THE SPACE BETWEEN by GILES ASKHAM
Many of the works exhibited aim to engender a kinesthetic, creative or affective response from the audience as active participants. They employ playful mimesis; or create spaces in which to engage through physical action and response or creative collaboration. Works have been selected from a range of contexts, and include those that require a critical engagement as well as others that humorously comment on contemporary social transactions. Game/Play explores the transformative zones between technologically enabled artwork and active participant, the works exhibited providing a space in which to play.
The Endless Forest is a multi-user online ‘game’ that creates a tranquil woodland landscape in which visitors can meet up and spend time with their friends, rub the odd tree and, in a playful manner, butt heads. It is a space for non-purposive engagement: there are no rules and very little game-play. And yet, it creates emotionally rich spaces, even for those who would never consider playing computer games. The Endless Forest constructs a stage that exists conceptually in a pre-enclosure, and possibly even pre-arable epoch while utilising a contemporary private space and the tools enabled by modern communications technology. The work provides us with opportunities for social interaction, a common ground, which elsewhere, due to the continual privatisation of public space, is being taken away from us.
Samorost 2 creates an online environment which has a similar feel, to that of The Endless Forest; here though an interactive quest, redolent of European fairy-tales, is embarked upon. In Samorost 2 we guide our hero on a journey through mysterious alien landscapes, populated by uncanny creatures. We help him to engage with strange donors in order to gain the magical objects he needs to continue his journey and in so doing help construct the game’s narrative. As with The Endless Forest, Samorost 2 inspires a reflective approach from its audience. The rules of engagement need to be intuitively discovered through the playing of the piece and perseverance is rewarded. We become lost in the texture of the work, its visual aesthetics and the complex order in which tasks need to be performed. This prompts a subtle shift in our expectations of the game; time seems to slow as we explore these alien environments and develop a feel for the terrain.
When one is fully and completely at play the experience can be described as blissful. ‘Unmediated’, unstructured and consisting of only those rules that are developed through the particular playing, a state of mind can be approached that the French term ‘Jouissance’. Beyond mere transgression, this heightened sense was described by Walter Benjamin2 in his unfinished opus, ‘The Arcades Project’, as potentially revolutionary.
Aquaplayne provides a space for play, the nature of which is socio-dramatic and creative. The user’s relationship to the work is that of significant, active participant, and the interface is definitively physical and kinesthetic. In order to engage with the work, the audience must occupy a space that is mapped out on the gallery floor. Aquaplayne provides a space for transaction, a surface as an interface in which the physical is united with the cognitive. By ‘playing’ with one another via the installation, the users of Aquaplayne create abstracted visual imagery and complex soundscapes that represent phenomena of playing, splashing over the surface of water.
“Fluxus is a creation of the fluid moment. The transformative zone where the shore meets the water is simple and complex.” Forty Years of Fluxus, Ken Friedman.3
Fluxus, from ‘to flow’, describes art that is intermedial, which is created at the intersection of different media and physical spaces. Fluxus artists always experimented with the technology that was available to them at any given time, and made full use of the communication systems that this enabled, including international telecommunications and postal networks. Contemporary media artists have taken up this baton, using the further developments of the Internet to enable people from diverse regions and countries to come together, to have a dialogue, to create work collaboratively, and in so doing to be artists.
In the post-industrial world, communication technology provides the tools by which much of our work is done. While this technological implementation has ultimately failed to provide us with more time away from work (unless of course you count being permanently out of work), it has enabled us to develop our relationships across physical boundaries and has changed how and with whom we play. VisitorsStudio takes notions of collaborative production to new heights by providing a real-time, online platform for social, creative practice. Multiple users are able to upload files to the website and create an audio-visual mix from this and other material residing in the VisitorsStudio database. It provides an online space for networked performance, and its collaborative nature breaks down divisions between audience and viewer. Active participants are thus able to create an ever changing, and in some senses, negotiated online montage, which serves on one level as documentation of these transactions.
Further playful provocations are made by other Game/Play works that necessitate our engagement with various critical and social issues. TAG examines urban transitional spaces such as underpasses and waste grounds and re-creates them in the gallery setting. These places in which we do not normally linger are populated by an assortment of characters that the audience is forced into a discourse with. TAG thus creates an uneasy dialogue where normally there is none. Confrontation is the subject of Façade, although the setting this time is initially a more comfortable middle class domestic one. Façade places us at the heart of a domestic dispute and asks that we referee the conflict in which even our best efforts do not always bring our friends back together. The Golden Shot (revisited) in a similar vein examines the spaces between viewing and playing, and asks us to consider the consequences of action or inaction.
Critical psychological positions are considered in Second Person Shooter. The game plays with notions of first and third person agency by inviting the gamer to witness their own demise, as observed through the eyes of the assailant. Notions of objective truth are shattered. The space between, as with TAG and Façade, is emphasised.
Game/Play is constructed as a project that engenders a dialogue between different organisations, occupying different geographical and cultural spaces. It has been curated in the spirit of communication and collaboration, while also critically examining its themes. Game/Play explores the physical, cultural and psychological spaces between us all. It is our interface and our invitation, our means of communicating with, and our invitation to our diverse audiences. It is our call for playful exchange and engagement via the transformative possibilities provided by technologically enabled artworks.
1 Winnicott, D. W. (1991) Playing and Reality, Brunner-Routledge.
2 Buck-Morss, S. (1990) provides an excellent insight into Benjamin’sunfinished project in “The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project”, MIT Press.
3 A full version of Friedman’s text can be found at: http://www.artnotart.com/fluxus/kfriedman-fourtyyears.html