If you think video games are just for sweaty nerds with keyboards encrusted with Quaver dust, then The Photographers’ Gallery just might shatter your preconceptions into a million pixels. His new show explores the artistic potential of video games, and there’s more to it than how they made Pacman such a beautiful shade of yellow.
The gallery does not say that video games are art. Because they are not art: just like cinema, video games are their thing. Instead, it’s about how artists exploit game mechanics to create works.
Cory Arcangel probably sums it up best. In one video here he removed everything but the clouds from the original “Super Mario Bros”, in the other he only left the road from “F1 Race”. He took the game out of games, leaving 8-bit minimalism alone.
It’s about fFinding Beauty Where Everyone Finds Entertainment
Justin Berry and Joan Pamboukes take similar approaches, with the former capturing beautiful mountain vistas, the latter focusing solely on the sky in otherwise violent games like “Metal Gear Solid,” creating flat planes of meditative color from gory worlds. It’s all classic Duchamp recontextualization, using the artist’s eye to reframe images of one of the most pervasive elements of modern aesthetic culture, finding beauty where everyone else finds entertainment.
Down below, the art is all about memetic reproduction. Lorna Ruth Galloway replicates Ed Ruscha’s famous gas station photos but in GTA V, and Roc Herms creates in-game versions of Ai Weiwei’s photos of him giving the middle finger to famous buildings and artwork. The whole room is funny, incredibly meta, and very good.
Other artists here explore how games provide the freedom to alter your identity. Danielle Udogaranya creates SIMS avatars with underrepresented skin tones, while Cibelle Cavalli Bastos uses AR filters to constantly reshape her own face, all with great identity twisters Claude Cahun and Cindy Sherman.
Other highlights include Dries Depoorter and Max Pinckers’ AI camera, which is trained to only take “winning” shots. But the show’s insistence on rooting itself in photography only muddies its conceptual waters. It’s hard to see what John Hilliard’s experiments on exposure to film or Dorothée Elisa Baumann’s video of a camera shattered into pieces have to do with anything else here. There’s also a lot of art that uses social media as a platform, which is interesting, but again, hard to tie into the overall concept. Confusing social media with gaming, screenshots with photography, everything gets a bit messy.
But the biggest problem here is pretty good to have: it makes you want more. The show barely scratches the surface of the subject. It could, and should, be a huge exhibition on a massive subject that artists have been exploring for decades. Much like video games themselves, it’s addictive, absorbing, and probably very bad for your eyes.