Things Are Different Now, 2020.

This work was originally exhibited as part of VRAL, a curated program of machinma screening hosted by the Milan Machinima Festival in July 2020.
More info on VRAL here:

Below is an introduction and interview with curator Luca Miranda:

Things are different now (2020) is both a variation of The Soft Crash (2020 – ongoing) and a complementary, consequential conversation with Brenton Alexander Smith’s other works I Feel Like a Nervous Wreck (2019) and Inverted Black Box (2020). All these works center on an impossible dialogue between the human and the machine. Things are different now tests the limits of the physics simulation in the driving game The video shows a twitching car located in (or rather, on) a multi level car park environment. The jerky motion makes the vehicle look vulnerable and fragile, but the absurdity of the situation has comical undertones as well. Crashforms, the name given by the artist these hybrid artifacts, are both living corpses and the embodiment of one’s desires. In Things are different now, the machine is no longer a human prosthesis or appendix. It is transfiguration.


Things are different now. This title not only is evocative of our current times, but also of the complex relationship between humans and machines. The temporality linked to an artwork’s title is often taken for granted or overlooked. It might seem trivial, but what do you mean by “different things” and “now”? Do you discern a substantial difference between the hic and nunc and your past artistic concerns? How have things progressed – or devolved – in your own approach?

I like the title because, like the work itself, I think it can be interpreted in multiple ways.
It reflects our current global situation, but it also refers to the condition of the moving object that is the central focus of the video. The object, which I call a crashform, is characterised by a sense of in-betweenness. It is somewhere between car, animal and human. This is also reflected in the fact that the video has no clearly discernible narrative; there’s a sense of coming into an event already unfolding. The viewer can only speculate how the crashform ended up clinging to the side of a multi-story carpark.

By “different things” I’m referring to a sense of constant change. So the “now” doesn’t really refer to a fixed point in time, the work is underpinned by the idea that things are never really static – everything is always in a process of change. I was interested in these ideas even before the pandemic hit, but I never expected it would become so relevant in 2020.
Working with has had a pretty profound effect on how I think about my art practice. I had experimented with video work in the past, but I had not previously considered using videogames as a raw material for making art. Videogame art might be a relatively young field but I would argue that it already has quite a rich history, and the ever evolving nature of videogames themselves means there is enormous potential for how the field can develop.

I’ve also felt a conceptual shift in my practice; my early work was more directly concerned with challenging popular notions of the cyborg. I was frustrated at the time with how often discussions of the cyborg would foreground techno-utopic ideas about transcending the body, which I think is problematic for a number of reasons. My aim was to reframe the discussion in terms of the bodily relationship we have with technology. I think this is partly why I started using cars in my work, not because I have a personal interest in cars (I don’t even drive) but because I think cars represent one of the most ubiquitous forms of technology in how it has shaped the modern world and, significantly, also our bodies. In the most general sense, I am interested in human relationships with machines: how the distinction between them is becoming increasingly blurred, but more specifically I am interested in how this effects the human capacity to feel.

When did your fascination for glitched motor vehicles behaving like wounded animals begin? Can you describe your relationship to the videogame What led you to the decision of transforming it into a tool to make art?

It seemed like a natural progression from work I was making before I discovered the game. Throughout the development of my practice I’ve had an odd fixation with inverting the idea of technology as a powerful, imposing thing - making it appear vulnerable. The theme of making technology seem ‘wounded’ in my work started with a video piece I made called Undead Appliance, which featured an electric fan on its side writhing against to ground. A lot of people responded to this work with conflicting feelings of sympathy and unease. I often see the same reaction to my crashform works: they can appear a little creepy at first but there’s a sense of sentimentality underpinning them.

I discovered by chance on the internet one day. I was intrigued by the possibilities of the game’s physics simulation and I wanted to see if it was possible to adapt it to an art making tool. When I started experimenting with it I hadn’t even considered that I would start making machinima; I was thinking of how it could work as an extension of my sculptural practice. The first time I exhibited work I made using the game I juxtaposed a series of videos with sculptures I had made from parts of real, actual car wrecks. These sculptures were intended to evoke an abstract sense of the body – a blurring of machine and human qualities; suggesting an innate connection between humans and the machinic detritus we inevitably produce. The video works were intended to extend this idea through the addition of movement. However, what became apparent was that their movements embodied more than just a blending of human and machine; they were becoming something entirely other.

The famous Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times” – which incidentally was the subtitles of the 58th International Art Exhibition organized by La Biennale di Venezia (2019) – is often used to describe the current situation. Statesman Joseph Chamberlain spoke about the new anxieties that the new age brought. If our age is, indeed, interesting, and if we are, indeed, anxious, your artworks seem to emphasize the uncanny nature of the new machines that inhabit our world. In a sense, pseudo-sentient technological artifacts and AI-driven behaviors are taking over the so-called reality. Both the “natural” and the “social” are undergoing a massive process of redefinition. How do you explore these themes with your ongoing series about crashforms? Are the categories of mechanic and human, organic and inorganic passè?

My work reflects a general anxiety around technology so I thought it might be somehow reassuring to depict technology itself in an anxious state – hence the quivering vulnerability of the crashforms. If we consider crashforms as a kind of human/machine hybrid, their capacity to elicit an affective connection with viewers is what gives them their human qualities. The idea that human, organic and inorganic are overlapping categories has been around for a long time but is increasingly relevant as technological renewal accelerates. Technology has co-evolved with us, changing us as much as we change it. In their book Are We Human? Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley suggest that our ability to design makes human-ness an unstable category; the designed world redesigns the designing animal. To an imaginary outsider, it might be hard to distinguish where the human ends and technology begins.

In the early stages of developing my crashform series I was thinking a lot about Paul Virilio’s concept of the Inevitable accident, which postulates that you can’t have technological innovations without creating some damage. The relentless, exponentially increasing speed of technological development creates a feeling that we are heading towards a great catastrophic collapse. In my work the car crash represents a sudden, disastrous slowing down of technology – both literally and figuratively. However I am more interested in the aftermath of the accident than in the spectacle of the crash. I like to think of my crashforms as technology that has finally been allowed to rest after a breakdown, maybe both a technological and emotional breakdown. Perhaps there is a sense of relief mixed within the tangle of feelings they convey.

Your crashforms taking the connotations of cybernetic jittery creatures that are trying to weave a connection with their ambiguous existence. The word cybernetics comes from kybernḗtēs – the governor of a ship, a medium itself – and your crashforms are the byproduct of, and so are simultaneously autonomous and governed by something else or someone else. In video games, activities such as the personalization and customization of characters, environments and vehicles are normative, but these concepts assume an all-round matter in the racing game and vehicle simulation genres. Writer Thomas Ligotti writes about the marionette as an effigy of ourselves and of tools that we use. Once the show is over, they return in their trunks “as corpses in a coffin”. The entities that appear in your works are situated in an unsure threshold: in Undead Appliance they confront a kind of revival, while the crashforms behave restlessly as something that needs to come out. Is machinima a medium that allowed for technology’s underlying tensions and paradoxes to be fully addressed? Is machinima a necessary counterpart to gaming, insofar as it is an insightful commentary to the computational logic they promote?

Perhaps machinima is uniquely positioned to investigate the troubles of technology because it is by nature a subversion of technology. Having said that, many newer games are being released with features that make machinima easier to make, such as special ‘photography’ modes. They make machinima less of a rebellious act, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Among other things, machinima has always been a democratisation of the filmmaking process, allowing people to make stories into films without the need for complex equipment or special training. does have some features designed for making gameplay recordings easier but I find much more interesting results when I don’t use it’s features for their intended purpose - I aim to push against the constraints of the software. By using techniques I’ve developed through experimentation I coerce the cars into becoming crashforms, but beyond setting up the initial parameters for a scene I actually have little control over what the crashforms do. This is partly why they seem restless and indeterminate in their appearance, they are subject to a physics simulation that is in the midst of trying to figure out what it's supposed to be doing. So it is significant that I chose to make this work as machinima, I don’t think I’d be able to achieve the same kind of tension using a conventional 3D animation software.

Artist and writer James Bridle argues that technology is (deliberately) nebulous, and opaque, but its complexity hides behind metaphors like the “cloud”. This paradox is a central concern of Inverted Black Box, where the dichotomy between visibility and invisibility is subtly addressed. Things are in front of us, nevertheless something unperceivable by our sight persists: a secret – or something like that – hidden in the “black box” of certain objects. How do you approach the tension between opacity and transparency in your practice?  

I named that show after the exhibition space it was shown in: Black Box. I had already been thinking about how the work played with notions of interior/exterior - hidden things becoming exposed, but the incidental name of this exhibition space highlighted these ideas conceptually. There are at least two instances of ‘inversion’ happening in Inverted Black Box: the sculptures are made from wiring looms taken from car wrecks. Initially, the wires represent the internal workings of a car; the hidden network of tendrils that bring power to the parts that require electricity. In the gallery space the role of the wires has been flipped: they have become the external shell for a video screen buried within. The wire sculptures take on an appearance that may remind viewers of the internal parts of their own bodies, perhaps heightening a sense of vulnerability in the works: a fragile interior spilling out.

The other inversion is in how I use in my art making process. Software is frequently built in such a way that limits users to certain specific actions and by extension limits their capacity to think critically about those actions. is no exception; while the physics simulation has potential to be used for more than just vehicle simulation, the user interface restricts the ways it can be interacted with. A psychological space is created that restricts a player’s thinking: this game is about cars and nothing else. As a commercial videogame, this is necessary in order to create a marketable product. However, to use the game as an art-making tool is a kind of tiny rebellion, a rise to the challenge that the simulation is capable of ‘just about anything’.

To use a videogame as a raw material for making art, you have to break it open. In doing this, the social and mental constraints of the software break down and allow the system to collapse into something new. The ‘inversion’ in my crashform work is in how they reveal some of the inner workings of the game by behaving in a ways that the average player is not supposed to see.

An important aspect of Things are Different Now is aural. The cacophony of crashes is simultaneously irritating and soothing, machinic and “natural”. At what point sounds come into play in your creative process? At the very beginning or later in the production?

The sounds in Things are Different Now were produced by the game during the recording of the raw footage. In order to create a more meditative piece I slowed down the simulation speed of the game, which also slowed down the audio. This technique was interesting because it caused the sparks and smoke to move at a much slower rate than the jittering crashform, which I think adds to the overall sense of uncanny.

I’ve found that each iteration of my work using informs its next incarnation, so I’m always discovering ways that I could develop the work.
So far my focus has been on developing techniques for creating movement by subverting the rules of the game’s physics simulation, however there is still a lot of potential for how I can use sound in future works. In Inverted Black Box, I isolated sounds produced by the game during recording sessions and edited them into a soundscape. I am also considering using sound as a starting point for a work, perhaps even collaborating with a musician or sound artist.

Things are Different Now subverts the logic of videogame’s hyperactivity and the relentless demand for twitch-like responses for a stream of notifications, distractions, and hijacking of our attention. Formally speaking, the work consists of four relatively static sequence shots that invite the viewer to contemplate the slow process of mutation of a [ex]vehicle. How do you conceptualize the very notion of mutation? What is change, exactly? Does the anatomical examination of the process that you present a mirror to the transformation of our complex technological systems?

The conceptualisation of mutation in this work is informed by Deleuzian notions of becoming; the work is characterised by a constant sense of in-betweenness: while the camera remains in a fixed position the crashforms embody constant change, never remaining in a fixed state. Here, the notion of mutation is tightly coupled with movement. Even the perceived anatomical qualities of the crashforms emerge through their movement, however it can be hard to pin down the exact reason for this. Attempts to categorise a crashform often result in a collection of not-quites: they are somewhere between car, animal and human. Certain qualities of the crashform bring forth various, sometimes conflicting, feelings about what they might represent. The chrome exterior, wheels and windscreens bring forth feelings of car-ness, yet the crashforms move in a way that is very un-car-like. Certain movements might remind one of an animal’s behaviour, or a particular emotion. Huddled and twitching, the crashform might be felt as a frightened animal.

My main focus in developing the crashform series has been in considering the affective potential of these movements; their ability to elicit nuanced feelings and reactions In viewers. However the theme of in-betweenness applies to multiple aspects of the work, even in defining its artistic field. In the context of VRAL its pretty safe to call it machinima, in a gallery installation context it becomes a little muddier, but I think this is part of what makes the work interesting. Thematically, you could consider the work to reflect the constant transformation of our complex technological systems. On a narrower scale it also reflects the nature of videogames as a raw material for making art, as the videogame industry is also constantly reinventing itself. I think there is potential for the work to speak to other ideas not yet considered, as things continue to become different.

In 2009, German artist Dirk Skreber famously purchased a red Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder and black Hyundai Tiburon with the intention of smashing them and then impale them. He found a vehicle-testing facility in Ohio and choreographed both accidents, before exhibiting the outcome at the Saatchi Gallery in London. Is your crashform project somehow related to Skreber’s “crash forms”?

That’s an interesting comparison, I have to admit I had not considered Skreber’s work in the development of my own. However his work with the Eclipse and the Spyder kind of resembles some of my earlier experiments with, when I was thinking of the works as digital kinetic sculptures. I would also love to be able to make physical sculptures using entire cars one day, but I think there is plenty of things I can explore by sticking to the small scale as well.

It is interesting that both Skreber and I both chose to omit any direct visual references to the human body in our work, sculptural and otherwise. The presences of a car wreck usually implies a former human passenger, we might wonder what happened to them – are they ok? However, by removing figurative representations of the body it opens up the potential for viewers to project a sense of the body onto the car wreck itself; the car becomes something between machine and human, rather than merely an extension of a human body.