Radical Entertainment

By Ian White, 12 January 2004

Exceeding the minor scale on which it occurred, and somehow moving beyond its host institution’s low-key support, the ICA’s July new media event Radical Entertainment pulled off a small feat of transformation. The season may have explored the modifications of submerged and emerging technologies and the renegade strategies that a specific, dominant gaming culture has induced: both tendencies may also have been shown in the context of the actual and ubiquitously mediated youth market in which this gaming culture thrives. But new media curators Lina Dzuverovic- Russell (now ex-ICA) and Lauren Cornell (of Williamsburg’s Ocularis screening house) managed, ultimately, to make this a festival about something much broader. Not so much a collection of parts as a collection of those parts’ frames, their modes of exhibition.Work by Radical Software Group/Alex Galloway, Natalie Bookchin, People Like Us, and Nullpointer ran in the ICA’s digital studio. There were two cinema programmes which included videos by Seth Price and Negativland amongst others, and an alt-dérive, organised by the Space Hijackers, through the streets of London and stimulated by the idea of ‘holding your breath and not touching the floor.’In Bookchin’s seriously durational Metapet (2003) the viewer/player is cast as the committed long-term manager of a ‘virtual pet’, a worker within a generic corporate structure hell-bent on career advancement. My own personal horror was at the lack of any immediate payrises, no matter how many drugs I fed my pet. Futurefarmers’ antiwargame (2003) worked an obvious line with semantic aplomb: the inevitable killer virus wasting US citizens or the outbreak of nuclear war are both gags to be obsessively enjoyed.But it was the work of artist collective Paper Rad and Cory Arcangel that prompted the best insight into Radical Entertainment: moving beyond technical fetishism, the fascination with exposing code or revealing/determining social structures through extended play, the work seemed to stray into the realm of the romantic tradition. Paper Rad’s website is a work of art: layer upon layer of glaring, flashing 1980s-inspired logos saturate a page with links to diaries, projects, music, cartoons and comic strips. Situated on the edge of functionalism, its hypnotic retinal impact takes you beyond information, into joyful exhilaration. Arcangel’s Super Mario Clouds (2002) is sublime: an emptying out of everything from the original game but for the clouds and sky, it becomes an 8-bit void, full of profundity. Like all good romanticism, it is in the fissures of common culture that this work opens up. It is here that we glimpse romanticism’s baseline preoccupation: being alive. The shift from white cube to black box is now a commonplace gallery construct which usually fails to produce a clash of registers or pose any political questions about art’s commercial system. Radical Entertainment’s achievement was to flamboyantly stage this problematic dynamic of art production and consumption, conceptual space and physical action, movement and stasis, imaginary lives and self-expression.

Ian White

Radical Entertainment was at the ICA from 9-26 July 2003 [ ] Cory Arcangel[ ] PaperRad [ ] Natalie Bookchin’s Metapet[ ]Futurefarmers’ antiwargame[ ] Ocularis [ ] You can read a longer version of this article in’s Webexclusive section