Part one of my Game Play 2011 overview detailed a Shakespearian tragedy that unfolded in the midst of World of Warcraft, along with an adventure game in which the actors on stage were characters and the audience was the players. Next up we have two of the more abstract offerings from this year's showcase: Mastermind by by Jason Robert Bell and foci + loci.

To detail Mastermind, let's first refer to the description found on the Brick Theater's website: "Mastermind is an immersive staging of an elaborate, futuristic multimedia 'game', waged between two 'Hyperestheticnaut' players (artists that have prepared half of an agreed-upon epic story of cosmic battles between forces of Order and Chaos), with 'play' to be administered by a projected game master, who acts as a conductor and master of ceremonies. The players attack and counterattack each other as if in a chess match, but the goal is not the decimation of combaters, but the production of a great work of art." Furthermore, we are told that it's inspired by The Glass Bead Game, which itself is an extremely metaphysical and philosophical exercise in synthesizing the arts and sciences. Needless to say, expectations going in were rather high.

And maybe that's precisely what happened, though I mostly witnessed someone just showing off video art that was whipped together in iMove, the result of being confined to his apartment from some kind of injury. Then later on, he puts on a poncho that's decorated with flames and attempts to project video from his iPhone as some sort of other persona, onto a breadboard that his friend is holding up. A few other things took place, but to be completely honest, it's all a big blur and perhaps doesn't matter all that much in the end.

I hate to come off as sounding snarky, as well as uncultured, but I simply didn't "get" it (though in my defense, I am no stranger to the works of Laurie Anderson and Bill Viola, so I'd like to think I have some frame of reference when criticizing performance and video art). True, one could extrapolate a few "game" elements, in the same way that one could also believe brushing your teeth is also a game, since it's part of the never-ending war against tooth decay. Not helping were countless technical issues that hampered the proceedings; the aforementioned iPhone video thing was him trying to project footage of the final speech that Charlie Chaplin makes in The Great Dictator (in the end, he simply held the phone up so everyone could try and look at the tiny display). I have since gotten the chance to check out Bell's other work, and as a whole it's not bad. But for whatever reasons... actually, several... Mastermind simply missed the mark.


Thankfully, foci + loci more than hit theirs. The brainchild of Tamara Yadao, a Brooklyn based artist and musician, and Chris Burke, whom many GSW readers might know already as chiptunes superstar Glomag, last weekend's performance was the fourth or so I've seen thus far. And as with their third outing, the duo continues to evolve and be more cohesive. Much like Mastermind, it's difficult to accurately describe what foci + loci does exactly, but at least there's far more elements to grasp; each person plays a different game simultaneously, often in custom crafted environments. Each level in LittleBigPlanet or Halo is not simply their playground, but a musical instrument, with their actions forming a soundscape of sorts.

The thinking behind foci + loci is to explore the performative and expressive nature of game playing. All the implied messages, as well those projected by the player. Things kicked off with a LittleBigPlanet/Minecraft combo. Again, each element in the levels are preconceived for maximum impact, though the former was given assorted Sex Pistols related flourishes to extra oomph. Afterward was the LittleBigPlanet/Halo combo that I'm most comfortable with (and perhaps Chris as well; another project of his is Halo-related machinima, though This Spartan Life). Finally we had Red Dead Redemption/Shadow of the Colossus. In both instances, Tamara and Chris's avatar slowly walked a lonely but awe-inspiring frontier, with additional spoken poetry courtesy of Tamara.

Foci + loci succeeds by exploring such heady (and potentially pretentious) territory in a super casual and approachable manner. Who among us haven't screwed around in a video game with no rhyme or reason? So happens two artists have found a way to infuse meaning into such horseplay. Mastermind's run is over, but there's still a number of chances to catch foci + loci yet, and they are definitely recommended. For ticket information, simply refer to the Brick Theater's website. Next will be my final report, covering Son of Pong and Red Cloud Rising. Special thanks to Marjorie Becker and Emi Spicer for lending their photographic skills to this report!