The Julia Stoschek Collection in Düsseldorf, Germany is currently devoting an exhibition to video games. The opportunity to remember that they are an integral part of art. At the risk of upsetting some.
The late American journalist Roger Ebert once said that “video games will never be art”. The Julia Stoschek Collection in Düsseldorf disagrees. The German cultural institution is currently devoting an entire exhibition to them entitled “WORLDBUILDING: Gaming and Art in the Digital Age” and shows how they are increasingly integrated into contemporary visual culture.
For Hans Ulrich Obrist, its curator, video games are to the 21st “what films were to the 20th century and novels to the 19th century”. To support his statements, he has selected around thirty multimedia works that elevate the world of gaming to the rank of art. Some are from the Julia Stoschek Collection and have been specially adapted for the exhibition, while others have been commissioned for the occasion.
The works included in the exhibition are very different from each other in terms of scale, scope and purpose, but also in form and function. A few like Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley’s “SHE KEEPS ME DAMN ALIVE” are actual video games. In this installation, the British artist raises public awareness of the condition of black transgender people. She challenges him to protect this marginalized community in three scenarios, namely the ocean, the dungeon, and the city. Visitors are armed with a pink pistol, the texture of which is reminiscent of a brain, to eliminate threats against the game’s characters. This is not an invitation to shoot on sight, but rather to question on the (illusory) power conferred by a firearm.
The aesthetics of video games
Change of atmosphere with “The Great Adventure of Material World” by Lu Yang. This three-panel installation looks, at first glance, like a classic role-playing game. Visitors are invited to embody the character of the Knight of the material world. The goal ? Complete multiple quests while fighting enemies. But, as in all of Lu Yang’s works, the game is only a pretext to tackle existentialist themes. “[Nous] let’s create various ideologies, mental states and social systems in order to rationalize and justify the material world”, explains the Chinese artist through one of his other characters, Uterus Man.
The “WORLDBUILDING” exhibition shows how visual artists draw on the aesthetics of video games to address issues related to our existence through virtual worlds. It must be said that Internet users devote more and more time to it. They would spend 6 hours and 58 minutes daily on the Internet, according to GWI data. There is no doubt that some of these hours are devoted to gaming, as Hans Ulrich Obrist points out. “In 2021, 2.8 billion people — almost a third of the world’s population — played video games, making a niche pastime the biggest mass phenomenon of our time. Many people spend hours every day in a parallel world and live a multitude of different lives,” he said in a statement.
Art lovers can discover the creations of Ed Atkins, JODI, Peggy Ahwesh, Lawrence Lek, Meriem Bennani and Cao Fei included in “WORLDBUILDING” until December 10, 2023 at Julia Stoschek Collection in Düsseldorf. The exhibition will then be presented at the Center Pompidou-Metz from June 2023 to January 2024. The Grand Palais had already honored video games during a major exhibition on its history in 2011.