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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Art And Mini-Games

‘Free Beer and Counter-Game Strategies’ (2007), mounted at Jack Hanley in San Francisco, was harder to grasp or negotiate: a bizarre, messy games room. The exhibition consisted of seven simple two-player games, ‘machines’ whose processes culminated in a single, screwball-symbolic act: the frantic smashing of a potato. Each gamer was asked to assume an archetypal position in order to begin play. For The Poetry Machine (2007) a player – ‘the poet’ – rolled a potato – his or her ‘poem’ – down a tube. As it emerged from the other end, the ‘critic’ smashed it with a mallet, before pushing the squashed tuber into a basket at the other end. Other games presented different relations to the same end: The Anti-Piracy Machine (2007) ‘model(led) the noble struggle against counterfeit goods of all kinds’, culminating in the ‘police’ squashing ‘bootleg’ potatoes. Another game produced protected digital material (another potato) while ‘hackers’ at the other end hammered away.

These games were intended to represent the absurdity of the power relations that surround and superintend the production of culture – in each case an act as pointless as squashing vegetables. As the potatoes ripened, the room began to swarm with flies – an appropriate enough metaphor for a set of rotten situations. The danger of these circumstances is that the objects produced merely represent their ‘infringement’ manneristically, rather than enacting it. The chairs’ status as art objects complicates this matter considerably. Are they not a commentary on the conditions of copyright, rather than a clear violation of it? I don’t mean to battle over semantics, except that that is what the identity of these things depends on so completely: the strange fact that what’s shown in art galleries becomes art (and its makers become artists) by the force of its context. The strange, difficult force of Duchampian nominalism poses problems for political work like this – especially insofar as ‘modelling’ requires a symbolic rather than a pragmatic language. ‘Instead of the illusion of things’, wrote Clement Greenberg in 1948, ‘we are offered the illusion of modalities: namely, that matter is incorporeal, weightless and exists only optically, like a mirage.’
-- Superflex Review [frieze]

If art can play games ... can't games play with art?

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