Marina Abramovic teams up with video game designer Pippin Barr to create 8-bit video games for Kickstarter campaign

TEXT Paul Bruno

 

Days ago, Lady Gaga joined forces with mega-artist of the moment Marina Abramovic, and stripped down to her birthday suit for a video filmed by the artist’s self-named institute, to help promote and fund Abramovic’s recent Kickstarter campaign. Maybe a week or so before that, Jay-Z launched his latest documentary-style music video for ‘Picasso Baby’, which featured a number of A-list celebrities interacting with the rapper in real time, including the renowned Abramovic, who locks into a deep face-to-face gaze with Mr. Carter.  Naturally, I was thrilled and honored when approached by the Marina Abramovic Institute to preview, play and review another of her new projects before it becomes available to the public; an 8-bit video game created with digital artist Pippin Barr.

 

The game is the first in collaboration with Barr, also developed as an initiative to help raise much needed money for the institute via their Kickstarter campaign; access to play the video game is just one of the rewards being offered in exchange for donating.

 

The game is made up of a series of exercises, each meant to simulate the experience of visiting the Marina Abramovic Institute, and engaging in her interactive installations, all of which are conceived around the Marina Abramovic Method. In short, a set of meditations aimed at not only engaging, but immersing the viewer in their current moment and environment, in the hopes of making them more aware and present during long-duration performances.  Lady Gaga’s video performance shows the pop icon deep in these practices, in the woods in upstate New York — she even gets completely naked for it. There are moments where she hugs a giant crystal and lays down with smaller ones surrounding her face, with a continuous hum playing throughout.

 

“In a state of pure consciousness you produce light, and project it to the outside world. The light comes from inside.” — Marina Abramovic

 

 

The game experience, while very simple aesthetically, is thoroughly conceived. Using basic keyboard commands, the pixelated player starts at the entrance to the institute and must enter and check in at reception (which includes surrendering one’s cell phone, signing a contract agreeing to spend the designated amount of time in the institute, and even receiving the obligatory lab coat and headphones.) From there, it’s into the space to experience the simulated installations, which are themselves digital interactive meditative exercises.  One allows you to complain to a tree. Another is a meticulous counting exercise, where one must painstakingly sort through a giant pile of sesame seeds and rice grains and drop each, one by one, into it’s designated container.  The game player is even asked to hold down certain keys for the duration of the game playing, as an expression of their commitment to their participation in the exercises!  In total, there are at least 8 different exercises to play within the game, which clearly illustrates the simple principles of Abramovic’s methodology.

 

 

 

 

Equal parts meditation proponent and Abramovic fan, I was eager to speak with Pippin myself, to learn first hand what it was like working with the legendary artist, and to understand how he approached translating something as physically intangible as meditation into a digital medium:

“…I got an email from Marina Abramovic in my inbox, which was very shocking,” remembers Barr. “I opened it, and it was someone claiming to be Marina saying that she had played my game and liked it and would like to talk on Skype about a possible collaboration. I didn’t really believe it at the time, but after a couple more emails, and an eventual Skype chat, well, there you go, it was really her!

One great thing about our first Skype talk was that Marina was in a red t-shirt at the time, with her hair pulled forward over one shoulder – a kind of referencing of ‘The Artist Is Present’ over Skype!

My part in the collaboration has been making several games in association with the current Kickstarter – a digital “version” of the institute itself, and some games based on Marina’s Cleaning the House exercises. It’s been a lot of fun discussing back and forth about how to remediate these performances and exercises into digital form. Because, of course, so much is lost in the digital, (in terms of “reality”) but also so much is gained in terms of reaching people, strange aspects of the digital, and so on. And of course the digital isn’t “unreal” it’s simply a different reality.

…So the most fascinating part, for me, of the collaboration has been in negotiating how to create something “authentic” in digital form, that both communicates the spirit and interest of the “real” institute and exercises, but is also determinedly digital and embraces its digital nature. It’s been a great design challenge and a lot to think about!”

Although this is their first collaboration, this is not Pippen’s first Abramovic-themed video game: his first Abramovic browser based video game mimicked the experience of her MoMA exhibit “The Artist is Present”, from arriving to the museum on a day that it’s closed, to the $25 admission, to waiting in line for hours (one would literally be watching the screen at a stand-still for hours!)

 

 






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