Two very different exhibits presenting video games as art launched recently in the same week.
Play: The Art Of Xbox 360 at the Blue Dot Gallery in the Distillery District had what looked like a typical gallery opening, complete with boozy freeloaders and a fine spread of hors d'oeuvres. But the colourful pop works on the walls were actually original game concept art hung alongside actual screen shots.
Just to remind you that this was an Xbox marketing event as exhibit, patrons could try out the games on kiosks, and a couple of star artists flew in from the UK.
Chris Davie, one of the artists behind Project Gotham Racing 3, was just as surprised to see his work in this forum as anybody else.
"I actually started out as an illustrator. I was really about drawing and painting, and I think part of the reason I was asked to participate was because I've worked in both digital and real media."
Project Gotham's allure comes from burning rubber on photorealistically rendered city streets, and Davie's team was in charge of recreating New York City. The exhibition showed different aspects of this reconstruction, allowing you to appreciate easily overlooked details like water towers and Chinese restaurant signs. The prints looked stunning.
This unusual showcase made me wonder how the creative output of an artist like Davie gets recognized.
"It's almost like photos of architecture; the photos themselves become art through the subject," Davies explained.
Across town at InterAccess Electronic Media Centre, things were a little more chaotic, which is only appropriate. For Controller: Artists Crack The Game Code, artists were asked to remix video games to create wholly new meanings, either by using different programming or by exploiting inherent glitches.
The most stunning example is RSG's work Prepared PlayStation, a three-screen installation of fucked-up effects from Tony Hawk's Underground 2. On one screen a skater grinds in an infinite loop. On the other two are similar glitches, where the characters remain perpetually stuck while the points keep racking up. One is a grind against a rail, the other a scene in a nightclub of a dancer's face swinging round and round. The work has to be set up beforehand to the point where the loop begins, and it then runs ad inifinitum for however long the machines are left on. The effects are captured without the aid of editing, and the glitches can be found only with the skilled thumbs of an advanced gamer, but the results are dazzling.
The event was not without glitches of its own, however an irony not lost on its creators.
Pac Mondrian, a work by art team Prize Budget for Boys member Mike Horgan, in which you gobble up the works of Modernist painter Piet Mondrian, crashed during the opening.
"The more tech we add, the more opportunities we introduce into our lives for bugs and glitches and problems," said Horgan.
The crowd was divided on works that subvert the games' role as entertainment.
Myfanwy Ashmore's Mario trilogy turns a Nintendo cartridge game into an existential playground, with custom-hacked levels that send Mario on an infinite walk on an emptied landscape or a swim through an empty ocean while a timer counts down his limited lifespan.
There is no way to win. When the timer runs out, you die.
According to Horgan, hardcore gamers feel offended that artists want to add an extra level of commentary. Games by people like Davie of Project Gotham, they say, already are art.
"I'm not sure why there's that antagonism, but we certainly saw it with Pac Mondrian." he said. "We collected all kinds of quotes from people from forums. Gamers were saying, "This isn't fun. Look what artists have done to our wonderful Pac-Man game.' They reject games as art if they cease to be games."
Prize Budget hopes to have the best of both worlds in its newest creation, Calderoids, in which the player pilots the spaceship from the arcade classic Asteroids to blow up works by sculptor Alexander Calder.
"We tried to make it more appealing to gamers while still appealing to artists."
Controller runs until Saturday (March 25). Play has already been unplugged.