Department of Art and Art History News

Q+A with Rachel Simone Weil

Sun. August 30, 2015

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woman wearing bright green and pink and white striped shirt poses for photo
Photo by Marjorie Becker/Chiptography

Rachel Simone Weil (M.F.A. in Design, 2014) is an experimental video game developer and design historian whose work explores the intersections of femininity and twentieth-century gaming. Weil runs FEMICOM, the feminine computer museum, creates NES games and glitch art under the alias Party Time! Hexcellent!, and helps organize Austin's monthly indie games event, Juegos Rancheros.

She answered the following questions by email.

FEMICOM Museum was started around the time you also began the M.F.A. program in Design at UT Austin. How did your goals for FEMICOM Museum change as you progressed through the program?

Rachel Simone Weil: I founded FEMICOM Museum right before my graduate studies began, and I'm certain that the two informed one another throughout my time as a student at UT Austin. Since the beginning, my goal with FEMICOM has been to document the history of femininity in video games and game culture. But as a student, I was pressed to ask myself why: Why does this matter to me? Why should it matter to others? My coursework in design as well as in outside disciplines such as rhetoric, Japanese history, and girls' media studies played a critical role in finding answers. I realized that FEMICOM wasn't really just about archiving video games about fashion and dating; it was also about broader concerns such as historical erasure, adult anxieties around girlhood, and the place of girls and women in computing history.

You describe yourself as a video game developer and design historian, but you also make art for the Nintendo Entertainment System. So you're also an artist. How do all these titles and hats work together in your practice?

RSW: They do all come together, it seems! The video games I create for the NES are mostly experimental art games or little interactive installations. I don't imagine ever selling them alongside the latest console or mobile games. I'm interested in engaging with the history of femininity in video games, and in the name of historical accuracy, I go to all kinds of trouble to develop games for hardware that's been obsolete for decades. So there's little commercial application for something like that. But it does allow me these opportunities to simultaneously play the role of Good Historian and Bad Historian. The Good Historian does all the archival and curation work for FEMICOM, while the Bad Historian dreams up all these new video games and passes them off as old artifacts. All together, it points toward this idea of very seriously questioning what we believe to be true about the history of video games and computing.

This summer, you received a residency at MASS Gallery. What are you aspirations for the time?

RSW: During my artist residency at MASS Gallery, I'll be playing more Bad Historian. I'm making artifacts and ephemera from feminine 1980s and 1990s video arcades that never existed. As someone whose primary mode of working is programming rather than building in the physical world, I'm excited to have the opportunity to do weird work that gets me way outside of my comfort zone.

What other upcoming projects are you excited about?

RSW: For the second time, I'm helping put together Fantastic Arcade, an experimental arcade that pops up at the Highball during the Alamo Drafthouse's Fantastic Fest. This year, Fantastic Arcade starts on September 28. And for the second time this semester, I'll be teaching Game History and Critical Theory here at UT Austin.


Upcoming events:

Artist Talk at MASS Gallery
Thursday, August 27, 7 p.m.

FEMICOM Museum will have a pop-up games exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London
Friday, August 28, 2015, 6:30 p.m.

Open Studios at MASS Gallery
Friday, September 4, 7–11 p.m.

Follow Weil on Twitter @FEMICOMuseum