By Soha E
(TORONTO, ON) – In late 2012, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) acquired 14 video games to be exhibited in the Phillip Johnson Galleries as of March 2013. The collection currently ranges from classics like Pac-Man (1980) and Tetris (1984) to modern examples of flOw (2006) and Portal (2007). The acquisition is a move to celebrate interactive design and one that was met with both applause and outrage from the art community. The main question was whether or not curators should endorse video games as art and thus exhibit them in a gallery or museum space.
For Skot Deeming, Clint Enns, Katie Micak and Christine Kim – otherwise known as Team Vector – the answer is an outstanding yes. Their collaborative effort birthed the Vector: Game + Art Convergence festival in Toronto which entailed a five day celebration of contemporary game-based artworks. The inspiring show included exhibits, live performances, film screenings, workshops and discussion panels between game art designers and academics. Vector is not simply a celebration of games as art, but an embrace of visual culture and a critical dialogue to open the gaming community to the academic and curatorial worlds.
“There’s a belief that art and enjoyment are mutually exclusive especially in Toronto,” co-directors Deeming and Enns agree. “Critical distance is a fallacy,” Deeming adds.
Vector’s opening night included an “art crawl” across three venues where the curators and artists spoke about the overall exhibit and individual artworks in each space. The crawl began at InterAccess with the show Other Worlds curated by Prosthetic Knowledge and mrghosty. The exhibit drifted through imaginary worlds to address psycho-geography and mental landscapes in a virtual space, sending the audience into psychedelic dreamlike environments.
The second exhibit net.works was placed in Propeller Gallery and curated by Team Vector. It embraced metaphysical themes of existence through the intimacy of handhelds and laptops, while also celebrating glitches and hacker culture in textile, video, and photographic forms.
The final exhibit at BentoMiso was titled Ludacy and curated by Christine Kim. Kim invited three young indie game developers in Toronto namely Damian Sommer, Alex Martin and Cale Bradbury to create new media installations. The result was a surprising union of touchscreen, typing and card-based games which brought together a varied community.
The three exhibits celebrated the guts and glory found inside the hardware of gaming platforms. The curators made no attempt to hide wires, keyboards, or laptops from viewers which would be typically found in the invisible and seamless aesthetics of institutions like MoMA. The reason for leaving the cords out is to shift the focus away from games as consumer products and present a form of “raw aesthetics”, as stated by Deeming and Enns.
Leaving laptops out also encourages viewers to interact with the hardware and even re-hack the artworks to fit the theme of one of the discussion panels about the appropriation of games to create new pieces.
Deeming explains, “These unsanctioned practices [of hacking and modding] are modes of resistance that further embrace the culture.”
The first evening of performances was titled Playing Personae: Embodied and Engendered Performances featuring New York City based artist Angela Washko and Toronto’s Daniele Hopkins and Kyle Duffield.
Washko’s piece involved confronting other players in World of Warcraft about their definition of feminism. Some players ran away, one chose to privately express her emotions with Washko, and the rest avoided defining the term in their WoW experience.
Hopkins and Duffield wore modified chest pieces that were actually controllers to interact with two fighting characters in Tomonobu Itakagi’s Dead or Alive – a game hugely popular for creating “jiggle physics” in the overly busty female fighters. It was fascinating to see men who are well-versed in DoA hesitate to touch the controller on Hopkins’ chest, and the performance was a clever way to challenge players to see how bodies are represented in the media.
The last night of performances titled Engines of Performance featured breathtakingly gorgeous pieces by Toronto artists Toca Loca and New York City’s Foci + Loci. The artists embed machinima and game engines as tools to create a cinematic performance that is unlike anything gamers have seen before.
Toca Loca performed their infamous Halo Ballet, where the artists used their Halo avatars to choreograph an in-game dance alongside a live score. Brilliant tag-team Foci + Loci (Chris Burke and Tamara Yadao) used the engine in Little Big Planet to create an unbelievably moving audio-visual masterpiece that disassociate time and space in the unexpected cuteness of Sackboy.
Vector: Game + Art Convergence is a unique amalgamation of academia, art, and games from all decades. Instead of creating a closed space for artists, Team Vector has cracked open the digital world to build a community of what Enns coins “fun formalism.”
The issues raised in discussion panels ranged from feminism, the marriage between game and art in game art, and the politics of appropriation, each of which were open to a live audience that was encouraged to partake in the discussion.
The message was clear each day in Vector; whether you are an artist, a designer, a gamer, or a spectator – you are here. The world of Vector embraces community instead of singling anyone out which is a rare sight in most forms of institutionalized high-art and academia. The road ahead for the relationship between digital and intellectual is a curious one, but with these active cultures growing in North America it will surely be fun.