Bassam Al-Sabah queers gaming culture and its fetish of the armoured male body in his solo exhibition “IT’S DANGEROUS TO GO ALONE! TAKE THIS,” currently on view at The Douglas Hyde through March 5. Below, Al-Sabah discusses the psychic and physical disintegration his character undergoes in the show’s eponymous CGI video—a hyperreal dreamscape that probes the limits of masculinity, subjectivity, and representation.
AS A CHILD, I played a lot of video games. I didn’t go many places beyond my house, my school, and my grandad’s house, so my interaction with landscape really came from video games. I am interested in how landscape is represented and navigated in video games, and in the relationship between the player figure and the surrounding environment.
The title of my new film is borrowed from the video game The Legend of Zelda and connotes a journey that isn’t easy or safe. The piece features the same character from my last film, I AM ERROR, 2021, in which there is more focus on him engaging with fantastic creatures, such as a fairy and a dragon. There is a weightlessness to his body in the new film, but he is loaded with internal turmoil. The character is not a human, but I am allowing him to be represented as such onscreen, as his body convulses from an outpouring of emotions.
CGI is seductive. I’m not afraid of that—I enjoy being actively seduced in an art space. The flowers are swaying in a slightly seductive manner on purpose. But every now and again that illusion is broken, and your eye catches these clearly empty structures with strings holding them in place. There is a hollowness to all the things I create. The hollowness is most pronounced when the boundary between the character’s body and the landscape around him dissipates. He is in a constant state of orbiting, or falling, or coming into the idea of nothingness. The objects, the figure, and the texts that appear on-screen have a strained relationship to each other; the landscape is out of scale with the figures, and there is almost a failure on the part of the various elements to commit to each other.
I tried to give the figure internal organs with a couple of 3-D models that just would not work together. The bones stick out and the internal guts do not fit in the stomach. I ended up overworking a scene where he was disappearing slowly, but then his guts appeared and then fell out. It was kind of gross. And I thought, how does the model decompose? Not the representation of a decay. But how would a model decay? This decaying body is somewhat disgusting, which is more exciting to me than a sanitized body.
I’ve been going to the Douglas Hyde since when I was in art school, so it holds a really special place in my memory. I filled the gallery with sculptural fragments in dialogue with scenes from the film, arranging them to construct a kind of incoherent landscape. You could say the sculptures are an extension of the film, and vice versa. Every medium, including CGI, has its limitations, and it’s interesting to push against them while also allowing the program to exist on its own terms. Hence the flatness of the polystyrene sculptures, which stand in contrast with the glossy, shimmery figure in the film, though they both share the same hypersynthetic quality.
The character does not have much agency. His tears overwhelm his body. Ultimately, he is uncomfortable with the power that he’s been given. At no point does he seem at ease when he transforms to become hypermasculine. He is only content in the last scene, where he floats through the sky with flowers growing out of his body.
— As told to Joni Zhu