Playing Art

So I wrote this piece about FADEout, an art installation currently on display as part of the University of Chicago’s Arts|Science initiative. The idea is to bring artists and scientists together to create work that neither could or would create individuality.

In the case of FADEout, it’s a text about loss and the passage of time, digitally printed onto semi-transparent screens, broken apart in a pre-recorded video, and (perhaps most prominently) turned into a motion-controlled game. A Microsoft Kinnect interprets your movements, which allow you to physically move around bits of text and break them down into smaller and smaller parts. Phrases become words, which become letters, which become chunks of letters.

Installation artist Granite Amit provides the text and architectures the interaction, and research scientist Yali Amit provides the technical underpinnings–the algorithm that breaks the letters down, the system by which the Kinnect turns gestures into visual feedback, and so on. Both seem aware that they’re created a hybrid object, a true collaboration, a thing that would not be if not for this meeting of the minds.

But I’m not sure that they realize they’ve made a game–even though people are playing it, and even though they’re playing it with a video game controller, and even though (as I discuss in the article linked above) a fair number of viewers insensitively race toward the win condition, such as it is.

Still, it’s an art installation, because it’s in an art gallery and there’s only one of it, and so it can’t be a game, right? It’s strange: in contemporary art galleries, interactivity is all the rage, and yet game designers rarely get invited to join in on interdisciplinary collaborations, even when the thing being made is inescapably a game.

Without taking anything away from FADEout (which I really enjoyed), I think that the separation of gallery art from everything else has created unnecessary rifts between people doing similar work, alienated a large portion of the general public from art galleries as a concept, and rendered the word art needlessly confusing. Each of those things is a shame, to some degree, and so I would like to address the historical role and current limits of art as a term.

This will probably take a few posts.

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