Occupy White Walls democratizes art with video games
I have a set of two postcards that hang on the back of my front door. These are different depictions of the biblical story of Judith beheading Holofernes: one by Caravaggio and one by Artemisia Gentileschi. In Caravaggio’s version, Judith leans delicately away from the beheading at hand; his pose is unnatural, almost languid. Gentileschi’s Judith puts the strength of her whole body behind the blade, her eyebrows furrowed. Despite these grandiose and violent scenes, they remain domestic and warm in travel-sized tourist form: postcards hanging precariously from a rationed Blu-Tack.
Occupy the white walls is a game where you can build your own gallery space and fill it with works of your choice. A growing library of hundreds of architectural assets is available to customize your own space, and thousands of other works of art – mostly from public museum collections – are available to hang as you please. You can also chat with other players and visit other custom galleries.
I was thrilled to place the two in-game depictions of Judith, full size, in a space of my own imagination. My trivial little piece of curation could finally become worthy in a gallery space.
Building a better digital gallery experience
Occupy the white wallsThe strongest feature is its ability to evoke a sense of belonging. By allowing players to customize not only an interior space, but the exterior area as well, the gallery inhabits a environment. Galleries can float nonchalantly in the middle of a large lake or remain rowdy and littered around the corner of a busy street. Our gallery tour experience means that our arrival and departure can be physically maneuvered from outside-in and inside-out, rather than simply being thrust into a museum lobby.
This contrasts with the virtual galleries we have, until now, become accustomed to seeing: although digitally rendered as OWW, Google Arts and Culture Virtual Exhibits exist in a vacuum. When we arrive on the site, we can examine the gallery space from the outside, as if we were turning a Rubik’s Cube between our hands: this online exhibition is an object, not a place. And when we click on “Enter the gallery”, we are caught and immersed in the beginning of the exhibition. There is no mystery there – and so my curiosity for the exhibition space disappears as I appear there.
In Occupy the white walls, where visitors start inside your gallery is dictated by you and where you choose to place your desktop. Curating, then, is not just about the artworks you choose to exhibit and how you display them, but also how to sculpt the experience of visitors when they arrive at your gallery.
Part of the strong sense of belonging to Occupy the white walls is thanks to its redefinition of what a gallery space looks like. Assets in OWW lean towards maximalism. This may be a defect, because these assets result in creations that are often excessively oriented towards the spectacle and less towards art, echoing recent trends in ‘Instagram pitfalls‘ and ‘immersive art experiences’.
But these maximalist tendencies reveal quite quickly how OWW challenges ideas of what a gallery should look like. The white cube gives way to galleries that look like jazz bars, artists’ studios and public gardens. Some galleries even mimic domestic environments; small apartments like mine. Suddenly, my trivial little piece of postcard curation feels validated. Domestic and warm becomes an entirely acceptable, even normal, environment for a gallery.
Here we see the democratization of not just art – freely available for players to use as they see fit – but a recap of the democratization of curation we’ve seen over the last few years of the internet. Optimized Instagram and Pinterest feeds, post-ironic and extremely local meme accountsTumblr art accounts, Depop resellers and Twitter bots are all recent iterations of the Internet Curator.
Sometimes we consume content, selecting the best and republishing it in our specific contexts. Other times, we design bots to be chosen at random, creating a Rorschach blot of comparisons and reinterpretations for each person who views them.
Some artists have incorporated this online curation into their practice. James Bridle, artist and journalist, organizes what he calls the “new aesthetic” on his tumblrby choosing images that begin to exhibit an aesthetic of the future: a ‘mood-board for unknown products’.
OWW takes these trends in curation and makes them explicit.
OWW has been in early development since its launch in 2018, so it has its flaws. The user interface is ugly. Assets are easy to misplace, so building can be a daunting task. And while it’s a good thing that artwork can be downloaded by anyone, there’s still no way to filter out amateur erotic photography.
It would, after all, be a minefield for OWW concerning the definition of art and the place of censorship.
But it nails the fundamentals.
OWW kiss the hybrid body that was missing in the first-person perspectives of the virtual exhibits I’ve reviewed before. In the third person, we get an embodied sense of the relationship of the body to the space around it. This is only enhanced by the game’s engagement with more or less scaled artwork: the spatiality assumed by the player’s body allows us to understand the true impact of the painting. If we want to see the work up close and in detail, we just have to click on the work so that it expands to full screen. And unlike the isolated rooms echoing the Klimt against Klimt exhibition with Google Arts and Culture, in WOW, social is claimed as a key part of the experience of visiting a museum – as it is in real life.
I see Occupy the white walls become a great learning tool. Museums and art galleries could use it as a complement to their own virtual exhibitions, inviting students and the general public to participate in their online collection with active interaction and a critical eye.
Art can then be truly democratic: allowing everyone to intervene in the museum’s collection, questioning, perhaps, its colonial origins, or its lack of representation of the women and artists of BIPOC, or resuscitating a new meaning in from elements rarely seen and often misunderstood. artifacts. With some minor updates, Occupy the white walls could become the new frontier of the democratization of art since the era of mechanical reproduction.
Occupy White Walls is available in early access on PC through Steam.