“Gaming is where the battle is and where the boundaries are being pushed” – an interview with John Clowder

In my previous post I told you about my first steps into the world of indie-games, with a special mention of Middens and Gingiva, two games that impressed me and excited me particularly for their artistic, avant-gard form. Two games I played several times so that I could seize each aspect of them. And behind these games there’s John Clowder.
John is a college-maker – in the deeper, most important meaning of the term: its surreal cosmos it’s made of illustration, pixel-art, programming, writing, sound design, mystical and esoteric references, assemblies of bodies and significance, satyre, existential thoughts and pure dadaism.
His kind of world is one of the rarest to find and most difficult to understand, but it’s also a terribly fascinating and multifaceted world, where it’s worth to get lost without too many question, re-imagining reality from the start.
This is why I wanted to take a closer look at this place on its own, asking some questions to its demiurge…

1. It’s the most trivial, and yet the most difficult as well, of all the possible questions: who is John Clowder?

In John Clowder the ‘O’s are scissor cut eye sockets and the ‘D’ a slit for the mouth. The name is worn over the face like a ski mask or placed on the lap and over the hand like a ventriloquist dummy. In emergencies the name can double as a fleshy shield. When the hungry dogs chase behind the moniker may be thrown as a decoy. It becomes a juicy steak when it contacts the air and the dumb animals don’t know the difference.

Names are just designations. They don’t matter. The nature of the internet is similar to an ouija board in that it drives communication with entities of unverifiable existence. You never know exactly what you’re communicating with online.

It’s said that when a spirit is conjured it adopts a name; many times a friendly neighborly sounding name like ‘Tom’ or ‘Susie’. This of course is only a comic subterfuge that plays on the channeler’s gap of ignorance. The beautiful girl you’re cybering with is really a fifty year old obese man. Your spirit buddy Casper is really Beelzebub.

A Fay Joust

A Fay Joust

2. I know you work among different sectors, from illustration to writing, as well as teaching Gaming and Digital Arts in a college. I’d like to focus on the gaming field, which is maybe the most peculiar.
Why did you chose this particular form of expression? What drove you to create your first videogame?

What you see in the museums being paraded as modern art is farcically out of touch with the reality of recent developments. Video games are the exemplars of modern art. Gaming is where the battle is and where the boundaries are being pushed. The blank canvases and pop art installations of the art historians are just the worms eating the long dead fine arts.

Why have the fine arts died? Because they’ve achieved total freedom, self awareness and fulfilled the possibilities of absolute abstraction and utter realness. There can be no more novelty in illustration, photography or film; nothing truly new. These mediums have completed their life cycles and passed beyond maturity into old age. Although they will continue forever no new narrative is available to them.

Each successive medium expires faster than the last. Time is speeding up. Gaming is the most advanced art form but also the most ephemeral. Imagine that an independent game authored by one person takes three years to produce. What do you suppose is the longevity of its relevance? Books remain accessible and meaningful for as long as they can be read, but a game’s lifespan is dependent on operating systems that are swapped out every couple years. A game is essentially born obsolete. The world won’t wait.

The Saddler

The Saddler

There is another reason games attract me. I feel they epitomize the growing artificiality of our lives. Perhaps in the future what is fake will pull so close to the real as to be indistinguishable. In the end what will make something genuine? Technology will create a mirror of perfect likeness to life one day.

A devil plays with people’s perceptions like an advertiser manipulates brand trust. People buy into prepackaged versions of reality like consumers purchase Coke or Pepsi. These processed ideas usually come with an ism or ity after them. They’re mind killers.

When we’re shown a simulation to match in pitch detail our waking state I expect we’ll have to redress some of our takes on the universe. I am eagerly awaiting reality’s identity crisis. It’ll be like a newly aware infant recognizing their reflection for the first time.

An extract from Middens game

An extract from Middens game

3. How does the process of creating a videogame unfold? I imagine the complexity, since the variables are so many: plot and artwork, score and script, scenery and possible interactions… But where does it all start?
And how – and how much – does this creative magma affect your everyday life?

I am chained by foot to the clock hands. Every lapsing moment I’m forced to act. Even choosing not to act is an action. Some folks think time is measured in seconds and minutes…the truth is time is dependent upon motion. Each divisible fragment of an activity forms a moment and every moment forms a segment in time. All day long I’m plagued to use my time purposefully. Loneliness makes it worse. Wine makes it a little better. In anycase, I am a slave to time and a prisoner to space and you should know that.

The intricate patterns you see are like the doodles on my cell walls. Their elaborate nature is the after effect of a restless mind. My creations are like bottles set to sea. I hope someone will find me on my stranded island and help ease even an hour’s passing. I just want to connect with what’s real. It’s a tedious frustration.

There is something of an automatic impulse towards order, and so the work ties together often incidentally. Alchemizing what is disparate is, to me, an overstated challenge. Even if I were stringing together completely incongruous images the mind is impelled to formulate a continuity—though there is none intended. The mind, perhaps, prefers what is atleast somewhat obviously sequential in the same way the eye prefers harmonious arrangements to noisy ones, but visual solvency and logical order are not essential—more an obliging courtesy.

4. The collage formula, the aesthetics of the creatures populating your world, and the concept of the Rift itself (nda: the crack that swallows everything, in Middens and Gingiva) have a post-modern taste, some sort of giant mash-up of many different kinds of elements, of different visual tecniques, cultures, ages and concepts that, together, form something new.
If the age of the avant-gardes – the age of an art which is capable of expressing itself in ways that are actually new – is over, do you think this could be the path to provide art with some sort of inextinguishable renewal?

What is young is pliant and soft and what is old is coarse and unyielding. The new enters when the old dies.
“And from old comes new
and new is life and life is an eternal thing”

The year 2XXX and it’s a great day to be alive. I’m long dead. Some person’s dog is letting loose a big one right on my unmarked grave. Who’ll be talking about my art? If a single piece of me endures it’ll be whatever doomed offspring I swindle a woman into giving me. Women if I’m lucky…or unlucky.

All this desire for newness…what is it really? Can’t you just create art for your personal enjoyment? Does it need a purpose? That’s some draconian bull right there.

Create your own meaning. This life is for you. Don’t worry about feeding society’s monster. Live and love, create and destroy. All these lofty intentions are delusions of grandeur. When the world ends all that will have mattered is that you contemplated the source, saw the oneness of allness, and got your share of yeah-yeahs out.

If even there is a purpose—in whatever slight way I will hope that I bent the prison bars a bit and made more elbow room for my successors, but if I didn’t it’s no big deal. Hopefully I’m in Heaven being pleasured by ten thousand virgin nymphs and I can leave this place of misery behind me forever.

Eye to Eye

Eye to Eye

5. Your games are not only characterized by an interesting narrative and a peculiar visual framework, they also somehow speak to the Man, confronting him with existential, philosophical, social and behavioral themes, asking him questions and undermining some of his certainties. How much engaging the gamer – not only in his actions but also in his thoughts – is important to you, and why?

I’m just haplessly flailing my arms. To say anything else is just to press the appearance of dignity. My only compass is my awareness of what I personally enjoy. Engaging the gamer is never a concern. All I want is to selfishly satisfy my own excesses.

Not to make you uncomfortable but it’s almost like my audience is watching me undress through my bedroom keyhole. There’s something fetishistic and voyeuristic about art. I think it was Orson Welles that said that pornography could never be art, but I believe all art is pornography. The craving for any stimulation from an external source is highly masturbatory or self gratifying, in my opinion, whether it is directly sexual or not.

Artists are like dope dealers. They all want to get the populace addicted to their product. Luckily I am not an artist. I am an anartist; its antithesis.

One of the limited prints by John Clowder

One of the limited prints by John Clowder

6. David Lynch spoke about a tension towards mystery, which he tries to instill into the observer: not a full, complete comprehension, but a ceaseless attempt to solve, in which it is not the final interpretation that counts, but tension itself. Can this intention somehow apply to your works as well?

It’s all too much. David Lynch is a sass-a-frass. He says all kinds of rubbish and his movies make as about as much sense as my games. Let’s not take him too seriously. With that squeaky voice of his he sounds better on paper than in person.

This is what I say.

All around you’ll see the relative posing as the absolute, or the local flaunting itself as the universal. You cannot localize the universal or make the endless finite. Nothing exists in isolation of everything else and is therefore all that appears individual is really reacting to the interminable external. There is at play an infinitude of forces. Positivism is quite plausibly impossible. Everything is a domino.

In other words; the mystery is all there is. Truth is found in the uncertainty of it. The enigma pulls closer to the actuality because nothing is truly known.

We live on a giant floating ball that was once ruled by giant reptiles. There’s quite a lot of room for interpretation in that equation. Zealously is the ultimate retardism. To have an opinion is to discard a contradiction.

Socrates said “I know only that I know nothing” and was called a wise man.

Persephone and Hades

Persephone and Hades

7. In your works it looks like sacredness and irony are equally important. How do they influence your point of view on the world?

The world might survive without compassion or penance and all other ‘sacred’ things, but could it continue without truth? Truth is the heart of what is sacred.

Groucho Marx, tripping on LSD, stated “Irreverence and reverence are the same thing.”

“If they’re not, then it’s a misuse of your power to make people laugh”

Have you heard of the wise fool or the sacred clown? They’re like the feminine man or the masculine woman or the blackest white person or the whitest black person. It is the same to say they’re kin to the smartest dumb person or the dumbest smart person.

Now you never want feces contaminating your water or water loosening your feces, but sometimes the profane is to be found in the profound and vice versa. It often takes an idiot or child to point it out honestly (for instance; The Emperor Has No Clothes).

A “holy” person’s abstention from sex may be as aberrant an obsession as a pervert’s preoccupation with smut. In the same way you have anorexics who refrain and the obese who indulge. Without the irony one seems bad and the other good, but these extremes compete on equally deformed ends. They’re like the North Pole or the South Pole. In the end they’re both cold and barren so who cares. A clown laughs at both sides. This is why the heyoka wear black and white in stripes…it’s a joke on dualities.

When I was the kid I learned early that I could make people laugh by playing dumb. Clever and cunning people are the opposite of funny. God loves fools.

Edwardian Automas

Edwardian Automas

8. Mystical and esoteric references are not rare in your games, and I know you collaborated with Abraxas Journal. What’s your connection with esoterism?

People would not believe my experiences. I’ve spoken to demons, hungry ghosts, a dead acquaintance, and what seemed like an angel. As a child I was visited by mara(a malicious shade) on several occasions. In my early years I would black out for hours at a time. Throughout my life there have been instances where I’ve escaped dying by a hair’s width—a miracle. Since I was born I’ve dreamt prophetically. In a vision I saw what I took to be God and it was like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard described. I’m positive that treating the grocery clerks with kindness sometimes earns me a store discount–ha.

This is all true, but I guess I’m just supposed to shut up about it.

I’m crazy. Repeat:

“There’s no such thing”

“There’s no such thing”

It’s just as well. Talking about it only trivializes the experiences.

John Clowder's tarot project: The Moon

John Clowder’s tarot project: The Moon

Here’s some food for thought. You live within the shape shifting body of an eleventh or twelfth dimensional entity that is merely posing as reality. This super being manipulates every atom in total space, all sensations—perceptions—and apparent qualities, the way a squid alters its chromatophores to change color. You believe you’re an individual because it designed your senses to focus outward—and it exists in back of you. Really you’re just its puppet toy. Like a bored child who, for lack of friends, plays a board game with himself against himself this entity poses as every living and seemingly non-living manifestation.

I’ve seen it. It’s pretty scary—though also beautiful. I think most people would piss themselves. I get nauseous just thinking about it. These occultists with their mundane visions of horned devils and winged angels would hit the floor screaming if ever they caught a glimpse of the truth. I’m not joking.

John Clowder's tarot project: The Jiudgement

John Clowder’s tarot project: Judgement

9. I know you’re working on a new game. What do you want to – or can – anticipate about it?

Going along the lines I’ve what I’ve already said—you know about art being pornography—let me say that I plan to get-off on it, and I hope my audience also pops one out.

My next game is the pinnacle of my gathered abilities and this will become evident to players quickly. I’m loosening my grip a little and romancing this one like a gentleman. It’s a slow and sweet and demented process.

Middens took the design of the spiral and Gingiva the caduceus. The narrative form employed in the third title is like the concentric rings in a tree or stacked nesting dolls. Each layer is its own tangent. The invariability of identity is in its concerns.


A preview from the upcoming game ‘Where They Cremate The Roadkill’

10. You said this game could be your last. What’s the reason behind this choice? And what would you like to dedicate yourself to, once the game is released?

Oh well I’m the type of guy to never settle down. Gaming goes to bed with me only to awaken the next morning to an empty bed and five dollars under the alarm clock. Cue the saxophone as I puff my collar and carouse in next town down.

I’ve my eye on film, but sister book looks fine too. I’ll never say exactly what I’ve planned; I wouldn’t want the jackals to know where my prey is hidden.

Does every artist (or in this case anartist) have their soul mate in the form of a medium? Does it work like that?

Do I even need a medium? I could turn my very life into an art piece. Embody instead of create.

Anyway, every so often I just need to run away. As soon as the feet get itching I’m half way around the world. I tend to have impeccable timing though—like an animal that senses a natural disaster before it hits. As kids we called it the ‘spidey sense’ and to this day it helps me avoid police capture. That could be a forewarning.

…gaming might be headed towards a crash especially where the mainstream is concerned…

wink* wink*

nudge* nudge*

(In my arbitrary predictions I’d say it’ll be about two years until it bottoms out and five or six before it entirely rebirths as something better)

Pony Rides

Pony Rides

11. Lastly, if you had to pick one painting, one music album and one movie that influenced you more than others, that somehow represent you, or that you just particularly love, what would they be?

You know, there is one but it’s a personal treasure. Despite my deep gratitude for this interview I cannot reveal it. Being possessive I keep it for myself. Like a selfish miser I rather have it forgotten to everyone but me than prosperous and famed.

I will say though, that I’ve always been fond of the song ‘Stand by Me’ by Ben E King. In the song he makes a reasonable request. The world is ending…but somehow it’s enough to comfort to merely stand next to a loved one.

If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
And the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

At last, John gave us a gorgeous gift, two version of the so-called “Anatomy Emblem”.
Here it is!

John Clowder animated logo for Anatomie der Form

John Clowder’s animated logo for Anatomie der Form

John Clowder for Anatomie der Form

John Clowder’s collage logo for Anatomie der Form


Where to follow John Clowder

Gingiva videogame
Middens videogame


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    1. Javier

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