A Jeremy Couillard artwork depicting an alien landscape with pretty flowers on the bank of a river.

"There is a place in your head where a thought slowly morphs into a real thing. The thought passes through a part of your brain where it turns into something different than what it was before it awkwardly becomes reality. This place is called the Fuzz Dungeon. It is responsible for everything from failed nation states to bad drawings. Good ideas turn into bureaucratic nightmares. Daydreams turn into mass starvation and poverty. An entire two years of a life turns into a video game that costs five dollars on the internet."

Hello dearest polymers, 2day I am pleased 2 present 2 u a conversation with the incredible Jeremy Couillard. Jeremy is an artist with many iconic games including the legendary JEF (Shortlisted for the internationally coveted annual Faves Award) and the 2021 release Fuzz Dungeon - a game in which you play as a rat dog witch who escapes her job to discover a dungeon in which she must travel through the stages of human history. We talk about why videogames and art need each other, whether or not aliens exist, and spiritual connections with virtual pets. Njoy!




}{: on a floating scale of one 2 ten how much of a gamer r u?


Jeremy: Maybe like a 6?

Image of Jeremy's moderate Steam collection. Includes Doom 2016 and Among Us.


}{: interesting! why do u think u are doing this (gamedev) to urself? what brought u to this hellscape in the first place?


Jeremy: It is a hellscape but I do love it at the same time. It’s a very weird and new feeling type space.

I went to undergrad for Spanish lit. I taught high school Spanish for 6 years haha. It’s like a completely different life. I made paintings at night. Put together a portfolio, saved money, quit my job and went to grad school for painting.

Mirror selfie of Jeremy wearing his baby blue university graduate outfit.

In school I wasn’t super excited about the convos around painting. It seemed very insular or something. I took a kinetic sculpture class with Jon Kessler and it opened me up to the possibilities of doing much weirder things. Like I could just make the objects I was painting. I started making kinetic art and animation and it was very fun and the conversations opened up to stuff that was happening in the world.

But making physical things day after day costs a lot and I don’t even like physical things that much. I don’t like collecting stuff. I can’t afford art myself. So it felt weird to make collectable things I couldn’t afford. I still do it sometimes because it is fun but day after day...it really adds up and becomes an unsustainable practice.

Then around 2014, the Oculus came out. It felt interesting to get to make video that wrapped around a sphere rather than a flat rectangle. I made a show based around a VR thing and that opened me up to game engines. I was using UDK at the time just for simple animations but then UnrealEngine4 came out and it was way easier. I loved the idea of programming animation instead of keyframing it. I loved that it was more about visuals, experiences, exploration, rather than dictating to the viewer what to look at. Since then I was hooked and use game engines (UnrealEngine) as sort of the basis for everything I do.


}{: interesting! and has anything changed for u since 2014, are the reasons u make games now the same as when u started?


Jeremy: Once I saw YouTubers and stuff playing my games and giving commentary, I think that changed me a lot. Like, Vinesauce playing my game to 30,000 people. I can bust my ass doing an art show, it can get a bunch of write ups, but still only like a few hundred people are gonna see it and then it goes away forever.

Youtube comment that says: I love how the dude who made that game is literally called jeremy sackballer. otherwise, game looks pretty dope, i like it, very trippy and cool looking

I think the art world and the game world really need each other. The art world takes itself WAY too seriously, is super insular and sometimes feels ignorant of large swathes of contemporary culture. And games are so bad. They let marketing departments make them, pretty much. And then whoever invests the most in lame ass ads and Twitter posts gets the most attention and ROI for their game. That is so fucking dumb!

But games, or game engines or whatever, are probably the main art medium of our era. We have to get more art in our games if that’s the space where we’re going to be spending time. I think art is super important to the general health of a population. I don’t mean to sound annoying and pedantic but game “artists” who make, like, hunk goblins and cool spaceships aren’t really artists in the way I think of art. That stuff is cool, don’t get me wrong, but it’s more graphic design than art. The discussion around what art even is and how it functions in society should be had more because we need art bad right now.

Hunk CGI Goblin sculpt


}{: Re: games and art needing each other…

From my plebeian perspective the art wurld has an interest in games but its like in an anthro (not the furry kind (sadly)) way about game tech or gamers or 'da future and da metaverse'. Like there is always a conceptual justification for using game engines. I think a major reason for this has to do w art wurms having a legion of santas little helpers who develop the project on their behalf, so the games themselves always have this outside-looking-in cold kind of vibe.

Imo this is a major difference in approach between institutional game-art and unstitutional art-games, as although this scene we both happen to be in has many different motivations it seems a common thread is working directly w the engine itself. Specifically, getting ur hands e-dirty and using game engines as a tool of artistic(?) expression(?).

Perhaps I am being contrarian and self-righteous lol. Do you think there is any truth to that observation? Do you find urself caught in a balancing act between gamers and gallerists? Or do you think its better to just make things for urself?

I think I have a fever 😷


Jeremy: Overall, the art world and the game world are just reflections of the material reality surrounding them and there’s nothing wrong with feeling contrarian or feverish towards nefarious mechanisms of exploitation. Most major cultural things are made by legions of underpaid workers. It’s so fucking lame and yeah gives everything a sort of cold vibe to it from architecture to Call of Duty and Marvel movies to a Wade Guyton show.

Wade Guyton painting in a gallery
Art sometimes feels so entropic. Like yeah, most shows, no matter the medium, are just about art or the medium they’re made in. Adding anything outside the regular methods we learn in school is a way to expand a practice and keep it going so it doesn’t die a heat death in its closed system haha. A lot of cool artists do that without video games. I guess just for me video games is the thing I gravitate to because they’re new and fucked up and so beautiful sometimes.

Scientific illustration showing entropic heat transfer - a red hot tube connected to a blue cold tube.
And also most definitely, yes, this “un-institutional” thing of actually making something on your own without exploiting others’ labor is an important idea to bring back, especially nowadays. It needs to be institutional that people be paid livable wages for their labor and also receive credit for what they do.

I dunno...I think I just very simply want to see more stuff made with game engines because I want them to be more in the forefront of conversation around art. I see like maybe 5 shows a year using game engines, if even. It doesn’t seem representative of the impact these things are having on our culture. Like, this Urs Fischer show with moving chairs was made in UnrealEngine. That’s crazy! I don’t know how but it was. There’s some potential there.

One of my favorite things about game engines is that you’re really just creating a giant database that is interfaced with through different algorithms. When you have that database it’s really easy to apply different algorithms to it for different situations.

(That’s literally the definition of new media I think. And really all media is new media now. The algorithm has touched everything in our lives.)

So I do change what I do for different situations because it’s easy to write different algorithms to show the database in different ways. Most of the 120 million users on Steam cannot name a single living contemporary artist and most art dealers and curators do not use Steam or itch.io and cannot name a video game made past 1990 lol. I would love it if more Steam users or AAA studio people knew a little about art, or even had a working definition for what art is rather than Ogre-Hunk-Sculptor. And I’d love it if more curators played games and were more open to that huge cultural phenomena and discussion.

And I def don’t make anything just for myself haha. If I was the only person on earth I’d probably make some giant earth art shit in case aliens were watching me and then just do drugs all the time and walk around. I make stuff because I want people to see it in the hopes some type of connection can be made and we can all marvel together at how weird and funny and fucked up life is :-P


}{: Do you believe in aliens?


Jeremy: I like the idea better of feeling. I feel like aliens are real, more than I believe. I think the difference is that with belief true and false matter more. With feeling...it’s just something inside you where true or false isn’t necessarily important (unless you feel like it is lol). Maybe ultimately everything runs on feelings. Political choices, relationships, life path decisions. I always tell myself I do things based on logic, etc; but I do things based on subconscious forces that seem almost separate from me. Maybe a lot of what I make is just me trying to get in touch with my feelings in a real weird way haha. I always talk about these drawings William Blake did called Visionary Heads. Basically they are sketches of ghosts or spirits he felt that he saw. There is a woman on the internet named Su Walker who is doing this right now on Twitter but with aliens. I love the eerie gaze that both these portrait styles give. It’s like the artists are gazing inside and this is the gaze they get back from some entity that should be them but it’s not; it’s some mystical force or something haha I dunno. I think the monsters I make in 3d have a similar vibe in their gazes.



}{: Omg I know exactly what you mean. I feel aliens are real too!

Once I was in the school library when I was eight years old and I stumbled across this PC Gaming magazine featuring these incredible 3D renders of pink little monkey aliens from a videogame called Creatures. I learned these aliens were called Norns, and I thought they were so pure, so adorable and so I instantly connected w their eerie gaze on a spiritual level.

A cute little Norn peeping from behind leaves A norn and grendel, oddly they seem to be getting along well

It was magnificent, to feel so understood by the Norn. Yet sadly their appearance was due to tragedy. From those videogame screenshots I learnt that the Norns were in strife from these sinister green lizard aliens called Grendels, and I knew this magazine article was not merely a software product review but rather intergalactic journalism - an urgent plea to those on earth to save the Norns from their plight.

I knew what I must do…

I black-and-white photocopied the magazine page, wrote SAVE THE NORNS on the top of the A4 sheet and started a fundraising charity in my school to get in contact with the aliens.

However, as I went to a Christian school, the teachers deemed my charity heretical and so sadly put an end to my first-contact efforts.

I wonder what those little pink fuckers are doing now, I still love them and hope to meet them one day…

A Norn innocently touching a pool, seeing its reflection for perhaps the first time...

Perhaps there is a child somewhere out there today watching Jef Lets-Plays on an iPad, A child who connects with Jef on a spiritual level. A child who feels that somewhere out there, Jef does in fact exist.

Blissful,
transcendent,
perhaps Jef does exist.

What would you think of that?


Jeremy: Lol great question. I just hope JEF wouldn’t cause any psychological trauma to a developing mind...with his misadventures in an IKEA labor camp and being chased by porn demons.

In terms of knowing what really exists and doesn’t, I guess I’d have to resort again to thinking about my feelings. To deal with the craziness of life on a daily basis, I have to create a reality around me that keeps me from totally losing my shit.

So one thing I think about, in order to deal with being alive, is that maybe life as we currently experience it just isn’t a real thing. (I literally titled a game and art show off of this)

A screenshot from Jeremy's project 'Sometimes to Deal With The Difficulty of Being Alive I Need to Believe There Is A Possibility That Life Is Not Real, its a bunch of freaky aliens looking straight toward the camera
I really like this idea of collective consciousness. It is so cheesy and most likely could be construed as problematic somehow as it maybe goes against materialism and into idealism. I don’t know. (I like embracing dichotomies. It is very human.) It really does feel like our collective awareness, ultimately, is just one big thing. So in a wider sense our individual egos are just as imaginary as the cartoon characters we grew up with. We’re all going to die and our names and who we were will all go away and become irrelevant very soon.

What remains, what feels more real in a way, is a sort of evolution of our physical and mental presence as an entire species. Cartoon characters, mythologies and metaphors as much as individuals contribute to this.

Sometimes I wonder, though, if this cultural homogenization that happens under capitalism is causing a sort of devolution of this. Billions of humans are having such similar experiences now, speaking a similar way, dressing a similar way, engaging with similar mythologies and metaphors. Capital has commodified our collective imagination and we aren’t able to think of anything new let alone fight for anything beyond the very imperfect society we have now. We’re stuck.

You and I grew up on opposite sides of the planet but yet had a lot of similar middle class, suburban cultural experiences that we are processing through our creative practices. Just a short while ago, on the same land where we were buying back to school shit with our moms in some strip mall or whatever, there existed very different cultures and ways of life that actually seemed sustainable and maybe more psychologically happier. Maybe not. I don’t really know...but rather than learning anything from these cultures, our ancestors who took the land, killed everyone or pushed them into inhospitable areas and formed a new global culture founded on this type of behavior that I guess goes back to Babylon or something.

The good news, though, is that homo sapiens have been around for like, 250,000 years. I think most (like 80% maybe?) of those years were not spent doing Babylonian style domination. There is still time to reorient ourselves to more sustainable, inclusive and expansive ways of living. We can still save the NORNS...and ourselves. I have to feel like this is possible.

B-)


The famous historical artwork Mechanics of the Heavens. It depicts a farmer who has unearthed his head from the dome of the sky and sees beyond another universe.

A screenshot of Fuzz Dungeon in which the lead character has put their head inside of a dome, reminiscent of Mechanics of the Heavens, however they are outside looking in.

A baby Norn hatches from an egg as an adult Norn watches in delight

The End.




Thank you to Sadness and Bytemoth for helping me with some tricky html!