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I Am 8-Bit-Version 2.006 @ Gallery 1988

11:31 AM PDT on April 18, 2006


All the lip piercings, neck tattoos, bad hipster facial hair and silk-screened skulls in the city could not hide the fact that there was a little geek in every person standing in the packed line to enter I Am 8-Bit, the annual exhibit of 80’s videogame-inspired artwork currently on show at Gallery 1988 on Melrose. Overheard conversations revolved around current digital obsessions as well as the nostalgia of hours and quarters lost to Double Dragon, Punch-Out, and Street Fighter. Graffiti black books were passed to a lanky lad who doodles one hell of a Mega Man while camera crews from G4, Coin-Slot TV, and MTV intruded on the stunted adulthood of the multitudes queued-up in anticipation.

Inside the jam-packed gallery were paintings and sculptures adding previous untold depth to the world of Nintendo, Atari and Playstation. While the DJ spun 80’s hits heavy on synth and digital bleeps and boops, imagined pasts and futures of classic characters were laid out on the walls en masse: a pre-drunk tank Luigi posing for a mug shot hung near a figurine funeral scene where Dig Dug lay in his underground grave, a memorial attended by Pac-Man and his old-school peers. A worn and realistic Mario, sledgehammer in hand, stood atop precarious steel beams over a smoldering cityscape, gazing at the hands of Donkey Kong while, elsewhere, “Game Over Tavern” evoked Helnwein’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams with its sordid assembly of a coke-snorting Q-Bert, bleary-eyed bar wench Mrs. Pac-Man and a lascivious, orally-foaming Centipede. The darkness inherent in these childhood playthings had perhaps seemed less than obvious before facing the artists’ visions, forcing viewers to realize the stakes of life and death that are often at play when simply playing.


More effective than the cuteness of Japan-style character toys, comedic cartoon oils, plush dolls and a wall of video game bit-player mustaches were pieces that played on the addictiveness and near religious devotion of the pastime. A Last Supper-derived scene revolved around Kong, perhaps the first mega-selling computerized villain, as Frogger and Zelda’s Link ranked among other apostles. Mrs. Pac-Man also played the Virgin while the most haunting and perhaps most abstract piece, despite its human realism, was the painting of a miserable Harrison Ford, Nintendo in hand, being left out of a game by two younger sedentary players.

Green apple flavored “Players Extreme” vodka was served in the hard-partying parking lot, either a nod to the hundreds of present gamers or the latest dive into the designer spirit world by an unnamed hip-hop mogul and some shadowy, financially-independent partner. Three stand-up games kept fingers twitching and joyous barks of encouragement raised, a testament to how fun it is to be past legal drinking age while still holding on to a controller.

Broken Dreams
Mrs. Blac-Man
King Hippo
Ice Climber

“This is one of the only parties I can go to where talking about work actually gets a positive response,” a spectacled 3-D artist from Rockstar Games half-boasted, half-lamented over an American Spirit. Behind him pranced two hotties in revealing Capcom shirts, their Suicide Girl good looks a cooler contrast to the electronically-captivated discourses on Guitar Champ and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Gamers might grow up and grow fond of some of the risky imagination kick-starters that spawned the mushroom-spotted worlds of Super Mario, the violence of Mortal Kombat, and the double-edged sexual ambiguity of Metroid, but from the sparkling eyes of friends dishing on days gone by spent on the couch, trying one more time to beat level 9 or Dr. Wily, it’s refreshing to find most never lose their inner geek.

I Am 8-Bit Version 2.006 @ Gallery 1988 April 18-May 18th

Dragon's Lair
Heads iz ready

Last Supper
Broken Dreams2
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