Last year, artist Marina Abramovic’s “The Artist is Present” exhibit at MoMA became the biggest performance art exhibition in the museum’s history. Abramovic sat in a chair for a total of 760 hours and 30 minutes over the course of a couple months and people were invited to stare at her, inspiring the Marina Abramovic Made Me Cry tumblr.
Now, more than a year after the exhibit closed, you can revisit “The Artist Is Present” with a video game, of all things. The game mimics the experience of Abramovic’s work almost exactly; there are long lines and you can’t play during hours when the museum is closed. Runnin’ Scared tried to play today but had to wait in line too long. This afternoon we got in touch with the game’s creator, a Kiwi academic and programmer living in Denmark named Pippin Barr.
Runnin’ Scared: I tried to play the game today but the line was really long so I gave up…
That’s so authentic! Can you tell me how long you waited, out of curiosity?
I didn’t time it! How long do players typically have to wait?
I don’t know, actually — I was talking to someone earlier and I said I wish I’d instrumented the code so that it would tell me how long people are waiting. The average wait time to see Marina is based on the show itself, and that was 20 minutes on average per person. I tried to make it average out.
Did you ever see the show itself?
I didn’t. I didn’t have the chance. But I did a lot of research. It’s a hugely well-documented show. You can watch video on YouTube, there are a number of massive accounts of people’s experiences. I wanted the game to be pretty accurate.
Are you an art aficionado?
Yeah, I grew up in a very art-heavy family. My parents are contemporary art collectors in New Zealand.
How long did it take you to make the game?
That one took me four weeks. I originally thought it would take a week because it’s a simple idea, but in engineering everything usually takes four to 10 times longer.
Do you often make video games?
I made a decision at the start of this year — I’ve been making stuff and putting it on the Internet for years now, mostly in the form of comics. But my whole life has revolved around video games, so it started to seem ridiculous that I hadn’t made one. I’ve made four so far this year. To be honest I feel a little disappointed that I haven’t made more; I wanted to make 10 this year.
Well, you’ve been getting a ton of attention for the Abramovic game.
This game, yeah. It surprised me. I guess it caught the popular imagination.
Interestingly, though, the game doesn’t try to be fun or entertaining. Players have to wait in line and so forth…
Right. I wanted it to be interesting. It’s actually strangely accessible. In a way, video games can be incredibly intimidating for players, with the premise that they’ll challenge you and be hard to play. This game is not hard, and it’s not necessarily fun either.
It was hugely about it being authentic, for example in having the museum be closed sometimes, et cetera. In a reduced sense, the game puts the player in the position of the artist; they’re expected to go through this ordeal of having to wait. It mirrors the idea of what Marina Abramovic was going through. You’re performing yourself. I think it’s good for people to learn that games don’t have to cater to your every desire, they don’t have to be wish fulfillment.
What other games are you going to make?
One is about the trolley problem [ed. note: a famous thought experiment in ethics]. I’m interested in making a game version of that because of the perception that ethics don’t apply in video games. And I’d be putting this classic ethical problem in game.
Also, the song from Zorba the Greek? I’m working on a game that’s basically “Dance Dance Revolution” but it uses that song. That’s the next one.
Barr has a book on video games coming out next year (though we’re not sure if that’s just in New Zealand) and also a blog. If you’ll excuse us, we have to get back in line at the museum.