This is an awesome time to be in and around New York if you’re interested in the intersection of roleplaying games and the art world. If you’re not interested in this it’s because you didn’t know it existed; I dare you to check out the parts of that interesection that are coming into local galleries and find it un-interesting.
Happening right now is Mat Brinkman’s show PHANTASMAGORIA at the Hole, 104 Greene St., until Oct. 23rd.
The exhibition press release promises “an advance previewing of selected work by various artists from a yet to be released Necro~Demonic Dungeon~Crawl~Warfare Boardgame. What will this be like? We don’t know.” I suspect, however, that the number of people who go to art galleries & know what a dungeon crawl is like is both large and growing.
I missed the opening to this, but Todd L. reports:
All I knew about Mat Brinkman– before today– was the comics I had seen in Kramer’s Ergot. I didn’t know if his dungeon-y imagery was hipster-retro-slumming, or heartfelt. After today’s rush to hang the art & the subsequent arrival of the crowd– we had time to converse, and I am pleased to report that the artists are genuine gaming-friends. Of the game topics we discussed, my favorite moment was when one of the collaborators mentioned “Rifts”. Now there’s something that would blow the art world’s mind.
The show’s press release doesn’t mention gaming, and Zak’s RPG projects (D&D With Porn Stars, I Hit It With My Axe) are rarely mentioned alongside his art-world ones (Illustrations for Each Page of Gravity’s Rainbow, Pictures of Girls, We Did Porn). So I wrote to him to make sure it was OK to mention his exhibition in this context, saying “I’m tempted to do so because I feel like the convergence of art, gaming, and NYC right now is remarkable, but I respect whatever degree of separation you want to maintain.” Zak responded:
Go ahead, I mean, I think the fact that half the decent artists working today know what a beholder is as relevant as the fact that half the artists in Beckmann’s time painted Pierrot. One of the
pieces is a drawing of big dungeon.
The gallery website has a little info and a list of participating artists:
The game of Doomslangers will commence Wednesday, October 20. You are invited to watch the players and receive a free character card in the subsequent two days. The game will finish with a performance and opening ceremony on Friday, October 22, 6-9PM.Ryan Browning
Casey Jex Smith
ArtSlant has more, including an interesting description of what D&D is about:
The exhibition includes drawing, painting, installation, performance, video and sculpture all related to the group Doomslangers, and their Dungeons and Dragons adventure to protect the city of Dingershare, root out evil, and make sure the Silver Noni Fruit does not fall into the hands of Lord Ricaek. Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop role-playing game that allows players to immerse a created character into a fantasy world of fighting, magic and adventure. A Dungeon Master moderates the player experience and creates the story line to which the players react to using dice rolls, statistics and structured yet free-form system of play that is derived from miniature war games. The original game was published in 1974 and created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.
Over the last 5 months, these eight artists have been invited by Casey Jex Smith to play this D&D campaign from various parts of the country using videochat and in turn, make art that reacts to their experience. As the artists negotiate the day-to-day realities of an adult “responsible” life in the real world, the need for a community in which they can participate becomes stronger. The ability to communicate and play the game over the Internet frees the participants to live how, and where, they like while still offering a defined structure to create narrative, meaning, magical weapons, and monsters that hoard treasure.
During the first 3 days of the exhibition, visitors to the gallery can create a free, personalized character sheet that allows them to begin playing D&D. On Wednesday, 20th October the Doomslangers will finish their 5 month long campaign in the Gallery basement. The next day, NYC resident Tavis Allison will be the Dungeon Master in a campaign that visitors can participate in. For the opening on Friday, 22nd October visitors are invited to come dressed as their favorite D&D character or monster, participate in the final battle against Lord Ricaek, drink heal and mana potions, and hear music by acclaimed bard, Lark Dreambow. Beholders are welcome.
So yeah, on Thursday the 21st, I’ll be running a D&D game in the basement of an art gallery in Manhattan. I’ll be trying out some of the ideas for how to engage players walking in from the art world with moldy or non-existent experience of RPGs that I developed from doing the D&D installment of Ryan McGinness’ 50 Parties, and drawing on my experience as a Tower of Gygax GM where handing out death ribbons and maintaining a high player flow-through rate is part of the step-right-up carnival fun.
The artist bios at Artslant also have some interesting info that speak to the ways that art and gaming interface as well as the tensions around how the borders around each world are maintained:
Timothy Hutchings is a gamer and visual artist who often betrays the viewers’ sympathies and trust while delving into the history of film, minimal aesthetics, and chance based conflict resolution.
Ryan Browning combines elements of the traditional Romantic landscape, formal abstraction, and the simplified forms of digital representation to investigate a possible mythology where the virtual and the real are forced to evolve a new and sublime natural order.
Chris Coy works with the activities and escapist strategies of the suburban (usually white and often teenage) male.
Casey Jex Smith addresses personal identity in finding meaning between three seemingly disparate worlds: religion, sci-fi/fantasy and “high-art”.
Om Saturday, November 6th, at 6:00 pm, Allegra LaViola will be hosting a panel in which I’ll moderate a conversation between the artists I’ve hyperlinked above, plus Chris Hagerty (aka Greengoat on the New York Red Box & nerdNYC forums) and whoever else we can round up, will be discussing something along the lines of this blurb I wrote up:
Art and games are both forms of ritualized human creativity. When Marcel Duchamp gave up the former to pursue the latter, he famously said “I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.” The interface between art and games is especially provocative for many artists whose imaginations were shaped by the 1974 publication of Dungeons & Dragons and the uniquely free-form and collaborative genre of role-playing games that it inspired. This panel brings together studio artists and role-playing theorists to explore the ways in which making art is like and unlike playing a role within a game.
I’ll post more about this, and the email discussions that led up to it, as the date draws nearer. One thing that still isn’t really decided is whether or not we really will try to have “role-playing theorists” on the panel; I just stuck that in there to justify having myself be a part of it so I could ask the questions I want to learn about without having to wait to raise my hand, and throw stuff into the mix without trying to pass it off as a question.
On the one hand, I’m reading The Fantasy Roleplaying Game: A New Performance Art (courtesy of a birthday gift certificate from one of the White Sandbox players: thanks!). It’s got lots of interesting stuff that gives an actual informed perspective to the things I’ve been saying for a while now about how the part of RPGs that got commercialized are sheet music, which is ultimately frustrating because what we’re doing is a jam session. Brooks McNamara, who wrote the foreword, is a New Yorker but unfortunately a deceased one; the book also frequently cites Nicholas Fortugno, whose assignment at Parsons led some players to drop into New York Red Box.
On the other hand, trying to explore this performance art perspective, which I’m just beginning to assimilate, might derail the opportunity to have a really interesting conversation with a lot of awesome visual artists who we’ll have a rare opportunity to get together on Nov. 6 and pursue the perspective that’s been brewing in our email conversation for months.
Feel free to comment on that, dear reader; there’s still time to work it out. The immediate action item is Zak’s opening tomorrow night!