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September 10, 2007Glenn Turner

Back in July, we noticed that for one week, as part of Chicago's summer-long series of Art of Play exhibits, the 'Come In & Play' interactive center would focus squarely on video games and system. As previously mentioned, we didn't expect a mini-Game On or anything, but we did expect there to be a few consoles available to play, along with perhaps some timelines, a bit about Chicago's role in the industry, etc.

We also expected to be able to, you know, play some games, since the point of the 'Come In & Play' is to be able to get your hands dirty. So unitdaisy and myself ambled in August 5th, the exhibit's final day, expectations in one hand, parking ticket in the other, and here's what we saw:

G. Turner: Not exactly the bastion of interactive entertainment we had hoped for. Later in the day they powered up the projector for, what initially looked like playing Super Mario Bros. on an ailing projector.

unitdaisy: The women on the laptops weren't actually playing games, just morphing faces in Photoshop.

G: Hey, we all know that Photoshop's a game!

G: Turns out, this was actually an art project from Matthew Board entitled 'Maybelline Mario'. In fact, the bulk of the 'Video Games and Systems' station was made up of pieces from local Chicago gallery Around the Coyote's 'Gameplay: Video Games in Contemporary Art Practice' exhibit. And as far as 'Maybelline Mario' was concerned, there was nothing wrong with the projector itself: The game's hues had been tweaked to redder and effeminate tones to explore identity and gender in games. That's not what I personally took away from it – I'm simply regurgitating copy from the Around the Coyote website. There was no information on the 'piece' itself on display, at least not that we had seen.

UD: The information with the displays was not thorough; it was difficult to tell if some of the pieces were meant to be played with or just observed.

G: I like this rendition of the Konami Code!

UD: It looks like Barbie plays video games, too.

G: Midway (Chicago owned & operated!) donated a few pinball machines for the exhibit, although I'm not sure these were explicitly brought in for the 'Video Games & Systems' station. Frankly, I found the vintage pinball ads adorning the walls more engaging!

G: I hear ya, little VCR.

G: This video simply showed snippets of The Sims screens and, based on what we saw of it, was intriguingly paced and was nicely focused. The same artist, local Chicagoan Stacia Yeapanis, also had a series of portraits set up, all consisting of images ripped from The Sims world. There weren't many, but the ones on display were nicely affective, such as It's Raining on Me.

UD: I found them rather disturbing. Not in a negative way, just that I found the artist's treatment of the media created troubling images.

G: There was another series of portraits, unfortunately I don't have the artist info, but they were simple snapshots of women playing video games.

G: Everyone loves the DS!

G: These three portraits were probably my favorite, as they made a nice, and honest, backdrop for the station – no matter our expectations for it.

UD: I loved the level of concentration apparent in all of the faces and attitudes. They captured an intensity that belied the reputation of women as casual gamers.

G: Regardless, I did walk away feeling disappointed – not because we couldn't play anything, but because it felt like the station wasn't being utilized properly. This was a game-centric event without any interactivity, which I wouldn't have minded if it was trying to edify, but it wasn't. It felt more like we were just walking among artifacts instead of them being presented to us; it was neither an exhibit, a gallery or an interactive center. And actually, we had no idea that most of the pieces on display were actually from the Around the Coyote gallery (mostly because they weren't supposed to be there - the pieces were supposed to have been hauled away the day prior, at least according to their flyers).

UD: Sadly all of the promotion material for the Art of Play events were just as confusing and poorly laid out. I might have attended more activities if the presentation of the event listing hadn't been so counter-intuitive.

G: Maybe next year we'll see an Art of Play 2.0? Perhaps then it'll be a bit more information or interactive.

It's worth noting that, the prior day they allegedly had Pixeljam's Gamma Bros. on display for folks to play. Drat, we always miss the fun stuff!

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1 comment for ‘Come In & Play: An Art of Play Chicago Exhibit’

#1 jt-3d Sep 22, 2007 05:24pm

You sure took this like a man. I'd have been crying like a baby and around the corner in a bar in no time flat. I guess I just don't get art.