DU Clarion | Kendall Morris

Push Play,” an interactive exhibition hosted by DU’s Vicki Myhren Gallery, showcases the works of artists who have effectively reimagined the culturally specific pastime of board games into stark and poignant, socially critical artistic think pieces. Visitors of “Push Play” immediately encounter Mary Flanagan’s deeply satirical “BOMBSCOTCH” after entering. A spin-off of hopscotch, numbered squares are replaced with circles bearing the names of historical atrocities: “Sand Creek,” “Wounded Knee,” “Dresden”, and “Hiroshima.”

If “BOMBSCOTCH” feels like negligence on the part of Flanagan, the artist would more than likely see herself as successful. Flanagan, along with the seventeen other artists who contributed to the collection, is calling attention to the ways in which we collectively avoid the atrocities of the modern world through games and entertainment.

Largely inspired by the avant-gardes of the early 20th century such as Duchamp (the man who placed the mustache on the Mona Lisa and signed his name on urinals now worth millions of dollars) and the Bay Area artist group Fluxus from the 1960s, the exhibition asks visitors to participate in non-competitive play that ultimately contributes to our individual awareness.

The artists “aim to inform or persuade you by playing (doing) rather than just looking (admiring). Push play, toss the dice, or draw a card and make the first move toward political awareness, a changed mindset, or new decision making strategies around contemporary issues” (Push Play placard).

Pedro Reyes’ “Feather Fun” is a simple and absurd game that serves as example of a non-competitive game. Players kneel in a circle, all holding a piece of paper with a feather on top of it by their fingertips. At once, everyone tries to blow the feather off of the paper and toward their opponents. Yet, when a player scores, they lose a point rather than gain one, and the game begins again with no foreseeable end.  

Likewise, Reyes’ party game “Citileaks” is non-competitive, potentially a profound and intimate addition to the ubiquitous games like beer pong and flip-cup. “Citileaks” needs only paper, pens and glass bottles. Partygoers are each asked to write down one of their most well-kept secrets and place it inside the bottle. They’re then placed in a bucket, reselected and anonymously read.

Other pieces include a large, technicolor seesaw, a video game (whose looping soundtrack served as an eerie background noise to the space), a variety of table and board games and a twenty-square-foot dirtbox with two knives stabbed into the dirt, which asks visitors to contemplate the violent act of drawing borders.

These works at times are playful to the point of inappropriate, but they fringe borderlines with the purpose of making a visitor “play through” their discomfort. While the entertainment and cultural activities of today largely provides us with distractions from our larger historical and political issues, play may also serve as a method to become more aware, depending of course upon the games we choose to play.