Felix Olivieri is a local with a penchant for tinkering whose most recent work was inspired by Raspberry Pi, a tiny computer system that you can use to learn programming. My editor at the Kingston Times, Mr. Dan Barton, showed me a sick arcade table featuring the retro Nintendo classic Contra that Olivieri built, repurposing an ornate desk. This newspaper makes it a point to share stories of locals who we think are doing cool things in the community, so I got in touch with Olivieri to learn more.
“I’m making arcade units using regular furniture,” Olivieri said. “I go find school desks, old-looking sturdy items or side tables. Anything made of wood or that could be easily cut into. I use that as the body for arcade games. Depending on what people want to see I’ll do a design on the table.”
Olivieri doesn’t consider himself a carpenter as much as an artist who likes to repurpose things and give hem a second life. He is interested in integrating technology into what he is doing because when people see the retro games they “go crazy.” He says that he personally wanted stuff like Duck Hunt or more interactive arcade things that people connect to really fast to make a comeback, as everyone has their favorite games from the old days.
“There is a certain allure and they see what I’ve made and they want one,” Olivieri said. “I can also program a media center with touch screen, music and movies. So if you had Bluetooth speakers and wanted to play music and didn’t want to do it through the cell phone you could do it through the table itself. The technology is there for this kind of stuff now and it is fun. Right now I am using the micro-computer from Raspberry Pi 3. You can use it to design and make a whole bunch of things, from arcade games to controllers for routing networks. All you have to do is learn how to program.”
For the past three or four months Olivieri was discovering other programmers doing cool things with Raspberry Pi, but none of them had any design elements worth noting.
“You’d see it screwed to a board and they are done,” he said. “I wanted to take it one step further and give what I make a really cool look.”
Paperwelder.com is Olivieri’s site and people can email him at email@example.com if they are interested in a project. On Oct. 2, some of his works will also be on display at the Lace Mill Gallery as part of the upcoming Lace Mill Sampler. Olivieri is one of the resident artists in a building that has itself been repurposed as a pro artist center and living space.
Olivieri used to co-own run an art store on the Rondout and always wanted to have an arcade in it but he said it was cost-prohibitive. He started looking up how to build your own arcade systems and to see how easy it was to do. From there, the idea was born.
“Now I can customize them and people want to buy them off me, so it is great,” he says. “I was working after school programs and one was with Drew at the Center 4 Creative Education. They do programs there for kids, anywhere from drum circles to arts and crafts. One thing Drew asked me was if I wanted to teach a class for older kids and I suggested building consoles. He loved the idea and saw my pictures online, so come this year I’ll be teaching kids how to build them. I want to have a maker space in Kingston somewhere to wrap around all this stuff.”
I asked him what he thinks makes the nostalgia for older games or even cultural signifiers like in the recent Netflix hit 1980s-retro horror series Stranger Things. Everything now is a little more impersonal and Felix’s work recalls a time when things were more tactile.
“The ’80s, ’70s and ’60s had a great look to it all,” he said. “Things now have too many buttons or are disappointing. I wanted a cool look back. I’m 39 years old. The ’80s babies have more influence now so we are tired of watching the Millennial stuff. We want our nostalgia stuff. It’s sort of our turn, but since the 80s had such an impact on certain things and the ’90s was a little less, it makes sense. The ’90s were less cool but were probably the last decade where things were cool their own way and not just trying to look back. But I remember a time when you could save the entire world just with a joystick and one red button. People want that back.”