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
18 Make: Volume 11
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
Photograph by Annie Buckley