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Pawns (2019)

Pawns uses the rules of Chess, but is played using a 44 by 44 grid, with 87 pawns and one King on each side. All other rules are identical to that of Chess.

It is a game in which the system is too big for any individual action to be of consequence. Its creation was motivated by the sense of powerlessness in a modern world where the environment and democracy are undermined by systems and power structures too strong to overthrow. It is driven by a feeling of going through the motions without meaning or purpose.

I've found myself struck by playful art as a practice - one that I've arguably been working towards with much of my recent work. Play is often framed as inherently virtuous. It is enriching and it is utopian. I wanted to question this assumption.

Pawns is an invitation to play, but the prospect of playing is so restrictive that nobody would want to play it in good faith. It is an invitation to play which, deliberately, has nothing to give in return.

In 2019 the environment lurched ever-closer to environmental disaster, but the environmental crisis did not provoke change among those with the power to make a difference. While governments can force major businesses to change their practices, instead responsibility was given to individuals, to recycle more and to give up plastic straws. I made Pawns to capture this sense of powerlessness: to create an experience where no individual action can make a difference.

In October 2019 the United Kingdom saw its government attempt to unlawfully force through its Brexit legislation, lying to Parliament to prevent it sitting at a critical period. Watching the story unfold I felt despair that those in power could only be held to account by the letter of the law, not by the spirit of honesty and fair play.

While the government is free to lie without consequence, peaceful demonstration by the people - for peace, fair representation and the climate - are routinely ignored. I made Pawns to capture this sense of powerlessness: to create an experience where no individual's action can make a difference.

Played in December 2019 with Laura Fournier

We stumbled upon theories of how to win, tested them, played with them and found fun in them. At no point did these strategies ever break the reality: that the game was always going to end in stalemate.

In the summer of 2019 I looked back at the years that preceded it and felt lost in time. Time had become series of actions which falling out-of-sequence. Actions without consequence, unable to change the system of fears and habits destined to recur throughout my life. I made Pawns to capture this sense of powerlessness.

Played in January 2020 with Twitch Chat

We played pawns collectively over the internet, me acting out the moves of the internet playing as a team against me. As the game unfolded, pieces gained personalities and a collective story emerged.

We could not change the system, nor could we avoid the eventual stalemate. We found enjoyment within the restrictions. We recontextualised the rules and created our own objectives. We took joy in minor accomplishments.

By the end of our experience the game had derailed and there was egg on the board.

Did we change the rules of the system through collective action? Or was it because the audience appealed to a higher power: the man in front of the camera?