super stick

Jason Torchinsky has fond memories of gazing intently at a television screen animated by red and yellow explosions and stiff-jointed figures, two hands at the ready on his Atari joystick.

So when John Gibson, co-curator of the I Am 8-Bit art exhibition inspired by 80s video games, called with a challenge — to make a large, interactive piece for the show in just over a month — Torchinsky couldn’t refuse.

He chose the much-loved black, yellow, and red Atari 2600 controller as inspiration, and the resulting piece, a fully functioning, larger-than-life joystick, was exhibited at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles this spring. Roughly 1,500 people attended the opening, climbing on the giant toy to play a game projected on the patio.

Torchinsky built the 5-foot stick in his driveway under a tarp and, despite one nerve-wracking rainy night, the setup was successful. After measuring each part of an original Atari (though not the one he played as a kid; he’s “pretty sure Mom threw it out a while back”), Torchinsky drew diagrams of the structure and electronics, multiplying each measurement by 15. He took the drawings to several cabinetmakers before finding one, Dan Phill, willing to take on the job.

The pieces were measured and cut from fiberboard in a two-part construction: the bottom piece holds electronics, the top holds a large joystick surrounded by a coiled hose and the frightfully cheerful red “fire” button. Five switches make the video action happen: up, down, right, left, and fire. Each is attached to a metal plate that connects to the appropriate pin on the controller as someone moves the joystick from above.

“I like things that people can engage with and have fun,” Torchinsky says, casually buffing scuff marks on the meticulous paint job with his hand. Though game-players’ fun took a toll on the surface, the whimsy and humor of the piece survived intact.

>> Giant Joystick: jasontorchinsky.com