Curation and Games: Forking Paths

IIscreenI’ve posted before about common downfalls of major museum exhibitions of videogames, and pretty much my entire Master’s dissertation (and proposed PhD research) is focused on finding effective ways to curate and present games to the public through museums and art spaces. Alongside my writing on this blog, which is an attempt to talk about videogames from an arts perspective alongside the histories of and new media practices, I’ve started a new monthly project that will hopefully offer a place to experiment with these alternative approaches:

Here is the first monthly mini-exhibition on the GROUP SHOW blog!

The format of this curation-based experiment is pretty simple. Each month, I create a post consisting of a title, summary, and “museum label” stye descriptive texts for four works by different creators. Featured in this first show are three games (Marginalia, The Terror Aboard the Speedwell and Intimate, Infinite, pictured above) and one work of installation art (palimpsest). The three games cross genres and formats, and while they were all produced in 2014, palimpsest was first installed in 1989.

There are many reasons I chose this approach. First of all, the “group show” has become the vehicle through which Contemporary Art is most frequently presented to the world and communicates with it. The proliferation of biennials and other temporary exhibitions usually take this format, and these groupings can be organized in many ways, via philosophical themes, location of origin, year of creation, medium-based and technical concerns of the artists, and so on. So, from the start I wanted to be presenting videogames in groups rather than singly or featuring a specific creator or studio in the manner of monograph shows. Curatorial projects that take the single-game approach (like Forest Ambassador), are vital and interesting places to learn about current practices in videogames, but obviously there are things grouping does that presenting things individually does not do (and vice versa).

I limited the number to four things, because many shows of videogames in museums I have gone to personally have seriously lacked curatorial control. Not only can a large number of things in a group show of any medium hinder its ability to have a coherent thesis, but videogames are also a type of work that demands at least a specific period of engagement to “experience” the work. Shows with videogames will benefit from tight editing not just because it’ll present a clearer narrative, but because it won’t present the visitor with more than they can feasibly take in during a single visit.

I integrated a more “traditional” piece of art into the show from the beginning because I believe mixing and finding parallels between traditional art, new media art and videogames is not only interesting, but it’s vital for them to be meaningfully added and presented as a part of museum collections. This also stands in opposition to the tendency of traditional work being included in mixed-media shows and permanent collection areas, but electronic mediums like video, software and new media installations being presented separately from these “main” parts of the collection. The fact that these mediums are central to our lives now, and the number of artists working with them seems like it will only increase means that peripheral “new media” collections will quickly become insufficient, if they aren’t already, and are a disservice to these works, implying they can’t stand alongside more established forms like painting and sculpture.

These shows aren’t taking place in a physical space, so things like AV requirements and the limitations and human needs and tendencies that come with people walking through a gallery aren’t a part of this project. But of course, I try to keep them in mind. I like to shoot for a selection of games and artworks that can be experienced over the course of a single afternoon, would facilitate a decent “flow” through the exhibition, and are easy to pick up and understand intuitively or with a sentence or two of instructions. I also try to consider the reality of AV setups and technological requirements when thinking about how to present these works, and hope to put up sketches of potential floorplans and displays as “extras” to the main show postings. Online, distributed curating is of course an important part of the discourse on games that is constantly developing and improving, but making sure games are effective in physical gallery spaces as well takes a different type close attention and experimentation.

This post hopefully serves not only as an introduction to the project and extended version of the “about” featured on the site, but also a summary of my concerns and interests going forward, and a foundation for further research and practice-based work that’ll be a part of that. I’m really excited to see what people think of this experiment, and how it evolves and changes over time with the feedback I get and my own research!