Condon’s Three Modifications, which was shown at New York’s Virgil de Voldère gallery in 2007, reinterprets several late-medieval Flemish (or Early Netherlandish) religious paintings: panels from Hans Memling’s triptych The Last Judgement, Dieric Bouts’s Resurrection, and Gerard David’s Triptych of Jean de Trompes. The landscape and overall structure of the paintings are re-created in noninteractive, animated, “self-playing” 3-D game versions that reflect on both the form and the content of the originals.
The term “Early Netherlandish” refers to a group of painters–from Van Eyck to Gerard David–working in the Netherlands in the 15th and early 16th centuries and representing a particular moment: the zenith of the Middle Ages and the transition to the Renaissance, an era when perspective–the technique artists use to mimic how three-dimensional objects appear to the eye–developed in several stages. On a formal level, Condon’s work draws parallels between the evolution of perspective and realism in medieval art and the evolution of 3-D computer graphics in games. Another link between medieval art and computer games is the affection that role-playing games–from Dungeons and Dragons to Ultima Online, Everquest, and World of Warcraft–have for what Umberto Eco has called “neomedievalism.” In his 1973 essay “Dreaming in the Middle Ages,” Eco writes of the “avalanche of pseudo-medieval pulp” in pop culture and points out that many organizational structures of the Western world, from merchant cities to capitalist economies, have their roots in the Middle Ages. The medieval elements characteristic of many contemporary computer games where technology and magic are happily confused may express the quest for the heroic foundations of contemporary culture.
The background of Dieric Bouts’s original Resurrection painting (below)–a panel from one of the altarpieces for which he is famous–is a wide, serene expanse of land. Conveying an austere spirituality, Bouts’s rigid composition shows Christ rising from the tomb, surrounded by an angel and three other figures in emotional states ranging from indifference to trepidation to shock. Condon re-creates the original landscape and adds a temporal element by depicting a sky caught in a state between day and night, with clouds and stars circling overhead while the sun is trapped in the moment of setting or rising. The compositional elements of Condon’s game modification portray the animated image itself as caught in a specific moment–a moment that captures the parallels between the development of realistic perspective in late-medieval art and in video games, as well as the transition between the two-dimensionality of painting and the real-time three-dimensionality of computer games.
Credit: Courtesy of the Norton Simon Foundation