The Artist Is Represented

I spent some time today preparing my (brief) talk for the Museum of Modern Art’s “Critical Play” event. It a really weird feeling for lots of reasons, not least of all being invited to speak at MoMA for goodness’ sake! But perhaps the weirdest part of the whole thing is actually that I’ve been invited to the event as an artist.

I’ve spent a long, long time in or around the wonderful world of academe. I have a PhD, I teach at a university, my wife is an assistant professor, a large number of my friends are academics. More than any other identity, I’m pretty used to self-representing as a university type, who reads theory and writes papers and strokes his chin a lot. Except that I’m not actually that guy and haven’t been for some time (and I hardly ever stroked my chin even when I was). I’ve been quite consciously sidling out of the academic world for a few years now, in fact, and although I still really enjoy teaching, I don’t miss reading the arduous work of research all that much at all.

So for a while there I simply haven’t had an “identity” in any easy way, and that certainly causes the odd panic. Particularly when I was “just” teaching at university without being a professor of any kind, it did feel strange. But then I started making games, and found that I quite liked making games. And although I haven’t entirely gotten around to embracing the idea of myself as “Pippin Barr: Game Maker”, there’s enough of other people assuming just that out on the internet that I guess that it’s at least partly who I am now. And I pinch myself, because it’s a pretty great thing to be able to be.

But now I’m invited to MoMA as an artist, rather than as a “game maker” per se, and this requires yet more re-jigging of identity and modes of representation. I grew up deeply embedded in the New Zealand contemporary art scene, so I have a somewhat mixed relationship with art and artists – I like and respect the artists and don’t always love the surrounding stuff, including the art, but particularly the broader contemporary art culture. Just not for me so much. But now I’m an artist, and now I need to engage with these things a bit. I may even need to say something about having a “practice”!

The strangest thing, perhaps, is that I actually do have a “practice”. I do think about making games in much the same way that I at least think contemporary artists do. On a personal level, this is all rather alarming and strange and requires some mental acrobatics to come to terms with. At a wider level, though, speaking to the idea of games-as-art and game-makers-as-artists, I find it rather encouraging. If the proof is in the pudding, then I’m pleased to be part of the pudding. (Or making it? Both? Yuck!) So to the extent that it means something and is important, I guess I am an artist.

Just ask MoMA if you don’t believe me!

7 May 2012
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