Damjan Jovanovic presents solo show 'Discovery' at SCI-Arc Gallery

Damjan Jovanovic, an educator, architect and game designer, explored world-building through co-operative player dynamics to imagine integrated, optimistic futures.

by Shraddha NairPublished on : Jan 25, 2023

Do you enjoy video games? Are you obsessed with Candy Crush or a social FIFA Player? Or are you a more eclectic game aficionado? Video games have transformed much of our lives, to varying degrees. It has seeped into other parts of our lives as well. It drives virtual reality technologies, and vice-versa. It has inspired various industries from architecture to real estate and more. In a recent conversation with Damjan Jovanovic, we learnt how the video game format is being leveraged to reimagine urban realities. Jovanovic recently presented an exhibition at SCI-Arc, an architecture institute in Los Angeles. The solo exhibition, titled Discovery: a story about rooftops, airships, robots and inflatables, brought together artificial intelligence, ecology, and architecture. Here, the experience of these subjects was gamified to inspire wonder and creativity within the viewer.

Installation view of Discovery at SCI-Arc Gallery | Discovery | Damjan Jovanovic | STIRworld
Installation view of Discovery at SCI-Arc Gallery Image: Charles White; Courtesy of SCI-Arc

In a world where climate-anxiety has clutched us all quite tightly, Discovery offered a simulation of a more optimistic future. The ecological video game attempted to imagine an alternative lifestyle which looks to cultivate a closer community. In the game, we followed the narrative of The Airborne Collective. TAC is a radical environmental hacker group whose mission is to create a flourishing rooftop ecosystem, weaponising optimism in the face of overwhelming ecological threat. The video game serves as an educational modality, to inform the viewers of holistic approaches to architecture, urban planning, and design. Jovanovic tells us, “The game is a single player life simulation that focuses heavily on player exploration and discovery of the world. The game is open-ended and not goal based, a form of what James Carse called an 'infinite game'. The player’s main activity is to gain knowledge through exploration and to find out about all the components of the world through gameplay. At the core of the game are two entangled dynamic systems of ecology and economy, and they are supported through every in-game object as well as the world. The system’s simulation is at the core of the world model." The open-ended model, which removes competitive elements from the structure, encourages imagination over winning points. Jovanovic aims to include the viewer in the world-building process. 

A screenshot from the video game Discovery | Discovery | Damjan Jovanovic | STIRworld
A screenshot from the video game Discovery Image: Charles White; Courtesy of SCI-Arc

The project was born from observations during the pandemic. Jovanovic saw the downtown LA rooftop culture of urban gardening slowly grow during the lockdown. By presenting these novel ideas through a game in an exhibition, the visual artist looked to break down the boundaries of the video game and exhibition format. He says, “In our case, games are a way to involve the audience in a much more direct way and challenge the standard exhibition logic. Games are interactive and that means that the observer needs to become a player, which implies a different idea of agency, and a different idea of politics as well. By playing our game, the audience becomes part of the collective and part of the utopian politics of the project.” By simulating potential futures and stimulating the viewer’s imagination, exhibitions like Discovery offer a playful and engaging way to inspire viewers into making more conscious and deliberate choices with their consumption, their lifestyle choices and even their political votes.

Screengrab: Discovery, video game | Discovery | Damjan Jovanovic | STIRworld
Screengrab from the video game Discovery Image: Charles White; Courtesy of SCI-Arc

Jovanovic’s own practice informs the construction of the game Discovery. His interest in architecture, game design and artificial intelligence synthesise to result in this exhibition. Jovanovic uses AI for different applications within Discovery, and not just for designing the in-game character. "For Discovery, we have expanded our use of AI to the concept design phase, where we have worked extensively with Stable Diffusion, Midjourney and DALL-E2 to prototype designs and the world. We have also used AI to make a design for the Airborne Collective flag, which also became a physical object, a flag that is placed at the entrance to the gallery space," he shares.

Installation view: Discovery: a story about rooftops, airships, robots and inflatables | Discovery | Damjan Jovanovic | STIRworld
Installation view: Discovery: a story about rooftops, airships, robots and inflatables Image: Charles White; Courtesy of SCI-Arc

Jovanovic is the co-founder, along with Lidija Kljakovic, of lifeforms.io, a game design studio based in Los Angeles. He tells us more about the studio saying, “Lifeforms.io is a design studio that operates at the intersection between video games and design, and we focus on making virtual worlds and experiences using real time digital technologies. We view games as the next step in the evolution of expressive media; we believe that the format allows for ways of seeing and storytelling that are completely unique and entirely different from older media like film or animation. We are interested in player agency in terms of exploration, environmental storytelling, as well as creativity within the game world.” 

Damjan Jovanovic | Discovery | Damjan Jovanovic | STIRworld
Damjan Jovanovic Image: Courtesy of SCI-Arc
A clip from Unreal Engine 5, game design Video: Courtesy of SCI-Arc

The exhibition Discovery at the SCI-Arc Gallery (October 28, 2022-January 8, 2023) showcased large inflatable objects, digital projections and prints from the video game.

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