[Quick Questions] Giant Atari Joystick – Artist Jason Torchinsky

Giant Atari Stick

While at the Super iam8bit show, many pieces caught our eye. However, the most iconic piece of hardware was there in 15:1 scale form and caught everyone’s eye. Jason Torchinsky had constructed a gigantic, working model of the Atari 2600 joystick and displayed it at the show. Anyone who’s been there already would have undoubtedly seen and been awed by it. During some downtime after the gallery’s opening, we were able to sit down with Torchinsky and get in a couple of Quick Questions. For more on Torchinsky’s work, be sure to check out his website!

Denkiphile: Thanks for your time, Jason. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and this project?

Jason Torchinsky: So, about me: I came out to LA with a sketch comedy group, and as a stand-up. We had some mild success, but I’m the only one still out here, so you can infer how that went. I still do some comedy, just recently having been a writer for the Onion News Network, but mostly now I’m a designer, teacher, artist, and writer. I co-authored a book, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor’s Guide to American Consumer Culture, which I’ll plug.

As an artist, I like making kinetic, mechanical installations, especially interactive ones. I just collaborated with artist Kerry Tribe last year on an installation in the UK that used multiple tape decks and a massive loop of tape that was strung around a gallery, as well as a 1/12th model of the Mir interior. I also work a lot with Machine Project, where I just gave a concert using only old Apple IIs and taught kids how to hotwire cars.
The giant joystick project came out of conversations with Jon Gibson (i am 8 bit curator) and I had where we wanted to have something interactive and fun for the 2007 iam8bit show. I’m not sure how we arrived at the giant joystick idea, but a huge old Atari controller that actually works just seemed like a blast.

DP: How long did this project take to complete?  

JT: When I decided to make the joystick, I wasn’t entirely sure I could do it, but it seemed like a great risk to take. I knew I wanted it to be as accurate as possible, so I measured every bit of an actual Atari joystick, and multiplied the dimensions by a factor of 15, a number I decided based on the dimensions of my truck. I had to go to a cabinetmaker, Dan Fill, to get the massive parts cut, especially the large circular hole. I had I think only 2 or 3 months to build it before the show; it wasn’t much.

The mechanism is very close to the actual original joystick, and the electronics are very simple, consisting, really, of five switches.

DP: What has been the overall response you’ve received about the joystick?

JT: People seem to have pretty great time with the joystick. Making something big is just fun, period, and the old Atari joystick has lots of nostalgia value for lots of folks. Climbing on it and using it and hitting that big springy button really gets people excited. They also like to have their picture taken on it.

DP: It seems that the joystick needs at least two people to operate. Out of all the times you’ve seen people attempt to use this so far, which time was the most interesting? Can you tell us about it?

JT: People usually team up to use the stick, one standing on it operating the stick, another on the button. I’ve seen single people use it, holding the stick and operating the button with their foot, or by standing next to the stick, one hand on the stick, one on the button. The most fun is to see little kids use it, and they tend to swarm all over it and sort of control it in a big, chaotic group.

People get pretty rough with the stick, and jump all over it, kick the button, and generally beat it to hell. It usually ends up broken in some way after every time it’s exhibited, and I try and make incremental improvements to make it more and more durable. I’ve accepted this now, but it’s still rough to see happy folks gleefully pounding the crap out of your work. It’s due for an overhaul as we speak.

DP: I’m the resident fighting game fan of Denkiphile and I just have to ask: in 20 or 30 years, can you see someone making a 15:1 scale Mad Catz Tournament Edition Arcade Stick? 

JT:In 20 years, will folks be making 15x scale Mad Catz arcade sticks? Maybe. They’re pretty big, so it’d be an undertaking. I think a giant Wiimote is much more likely, as it’s much easier to build on a huge scale. But it’d take a big group of folks to swing it around. And who has to wear the wrist strap? Personally, I really love making novel Atari controllers, and have a strange “team controller” I’d like to try out, which takes five people to operate.

I’d also like to plug my first big public art installation, four massive (8’x10’x3′) space invaders that will be in Culver CIty from October 10 for the Indiecade video game exhibition.
Atari Stick Montage

Posted on August 17, 2011, in Events, Quick Questions and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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