Were you the type of kid who raced home from school to catch DuckTales? Did you have the theme song memorized? Did you spend hours playing the video game? Then maybe you should head down to iam8bit's Echo Park headquarters and go for a swim through Scrooge McDuck's pool of money.
For “Entertainment System,” the latest retro-gaming themed art show from iam8bit, the group created a real life representation of the vault where Uncle Scrooge would dive head first into a sea of coins. “We are huge fans of the DuckTales game,” says Noah Lane, the senior project coordinator at iam8bit, referencing the 1989 adventure game based on the series. “We've been researching and working on it for months.”
The Echo Park firm worked closely with Capcom to bring the vault to life. Capcom, the video game company responsible for a slew of hit games, was behind the original DuckTales video game and recently announced DuckTales: Remastered. The new version of the old game will be available for multiple systems later this summer.
On June 7, when “Entertainment System” opened at the Sunset Boulevard space, the line for a photo op in the vault was long and the excitement on the faces of those who had a chance to jump into pit was contagious. It was a great example of how art and marketing goes hand-in-hand.
By day, iam8bit works with a variety of video game companies and other media firms on large scale creative projects. In the past, they have organized Street Fighter Club parties. They designed “The Zelda Room” for a conference space at Nintendo's Redwood City office and devised a viral campaign for Square-Enix's game Quantum Conundrum.
The art gallery space is ultimately an extension of those major projects that iam8bit develops. Shows frequently center around pop culture themes. “Entertainment System,” with its emphasis on retro video games, is part of an annual series of shows that delves deep into our collective nostalgia for the days when Mario and Link ruled gaming systems. “We always engage people with something kind of tactile and fun and interactive beyond just the art on the walls,” says Jon Gibson, co-owner of iam8bit.
This year's show brought in 80 international artists to create works tied to the “Entertainment System” theme.
“This [show] explores the universe that a console used to provide, the notion that when Nintendo came out, it was Nintendo Entertainment System,” says Gibson. “It was this world of characters and things and objects and landscapes. We wanted to encapsulate that and incorporate it into the show.”
Plenty of artists took on the most popular games of the era, including Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda. Others examined more obscure titles. Lane, who worked on the DuckTales project, took the lesser known route when working on his own contribution to the show.
This wasn't the first time Lane has dug deep into the video game world. In 2011, L.A. Weekly's Keith Plocek reported that the artist referenced both the Nintendo Power Glove and Michael Jackson's glove in a piece called Beat It. This time around, Lane created Alien Ant Farm, a custom-built ant farm that requires the audience to look up close. In the sand, you can see small, laser-cut replicas of the cartridge for Atari's flop of a video game, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. “I was going to use real ants,” says Lane. “I figured for the purpose of the show it's more practical to use fake ants.”
“Alien Ant Farm” is inspired by stories regarding the fate of E.T. cartridges following the game's disastrous release. Lane had been mulling over the concept for this piece for about a year. He shared the idea with Gibson, who Lane says advised him that “the best art is the art that tells a story.”
“This piece tells a story,” says Lane. “I've seen people stand in front of it. They look confused for a second, but then they crack up.”
“Entertainment System” runs at iam8bit through June 30.