“The Artist Is Present,” Is Now In 8-Bit! We Interviewed the Game's Creator

Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 16 2011 12:25 PM

Marina Abramović’s “The Artist Is Present,” Now in 8-Bit!


Shooting aliens, driving fast cars, and bare-knuckle boxing some street toughs are the kind of adrenaline-pumping activities most gamers crave. How about waiting in line at a museum? Computer game research professor and author of the upcoming book How To Play A Video Game Pippin Barr has made a subversively boring game called The Artist is Present. It simulates the experience of waiting in line to see contemporary artist Marina Abramović, who held an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2010. Her show, also titled "The Artist is Present," created a frenzy of media attention and hours-long waits for the chance to sit across from Abramović and look into her eyes for as long as you wanted. 

“I wanted to make a video game about art, [and] few works of contemporary art have that kind of famousness and stature that this [exhibit did],” Barr told me in a phone interview from Copenhagen this morning. “At first I just thought a game about this would be hilarious, but then I realized there could be some seriousness to it as well. No one has ever really made a video game about the experience of contemporary art.” He was unconcerned that the game might seem outdated, seeing as it came to life over a year after the show closed. “I don’t really think of it as that tied to the actual exhibit. It’s more about art in general.”

Barr’s game, designed in delightfully old-fashioned graphics, compels you to—spoiler alert—go to the museum, pay for a ticket, walk through a couple of galleries (bedecked with 8-bit versions of such paintings as Starry Night) and then get at the back of a long line of  8-bit people. The game itself is set to the museum’s hours, so players can only enjoy it when MoMA is open (Eastern Standard Time, of course). “It’s also closed on Tuesdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas,” Barr adds.


Does Barr have a larger point he’s trying to make with his game? “I didn’t do it to make a statement, or to be provocative or challenging at all. I really admire Abramović and I wanted to make the experience as authentic as possible.” Barr never saw the exhibit himself, though he wished he could have. “But I’m not sure I would have been willing to queue up at 5:30 in the morning.”

I couldn’t tell upon playing the game if it was possible to ever get to the front of the line, or if the game was some kind of prank about infinite waiting. “I wished I’d built some code to track how long people would wait,” says Barr. But he assures me,  “You can actually make it to the front. I did it yesterday and it took 5 hours. But once you get to the front, you can stare into her eyes for as long as you want.”

You can experience The Artist Is Present yourself over at Barr’s website (be sure to arrive early).

Katherine Goldstein is the editor of Vanity Fair's website, VF.com. Follow her on Twitter.



The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You

It spreads slowly.

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative


Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.


Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?