August 5, 2003

control <ALT> Digital Media delete

by Nick Montfort · , 4:45 pm

I saw <ALT> Digital Media at the Amercian Museum of the Moving Image the other day. It’s a great space for interacting with and appreciating visual works. Unfortunately, the MOMI’s big video game exhibition is no longer up, and about half the pieces in this smaller exhibition (installed on two PCs) were down, but there were several pieces to enjoy, including Cory Archangel’s I Shot Andy Warhol, the stimulating commercial videogame Rez, and two Potent Objects from a series by Camille Utterback and Adam Chapman.

The objects “Shaken” and “Balance” were great projects (as I told Adam when I later chanced to run into him) but they did seem a bit out of place alongside the more arcade-like offerings in the gallery, leading me to wonder about what sort of setting is most appropriate for arcade or console art games and what spaces suit other interactive new media pieces. Camille’s interactive installations and objects work very well in more traditional contexts, showing how the art-viewing spaces we’re familiar with can be extended to welcome new types of activity. But how could we extend the arcade into a space for discussion, for exhibitions such as retrospectives, for the contextualizing provided by curators?

It’s too bad I never got to see Carl Goodman’s big MOMI video game show, since it may have answered this question, but I’m sure there are many such relevant exhibitions I’ve missed out on. As far as the effective display of video games is concerned, the best example I know to point to is the Musée Mécanique, long located at Cliff House in San Francisco and now at temporary quarters (no pun intended) on Pier 45. (The museum is named after a Shelley Jackson story.) Mechanized arcade amusements that predate computerized ones are on display there, as the name suggests, providing a context that is almost always missing from consideration of video games. In fact, you might read a lot about the Musée Mécanique without ever realizing that they have video games there, but there are several, set out and turned on and ready to play. If we’re serious about considering contemporary and historical video games as part of our culture, we’ll need more spaces like this, and probably some spaces of different sorts, in which the playful muse of video gaming can cavort.