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Cool War: Game Art Across the Straits, a group exhibition of video game art from Cuba and the United States.

Rewell Altunaga / Cory Arcangel / Matteo Bittanti & Colleen Flaherty (COLL.EO) / Yonlay Cabrera / Rodolfo Peraza / Anne-Marie Schleiner, Joan Leandre & Brody Condon

Fanguito Estudio is pleased to announce Cool War: Game Art Across the Straits, a group exhibition of video game art from Cuba and the United States.

Months after the December, 2014 announcement of the normalization of relations between the two nations, Cool War showcases artists whose work reminds us of the abiding manichaeism and military technologies that structure video games, while also signaling the ludic and open potential for game art.

Cuba and the United States have often made communications technologies history as pioneering partners: the first telegraph linking Latin America and the US connected Punta Rassa, Florida, Key West, and Havana in 1867; the first deep water cable with a submersible repeater linked the two nations in 1950. After the early 1960s, however, bilateral communication grew strained; these tensions would end up shaping the emergence of the internet itself.

The idea for an internet’s today the platform for most multiplayer video games’s emerged in part from the desire to enable ongoing communication between nuclear foes in the wake of possible attack. One year after the Soviet launching of the Sputnik satellite in 1957, an anxious United States founded the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), which by 1968 yielded the first computer network, ARPANET. A version of what computer scientist J.C.R. Licklider had imagined in 1962 as an ‘Intergalactic Network,’ ARPANET was shaped by and shaped the era’s Space Race.

In 1961, the year that the Cuban Revolution allied itself with the Soviet Union, Yuri Gagarin became the first astronaut to orbit space. In 1962 the first video game, Spacewar!, was invented by programmers at MIT and AT&T installed its first digital transmission equipment; 1962 also saw the near-apocalyptic Cuban Missile Crisis. Two years later Paul Baran published a game-changing paper on packet-switching technology, which facilitated construction of the first networked computer systems. War, video games, and computer networks evolved symbiotically.

By the 1980s gaming had evolved into an industry. Generations of Cuban and US game artists, separated by laws restricting travel and exchange, have had purely gamic relations to one another’s landscapes: Counter-Strike offers a Havana environment, for instance, while Grand Theft Auto IV’s ‘Vice City’ is a version of Miami. Despite these barriers, game art from both sites shares a nostalgia for earlier technologies; an engagement with the unique temporality and peculiar meditation on mortality offered by game’s Chris Marker once claimed that videogames alone give us ‘a second chance”; an interest in creating ‘serious games’ beyond logics of winning and losing; and a shared set of raw materials for mods and machinima.

In Untitled Rewell Altunaga offers 3 machinima created from the online Youtube collection of young US gamer Kristopher Tanksley, whose lo-fi films of racing scenes (made with an external camera and outdated consoles) recall Altunaga’s first attempts to record his own gamic successes. Untitled updates a 2003 work by Altunaga, El bueno y el malo [Good and Evil] that modified the same games’Driver I and II; here he adds to his prior work’s Miami- and Havana-based chases several New York scenes.

In Clock Cory Arcangel screens on two LG Volt Android smart phones modified images of a military jet and clouds taken from the game Mig 29: Soviet Fighter. As in other of his works, Arcangel rearranges content within the game’s graphics, highlighting resonances with pop art and comics, adapting an earlier format for today’s most common medium. The piece acknowledges the ways that a particular historical context registers in a game’s themes and settings.

In COLL.EO’s Following Bit the artists restage within Grand Theft Auto’s ‘Liberty City’ (New York) environment Vito Acconci’s 1969 work Following Piece, in which Acconci allowed his urban ambling to be directed by the unpredictable routes of those he followed. Here his avatar moves in a necessarily less aleatory way, following the programmed courses of randomly chosen bots to untimely deaths or endless walking.

Yonlay Cabrera’s Almacenero [Stock Clerk] is a Sokoban-like game in which players manipulate characters based on the percent of profits generated in Cuban stores, per 2014 figures released by CIMEX, a Cuban umbrella company bundling some 80 state-run businesses.

In & Infirstlife, Rodolfo Peraza recreates a virtual interior and surrounding terrain of Presidio Modelo, a panopticon prison built in the 1920s on Cuba’s Isla de Pinos (now Isla de la Juventud) and turned into a museum in 1968. Still in process, the work will eventually allow players to adopt the avatars of Warden, Inmate (both already available) and, later, Priest and Doctor, and will reproduce the decades of prisoner graffiti still intact on the prison’s walls. The work merges some features of Presidio Modelo with a web-based application (app), crossing older panopticon models of surveillance with the contemporary one tied to the ‘internet of things.’

Two video loops and select prints from Anne-Marie Schleiner, Joan Leandre and Brody Condon’s Velvet-Strike modify the ‘Havana’ environment of the game Counter-Strike. The original interactive form of Velvet-Strike facilitated spray paint skins for players to leave anti- or non-military graffiti on the walls, ceiling, and floor of Counter-Strike environments. Conceived at the start of George Bush’s ‘War on Terrorism,’ the documentation for this piece reveals surprising messages amidst typical First Person Shooter rampages through a simulated Havana.

Fanguito Estudio is grateful for the support from Princeton University’s J.D. Brown Fund and Artist By Artist: Carlos Garaicoa Studio.

Staff curatorial:

Rewell Altunaga, Rodolfo Peraza, Rachel Price y Claudia Taboada

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