Even if we weren’t lucky enough to go, most of us will have read about or seen the tumblr pics from last year’s The Artist is Present exhibition at MoMA where Marina Abramović created a unique audience experience by sitting silently and motionlessly for hours at a time in the gallery. It was the biggest ever performance art show at the museum and by the end of it, Abramović had sat for just over 760 hours. Occasionally, people were moved to tears as they gazed back at her intense stare. In just three months, 1,565 visitors sat in front of the artist.
Which, obviously, means that a whole lot more of us didn’t. So artist and game developer Pippin Barr has created a browser-based video game called The Artist Is Present which, at first glance is designed to reconstruct the experience you may have missed. From purchasing a ticket at the entrance (though it’s actually gone up, to $25!) to the artwork on the wall you would have queued past (and no you can’t push in) to get to Abramović the experience feels somewhat authentic (queue times vary according to the time of day, from 20 minutes to over four hours). There is, however, a sting in the tail we won’t tell you about.
“In a way, video games can be incredibly intimidating for players, with the premise that they'll challenge you and be hard to play. This game is not hard, and it's not necessarily fun either,” Barr told The Village Voice’s Rosie Gray. “It was hugely about it being authentic, for example in having the museum be closed sometimes. In a reduced sense, the game puts the player in the position of the artist; they're expected to go through this ordeal of having to wait. It mirrors the idea of what Marina Abramović was going through. You're performing yourself. I think it's good for people to learn that games don't have to cater to your every desire, they don't have to be wish fulfillment.”
While it could never replicate the intensity of the original experience – the camaraderie of the queue and the social aspect of the performance especially - in its own way, the game makes its own pertinent point about the show. And, of course if you’re old enough it evokes a certain nostalgia for veterans of the 8-bit gaming world. Barr, the son of New Zealand contemporary art collectors, is now working on a game based on The Trolley Problem, an infamous thought experiment in ethics.
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