"Art is the only place you can merge science
and the humanities," said Merhi, who lives in New York but was in Costa Mesa
last week for the Orange Lounge museum's debut.
|BORN Caracas, Venezuela
LIVES New York City
IN HIS PLAYSTATION 2 "Grand Theft Auto"
OF ATARI 2600S HE OWNS 7
"The answer is relative. In terrestrial years, Iím 27. In Martian years Iím
Because of his computer-programming experience,
he managed to keep software code to a minimum in order to fit it on the limited
amount of space on the Atari cartridge. The game cartridge has just 4 kilobytes
of space, or a fraction of a percent of a 3.5-inch floppy disk.
Merhi was able to use that to display simple
text that spells out his musings:
is to conspire against death
knowing that death
is our best ally
Through poetry, Merhi transforms a household
object into art, extending the poetry by using video-game technology to go
And he continues to explore other ways
to intermingle art with video games.
One new piece, which debuts at a New York
gallery in September, is "Mission Taliban," a computer game he designed in
response to the World Trade Center tragedy.
He studied several 3-D-animated games,
focusing on the game "Mission Wolfenstein," which was the first 3-D computer
game released. He rejiggered Wolfenstein's software code to create a new game
that lets players fight terrorists.
Players can find terrorists, destroy their
weapons of mass destruction and accumulate "hope" coins. Ultimately, the aim
is to capture Osama Bin Laden.
"During the game, players can read poetry
placed on the walls of the Taliban base, as if it would be digital graffiti,
which reflects the collective feeling that people around the world have been
experiencing since the 9/11 attack. When the player stops to read these poems,
he or she runs the risk of getting killed. However, 'Mission Taliban' is a
safe and cathartic way to deal with the time we are living.
"Because, after all, it is just a game,"