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Are Video Games Art? An Exhibition in Germany is Exploring Just This

AFP

Last Updated: June 17, 2022, 10:05 IST

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley's installation SHE KEEPS ME DAMN ALIVE is featured in the exhibition WORLDBUILDING: Gaming and Art in the Digital Age'. Photography Alwin Lay / the JULIA STOSCHEK COLLECTION exhibitions

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley's installation SHE KEEPS ME DAMN ALIVE is featured in the exhibition WORLDBUILDING: Gaming and Art in the Digital Age'. Photography Alwin Lay / the JULIA STOSCHEK COLLECTION exhibitions

For Hans Ulrich Obrist, the curator of 'WORLDBUILDING: Gaming and Art in the Digital Age,' video games 'are to the 21st century what movies were to the 20th century and novels to the 19th century.'

The late American journalist Roger Ebert once said that video games can never be art. But the Julia Stoschek Collection in Düsseldorf disagrees. The German cultural institution is currently devoting an entire exhibition to video games, showing how they are increasingly becoming part of contemporary visual culture.

For Hans Ulrich Obrist, the curator of “WORLDBUILDING: Gaming and Art in the Digital Age,” video games “are to the 21st century what movies were to the 20th century and novels to the 19th century.” To support this assertion, he has selected around 30 multimedia works that elevate the world of gaming to the level of art. Some are from the Julia Stoschek Collection and have been specially adapted for the exhibition, while others have been commissioned for the occasion.

The works featuring in “WORLDBUILDING” are all very different from each other in terms of scale, scope and purpose, but also in form and function. Some, such as Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s “SHE KEEPS ME DAMN ALIVE” are veritable video games. In this installation, the British artist raises awareness about the lives and circumstances of Black transgender people. She challenges players to protect this marginalized community in three scenarios: the ocean, the dungeon and the city. Visitors are equipped with a pink gun, which is textured like a brain, to eliminate threats to the game’s characters. This is not an invitation to shoot on sight, but rather to question the (illusory) power of a gun.

Meanwhile, “The Great Adventure of Material World” by Lu Yang is a three-channel installation that looks, at first glance, like a classic role-playing game. Visitors are invited to play the character of the Material World Knight. The goal? To complete several quests while fighting enemies. But, as in all of Lu Yang’s works, the game is a pretext to address existentialist themes. “[W]e create various ideologies, mental states, and social systems in order to rationalize and justify the Material World,” explains the Chinese artist through one of their other characters, Uterus Man.

The “WORLDBUILDING” exhibition shows how visual artists use the aesthetics of video games to address issues relating to our existence through virtual worlds. And internet users are devoting more and more time to them, it seems. According to GWI data, digital consumers now spend 6 hours and 58 minutes a day on the internet. No doubt some of these hours are spent gaming, as Hans Ulrich Obrist points out. “In 2021, 2.8 billion people — almost a third of the world’s population — played video games, making a niche pastime into the biggest mass phenomenon of our time. Many people spend hours every day in a parallel world and live a multitude of different lives,” the curator said in a statement.

Art lovers will be able to discover the creations of Ed Atkins, JODI, Peggy Ahwesh, Lawrence Lek, Meriem Bennani and Cao Fei featured in “WORLDBUILDING” until December 10, 2023, at the Julia Stoschek Collection in Düsseldorf. The exhibition will then head to the Centre Pompidou-Metz in France, from June 2023 to January 2024.

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first published:June 17, 2022, 10:05 IST
last updated:June 17, 2022, 10:05 IST