An 8-bit Moment in Gameplay: [giantJoystick]

Atkinson Hall
University of California, San Diego
Map & Directions:

February 4 to March 17, 2008
Monday to Friday: 11 AM to 5 PM
Featuring [giantJoystick] by Mary Flanigan
Reception: February 14, 6 to 8 PM
Artist Talk: February 20, 4 PM

Mary Flanagan Interview: "Social Change, Video Games and the Visual Arts"
By Eduardo Navas, Gallery Coordinator

Text: "An 8-bit Moment in Gameplay"

player back

The Gallery at Calit2 proudly presents "An 8-bit Moment in Gameplay: [giantJoystick]," a single art installation exhibit featuring a working, large-scale game-interface-sculpture designed for collaborative play by artist and media theorist Mary Flanagan.  [giantJoystick], originally commissioned by http gallery in 2006, takes us back to the early days of video games when they entered the home.  It features classic Atari games from the 1980s, including Adventure, Asteroids, Breakout, Centipede, Circus Atari, Gravitar, Missile Command, Pong, Volleyball, and Yar's Revenge.  The recontextualization of such classics opens a space to reflect on the brief and dense history of video games and the aesthetics of play.

Video game consoles, which offered low-resolution graphics known as 8-bit, were made popular in large part by Atari in 1977.  However, video games did not enter the average household in full force until the early 1980s.  To many, the years 1979 to 1986 are remembered as the "golden age" of video games - a period when popular culture would also be exposed to digital technology with the introduction of the personal computer. It is, then, not surprising that video games entered the home in this time period.  Flanagan's [giantJoystick] takes us back to this pivotal moment by turning the Atari joystick into a work of art, which carefully combines her interests in art-making as well as gameplay.

Flanagan considers [giantJoystick] as a form of social sculpture.  The term is used by Joseph Beuys to extend the aesthetics and critical practice of art not only to artists, but to anyone interested in questioning culture.  Beuys reflected upon the possibilities of art production by drawing, performing, and creating sculptures that defied the understanding of art practice in the decades after World War II.  Flanagan, in turn, uses the term social sculpture to allude to the possibilities of real social change when individuals involved in gameplay become aware of the possibilities for critical expression and reflection in the discourse of video game culture.  Her strategy is also closely linked to the tradition of pop art; clear references can be made to Claes Oldenburg's oversize sculptures such as Spoon and Cherry (1985-88) or Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes (1969).  The end result is an installation that combines art and video game aesthetics, opening the door for multiple readings. 

[giantJoystick], for instance, can be read as a feminist commentary on video game culture, especially when considering that historically video games have been defined by young boys.  It can also be read as a critical reflection on the work of art.  Traditionally, gallery visitors are not allowed to touch art.  With [giantJoystick], however, viewers are not only asked to interact with the work, but also to get extremely physical to the point of breaking a sweat, all while collaborating in gameplay with others.  Most importantly, visitors are expected to have fun, something usually kept at bay when entertaining serious art. 

Mary Flanagan's [gianJoystick] ultimately, creates a rhetorical space that bridges what is known in game culture as the magic circle (a space defined by rules of play) with the aesthetics of the white cube (the rules of engagement of the art gallery), reinvigorating the recurring tendency in art practice to look to culture at large for inspiration.


gallery@calit2 would like to thank Center for Research and Computing in the Arts (CRCA) for their support in the realization of this exhibition.