[News from NEW YORK] From conservation to augmentation

EVE Online (2003). Photo: D.R. / Cherise Fong

This article comes from the 13th Digitalarti Mag. Read it online for free.

Between the world-famous Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Midtown Manhattan and a tiny gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, digital art is breaking down the walls—physical, virtual, institutional and technocratic... well beyond New York City.

On March 2, 2013, MoMA opened an unprecedented exhibition that inaugurates the first public glimpse of its budding collection of video games. In other words, it goes without saying that these games are art. Entitled “Applied Design”, the exhibition invites us to contemplate, if not play, 14 classic games (among other physical objects and digital works) distinguished for their exceptional “interaction design”. Design, but not just graphic. It’s where code becomes the raw material for sculpting an experience, painting behaviors, defining the interaction between the player and the world inside the game. You could judge the quality of this digital interaction the same way you might consider the harmony between form and content in a physical artwork.

This non-nostalgic opening selection of 14 games is the seed for the permanent collection of MoMA’s Architecture and Design department, which should grow to include about 40 games in the following years. Embedded in the black walls, the games are soberly displayed, either along with an input device or in demo mode. Thus, you can enjoy playing Passage for five colorful, musical and moving minutes, before immersing yourself in the neighboring mute video demo of Dwarf Fortress in RGB ASCII. Among the show’s many wonders is Vib-Ribbon, one of the first Japanese games propelled by music, and the all-time classics Pac-Man and Tetris (original ASCII version) from the 1980s, entirely playable.

Vib-Ribbon (1999). Photo: D.R. / Cherise Fong.

As the games are displayed to emphasize their historical and cultural relevance, it’s interesting to (re)discover them among other artifacts of “applied design”: an animated map of flight patterns, 3D-printed chairs, a biodegradable wind-powered GPS deminer, etc. In an institutional landscape where video games are often lost somewhere between interactive art and technical exploit, MoMA frames them in the context of general culture. But if this well-respected modern museum indeed “opens the door to this avalanche of video game art” (according to Paola Antonelli, exhibition curator), it also poses the very serious question of how museums can effectively conserve digital interactive artworks.

Passage (2008) — Dwarf Fortress (2006). Photo: D.R. / Cherise Fong.

Meanwhile in the little Devotion Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, founded by artists/musicians and dedicated to the interactions between art, science, design and new media, Mark Skwarek opened his solo retrospective exhibition “AR Intervention”: AR as in augmented reality; intervention as in the 15 juxtapositions staged by the artist employing this technology toward activist means. Hanging on the walls like paintings are screenshots from smartphones and tablets showing digital images, positioned and displayed using geolocation coordinates, superposed on real scenes as seen by the device’s camera.

It’s these visions of reality “augmented” by subversive images that provoke our perception: an aerial view of Art Basel Miami 2012 completely flooded; the body of a Foxconn employee who committed suicide on the floor of an Apple Store in Manhattan; ethnic minority children dancing on the islands of Disneyland’s “Small World” ride; avatars of Occupy Wall Street protestors in front of the New York Stock Exchange, in Shanghai and in Tokyo; the Statue of Liberty, the wall separating Israel from Palestine, every trace of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing North and South Korea… erased.

AR Intervention @ Devotion Gallery. Photo: D.R.

But the real AR inauguration is of the iOS application creatAR, developed by Skwarek and his team, which allows even non-AR-savvy fans to conjure up their own image and position it in augmented reality. Simply download the app on your smartphone or tablet, then type the name of an image file (or a word to search in a database of pre-existing images). You can either enter an exact physical address or see the virtual object download in situ, before moving it around using the interface on your mobile device. The ghosts of William Gibson’s novel Spook Country have become that much more accessible to the general public.

Augmented reality: techno-gimmick or artistic territory? Way back in 2010, the artists Mark Skwarek and Sander Veenhof didn’t wait for MoMA’s invitation to exhibit their invisible artworks within. Skwarek’s very first intervention, “We AR in MoMA”, which hijacked the museum galleries’ GPS coordinates, already opened the doors wide to an impending avalanche of augmented art.

Cherise Fong

« Applied Design » exhibition at MoMA, New York, through January 31, 2014

Find the places mentioned in this article on this map.
We also published a full article about digital arts in New York City, right here.


This article comes from the 13th Digitalarti Mag.
Read it online for free.


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