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24 Sep

Hans Ulrich Obrist on how video games are revolutionising

As the brand new exhibition WORLDBUILDING: Gaming and Art within the Digital Age opens, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist discusses the growing role of video games in our on a regular basis lives

“Is that this hell?” asks the blue-haired protagonist in digital artist LuYang’s work “The Great Adventure of Material World. Set against an infinite sea of kawaii creatures, the game-film is a kaleidoscopic journey into the Shanghai-based artist’s subconscious, filled with floating Buddhas, disembodied heads and pixellated monsters. Skirting the edge between eternity and existence, the artwork is certainly one of 30 games featured in WORLDBUILDING: Gaming and Art within the Digital Age, a group exhibition happening on the Julia Stoschek Foundation in Düsseldorf. Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, the exhibition takes an archaeological view of the medium, exploring the connection between gaming and time-based art.

With computers and video games finding their way into popular culture in nearly every a part of society, the exhibition raises questions on identity, society, autonomy, and the connection between the physical and virtual. Featuring video, virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI) and game-based works from the mid-90s to the current day, there are early artistic endeavors akin to Peggy Ahwesh’s feminist exploration of Tomb Raider, “She Puppet”, and Julia Stoschek’s existential tackle Pacman, where the omnivorous video-game character gets eaten by itself. There’s also Lawrence Lek’s sinofuturist virtual world, “Nepenthe Zone”, and Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s First Person Shooter, “SHE KEEPS ME DAMN ALIVE”, which reflects on the experience of Black and trans people, in addition to Ed Fornieles’ static-soaked animation about surveillance anxiety and Thomas Webb’s dizzying AI portals.

Each artwork will evolve over the course of the exhibition’s one-and-a-half-year run and will likely be accompanied by a varied programme of events, each online and on-site. “Interactivity takes a significant role in lots of these games, where the viewer is implicated in the best way each work progresses, and the way it’s experienced,” says Obrist. Below, we speak to him in regards to the exhibition, the growing role of video games in our on a regular basis lives, and the way we are able to have a look at past interpretations of gaming to make sense of an increasingly artificial world.

The role of video games, or more specifically online gaming, is becoming increasingly prevalent in our on a regular basis lives, especially as platforms like Roblox and Fortnite tackle a much bigger role in online communication. What was the inspiration behind this exhibition and the way is it relevant now?

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Last 12 months, nearly a 3rd of the world’s population played video games – that’s around 2.8 billion people – so obviously increasingly artists are looking into this. Because the 80s, artists like Peggy Ahwesh and Rebecca Allen have brought videogames into art practice and critically checked out these videogames, which were developed by a small and intimate group of individuals coming mostly from an engineering perspective. Over the previous couple of years, we’ve seen people going into existing videogames and using them less as videogames and more as a platform. One example is the Serpentine’s exhibition on Fortnite, which was viewed by 100-150 million people. Many individuals then won’t ever have been to a museum with that visit actually the exhibition physically. We’ve also seen Rosaliá do it with fashion and Ariana Grande with pop music.

But there’s another excuse I desired to do the show, which is that we now have artists inventing their very own games. They’re making their very own with rules and surrounding systems. Which means recent worlds are emerging. Now, with technology being more accessible, we’re seeing a plurality of voices as games come from a wider set of experiences and present a wider range of perspectives. They’re not manufactured for a particular audience, but reasonably for the good thing about peers.

How do you’re thinking that the mainstream-ification of videogames is shaping artwork – and culture more generally?

Hans Ulrich Obrist: It brings completely recent audiences to exhibitions. Increasingly exhibitions have gotten mixed-reality, because there’s the work we actually see within the show and other digital props like lighting in immersive installations and multiscreen installations, which function as almost an extension of the body. We could have a digital path and an analogue path in an analogous technique to how some AI glasses allow us to experience physical experiences but you furthermore may have the likelihood to enhance them. We’re only five to 10 years away from having AI glasses embedded into our normal lenses.

The mainstream-ification of games means they may also be mission-driven. It’s interesting just how lots of these artists are considering multiplayer games when it comes to participation, like what sort of mission is it, whether that’s the relation to human extinction or the environmental crisis.

How does the exhibition take an archaeological have a look at video games?

Hans Ulrich Obrist: There’s loads of 3D involved and there’s also loads of connection between the games and the metaverse. But, for some artists, there’s also a desire to take a look at the just past. Walter Benjamin describes that amnesia often happens in relation to the just past, so it’s interesting how a few of the artists within the exhibition are considering taking a look at the old games, 2D games, and revisiting them. That‘s contrasted within the show, so we’ve each. The longer term is by some means invented, sometimes using fragments from the past.

“The longer term is typically invented using fragments from the past” – Hans Ulrich Obrist

I’ve been noticing loads of nostalgia for the early web recently, especially post-pandemic. I suppose it will only increase as society gets increasingly online. This also applies to gaming, as a younger generation discovers games from the 80s and 90s via the web. Have you ever noticed this? Why do you’re thinking that that is?

Hans Ulrich Obrist: A few of these early games remain really powerful. A few of these games appear quite simple, but there are more complex structures involved that nearly function as psychological devices, where you’re in a virtual or mental space that changes reality and transforms into something else.

What are your thoughts on the metaverse on condition that nearly all metaverse tech is built on gaming infrastructure?

Hans Ulrich Obrist: There’s clearly a reference to video games. Édouard Glissant talks in regards to the proven fact that you must give it some thought as archipelagos, which is why I’m quoting Anna Anthropy from the Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, especially when it comes to the plurality of voices. Glissant talks in regards to the archipelago versus the continent, as continents are homogenised, whereas the archipelago is what we must always learn from: what we are able to change in exchange with the Other, and thru that, my reality becomes more complex. The query with the metaverse is: will or not it’s a continent or an archipelago? Particularly with the business forces at stake, there’s a race that perhaps one entity will win. Then we’ll have a continental metaverse, which I don’t think will necessarily be helpful. What will likely be more relevant or productive to think in regards to the metaverse as a really immersive virtual world that’s an archipelago, where different parallel realities will likely be connected, reasonably than one homogenised continent.

The entire idea of the metaverse comes from science fiction, with Neil Stevenson’s Snow Crash, and likewise your complete idea of virtual reality was pioneered by Jaron Zepel Lanier, who was a programmer and a author.

What you’re saying about continents makes me consider the company rat race currently happening to colonise online types of communication, where Web3 is attempting to break free from that homogenised way of considering.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: An archipelago is a relational reality. It’s a place that’s particular to us; a spot where we’re and likewise a spot where we’re certain.

I saw that you’ve got works by Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley and LuYang within the exhibition – each artists who explore the role of identity and gender through technology. What role do video games play in exploring identity?

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Danielle says that she uses technology to assume our lives in environments that centre our bodies; those which can be living, those which can be past, and people which have been forgotten.  Her Black Trans Archive is an important work; it is a video game that interacts in real-time. In history, black people have been erased and absent from archives, so in a way, this game is definitely a game that centres on black and trans people and their stories, which is absolutely essential. With LuYang, through the Doku avatar, which is a digital incarnation that she’s been working on since 2020, that any type of binary considering is radically challenged by the avatar. 

“I used to be fascinated about what could be the Rite of Spring of the twenty first century – and possibly it’s going to be a videogame“ – Hans Ulrich Obrist

How do you see the connection between our digital selves and our Away From Keyboard selves?

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Elmgreen & Dragset’s book Useless Bodies just got here out on the Prada Foundation, which is in regards to the crash of the bubble within the digital age. Increasingly, we’re seeing exhibitions change into mixed reality. We have now an exhibition on the Serpentine with Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Alienarium 5, with ‘Alienarium’ being the important thing figure in Dominique’s sculptures. She’s developed a multisensory kind of environment, where there are loads of things we experience in front of a screen. She’s created all these different styles of formats. We have now a 360-degree panorama, there are five VR pieces where we are able to have encounters with extraterrestrials, and there’s also a room that’s disconnected from any technology. It’s combining lots of these parallel realities in human experience, which is multi-sensory and that individuals can spend loads of time.

How do you sort of see the tools that we use for online gaming evolving inside the art realm?

Hans Ulrich Obrist: The query of authorship is changing. Videogames are a really interdisciplinary medium. I used to be fascinated about what could be the Rite of Spring of the twenty first century – and possibly it’s going to be a videogame. It’s only the start; there will likely be so way more in the longer term of video games. I feel it’s essential to take into consideration games not only as games that might be mission-driven, but in addition games that address the issues of the twenty first century. Perhaps games can bring all of the disciplines together, so we’ve games where all of the artforms collaborate on one game. That concept of it being a collaborative practice brings loads of potential.

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