Ready to level up to art enthusiast? Oklahoma Contemporary exhibit offers you that chance

60 26/06/2022

It's game on at Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center.

The nonprofit multidisciplinary arts space is hoping to unlock all sorts of achievements with the cross-platform exhibition “Open World: Video Games & Contemporary Art." Organized by the the Akron Art Museum in Ohio, the multi-player show is leveling up beyond the notion that video games are an art form.

"This exhibition takes that as established fact and explores the intersection of video game technology, design, techniques and tools and contemporary artists. So, the works in this exhibition are either mining the tools of video game design and production, they are riffing on images and iconography from established video games ... or they're critiquing and commenting on the culture of video game play," said Oklahoma Contemporary Artistic Director Jeremiah Matthew Davis.

"For anybody who's interested in video games, you will definitely get a rush of nostalgia upon entering this. For people who are more interested in contemporary art, you will also find a lot of deep commentary on politics, society, war and peace, economics and the human experience."

More than 166 million Americans play video games, according to a 2018 Entertainment Software Association survey, and "Open World" spotlights the cultural influence of a wide range of popular titles, from "Super Mario Bros." and "Grand Theft Auto" to "Call of Duty" and "Candy Crush."

"It gets a different kind of person in the gallery — people who maybe are not comfortable with a white-wall museum — and then it gives our regular patrons a glimpse into pop culture and lets them see the world from a completely different path,"Communications Director Lori Brooks said.

To celebrate the exhibit, Oklahoma Contemporary is powering up its November Second Saturday festivities into GameFest OKC. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13, gamers of all ages can drop in for custom character face painting, "Mortal Kombat" stage combat demonstrations and a Twitch live-stream with Samantha Blackmon, founder of "Not Your Mama’s Gamer" podcast, and Miranda Due, an indigenous game developer. Attendees will have the chance to play indie video games, search for augmented reality artwork by OKC artist Jaiye Farrell and tour "Open World," which is on view through Feb. 21.

Here are seven highlights to look for in "Open World":

1. Mysterious squid

An orange version of the squid from the 1978 game "Space Invaders" peers out from one wall of the gallery, thanks to French artist Invader. The artist, who keeps his identity secret, took his pseudonym from the classic game.

"Starting in the 1980s, he thought that institutions, museums and galleries were far too exclusive, and they were anti-democratic institutions So, he decided to take art to the people," Davis said. "He did that in a guerilla style by taking the squid figure from the 'Space Invaders' game, making it his icon and then using very cheap materials — like in this case, ceramic tile, or Rubik's Cubes —to create those invaders. And then he placed them all over the place.So, if you've been to certain parts of Europe, Paris, L.A., you will see invaders on buildings throughout. He didn't seek permission, he didn't get a permit, he just threw them up."

2. Women's 'World of Warcraft'

Pennsylvania artist Angela Washko's video installation shares her experiences while exploring the popular online role-playing game "World of Warcraft." Although she is a skilled gamer, she noticed that when other players realized she's a woman that she frequently was subjected to misogynistic comments.

Ready to level up to art enthusiast? Oklahoma Contemporary exhibit offers you that chance

"She was inspired to create a performance piece in which she records her gameplay inside of 'World of Warcraft.' Rather than playing as you might traditionally, she endeavors to engage in conversations about feminism with other players," Davis said. "Sometimes they are taken aback and respond with some very anti-feminist or sexist language. And other times, they actually engage in a conversation and start to have a dialogue."

Fiber artists Krista Hoefle, who created nontraditional quilts referencing video game lingo and graphics, and Nathan Vincent, who crocheted replicas of the classic Atari and Nintendo controllers, also are addressing gender misconceptions about gaming.

"There are about 65% of American adults who play video games, and interestingly, with the rise of gaming on smartphones and devices, the majority of gamers are now women," Davis said.

Butler isn't the only "Open World" artist to take on the notoriously violent game series: Joan Pamboukes composed her vibrant trio of abstracted landscapes by photographing a TV screen while her brothers, friends and students played "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" and focused on the beautiful background elements.

"She was watching her brothers play this extraordinarily violent game when she was struck by how beautiful the imagery can be in the game," Davis said.

5. Explosive series

Swiss artist Ueli Alder addresses the realistic wartime violence depicted in games like "Call of Duty" in "Untitled Detonation," his dramatic and deceptively lovely collection of eight prints.

"He was particularly fascinated by the repeated explosions that would happen from either an airstrike or a ground-to-ground missile or a grenade," Davis said. "From far away, they're bright, they're colorful, they're really enchanting in a way. But of course, you realize pretty quickly that they are explosions, an act of extraordinary violence. And as you get closer and closer, you actually can see they're not photographs: They are pixelated renderings taken from the game."

6. Hands-on experience

Scotland-based artist Joseph Delappe also was inspired by a wartime first-person shooter to craft his large-scale corrugated plastic sculpture "Taliban Hands," a centerpiece of the exhibition. He based the sculpture of two hands from images extracted from the 2010 game "Medal of Honor," which is set in the War in Afghanistan. Sales of the game were banned on U.S. military bases because gamers could choose to play — and kill — as members of the Taliban.

"The military said, 'We can't do that; it's psychologically traumatizing,' and he was interested in that idea. So, he divorced the hands from the character ... which is one of the Taliban fighters in the game holding a gun," Davis said. "They're awesome sculptural works, but there's a lot of depth that the artist is mining beyond just the sculptural forms."

7. People as products

Based in New York, Tabor Robak built the mesmerizing video installation "Free-to-Play" to address the addictive nature of "free" mobile "match-three" games like "Candy Crush" and "Bejeweled."

"We know that on the internet, if something is free, we're the product. ... You can just watch this for hours and hours. It's nonplayable; it just rotates through this series of images. But it's commenting on the attention economy, on the idea of 'free' being a mere guise to lure people in so that their data can be gained and traded for profit," Davis said.

"The trade-off, of course, is we get something that's fun and enjoyable, but there's highly sophisticated tools and techniques that these games — and their ads — are using to keep our focus glued to them."

GameFest OKC

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 13.

Goes with: The exhibit "Open World: Video Games & Contemporary Art," on view through Feb. 21.

Where: Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center, 11 NW 11.

Admission: Free.


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