By Martin Conrads, 12 January 2004


Slowly, the art system is beginning to acknowledge the existence of computer games made by artists. Shows such as Games: Computer Games by Artists, held in Dortmund this Autumn and curated by Tilman Baumgärtel, Hans D. Christ and Iris Dressler, are even winning accolades. Games was described as the exceptional show of 2003 by the German section of the International Association of Art Critics. But the show <re:Play>, curated by r a d i o q u a l i a (Honor Hager and Adam Hyde) and the Institute for Contemporary Art in Cape Town, is taking the next step. Where Games presents artists’ computer games as a general phenomenon, <re:Play> shifts the focus to the game subject and, by extension, the political dimension of computer games. <re:Play> was designed both for The Lounge in Cape Town’s Jo’Burg Bar, and as a set of curated links for the web with an interface that manages to be enjoyably simple yet sensitively contextualising. Even if the approaches of the six invited artists/groups differ strongly in their technical and political orientation, the aim of the exhibition remains clear: all the works ‘use game formats to make political observations’ – from Andy Deck’s Space Invaders Act 1732 (1997), to the escapefromwoomera collective’s Escape from Woomera (2003). The latter, which is viewable as a trailer or website of a 3D adventure game still in development, constructs the user as a migrant attempting to escape from the Australian detention centre of Woomera. Space Invaders recalls those early ’90s plans to launch commercial billboards into orbit big enough to be read from earth, an adventure mercifully foiled by the 1993 US Space Advertising Prohibition Act. Armed with phrases from the Act which function as ammunition, the playerscum- congressmen shoot at invading corporate logos using the Capitol Building as a gun.

Less confident of the emancipatory bent of US legislation, Josh On/Futurefarmers Antiwargame (2001) casts players as political decision makers (see also Ian White’s webexclusive, ‘Romancing the Black Box’, on Here you are the President of the USA and, echoing a rather familiar story, after your country has been attacked by terrorists your are advised to set national spending on military and business, schmooze the media, etc. After a short while, the only way to avoid being assassinated is the hawkish indulgence of sending troops abroad. If you are a bad gamer, of course, your troops will desert and you will be killed pretty quickly. Nevertheless, it remains unlikely that you will be attacked by the dove who symbolises social movements – as it turns out, this character’s interests are more repressive than emancipatory: ‘Get DSL,’ he commands, before switching to ‘No war.’

Martin Conrads

<re:Play> // The Lounge at Jo’Burg Bar, Cape Town // 8 October – 1 November, 2003 // [htttp:// ]