Thursday 31 October 2019

Endurance Art and Crazy Self-Imposed Gaming Challenges

I was thinking about the relationship between performance art and the performative aspect of some digital artworks.

Pushing the human body to it’s physical and mental limits has featured in many performance artist’s works. Perhaps the best-known example of this ‘endurance art’ is American artist Christ Burden. His performances such as Five Day Locker Piece and Shoot (above) put the artist through great risks, physical pain and endurance.

We see virtual similarities within the gaming community. Things like the World of Warcraft Iron Man Challenge, or the Nuzlocke Challenge in Pokemon (amongst countless other challenges) allow gamers to get more out of their games by self-imposing limits, very often to the point of ridiculousness. The rise of streaming, social media and online multiplayer gaming have allowed these challenges to grow, with people now able to get immediate feedback from the community from their exploits.

I had the idea of doing a virtual marathon in-game after playing a little on the 2002 PS2 title, The Getaway. In this game, the developers broke significant ground by creating a virtual version of London that was vaguely recognisable. The now-primitive graphics were cutting edge for the time, and having a digitised version of London as an open-world gaming environment was fantastic. For example, the second mission in the game calls for you to visit ‘The Reptilian’ gallery in Hyde Park (read: The Serpentine) and steal a Chinese artefact, before making an escape across London to your hideout in Soho, chased by Triads and Police.

So I had the idea of drawing up a route based on the London Marathon and recording my run around virtual London as a performative work. Take some water bottles, energy gels, buckle in with my PS2 and see how many hours it takes to run my avatar around 26.2 miles of virtual London without dying.

Talking with a painter recently about the relation between ultra-endurance running and landscape painting sparked further questions on how learning an environment through repetition helps to understand better. The outcome is more than just a visual replication, but something towards a more in-depth representation of the entire landscape. Painting through the image and with a better understanding.

As a runner (albeit, not yet interested in 100-mile ultramarathons) I had questioned this idea before. There is something to be found in the detachment of painting a landscape from a single source image. Perhaps this is more to do with how we have mostly second-hand experiences through photographs and other media these days. It could be a psychological thing. Still, when we look at, for example, Plein air painters, is it possible they’ve developed a deeper connection with their landscape, and this has, subsequently, informed their work differently? Probably more to unpack here than is necessary for a short blog post.