Strange contraptions greet revelers who come to try their hand at King Ludd’s Midway Arcade, housed at the Experimental Station on 61st Street and Blackstone Avenue. Don’t expect to see Pac-Man, and leave your quarters at home. This arcade is different. Here, gaming meets art, and basic mechanics trump the digital age. The Experimental Station calls the arcade a “wonderful interactive installation,” curated by Material Exchange (MX). “These games have another layer that allows them to become sculptural,” said Sara Black of MX. It is art you can play with; games that provoke thought.
Three members of MX collaborated on this project, including Black, John Preus, and David Wolf. They met as graduate students at the University of Chicago and formed their art collective after an inspiring encounter with the Austrian group Wockenklausur. They self-identify as artists, but their projects also have social and environmental implications.
Most of the games recall carnival amusements and use no electricity, drawing attention to how digital technology has changed the way we play. The lack of electricity makes some games absurdly impractical while enhancing the beauty of others.
“Our Air Hockey” by Hideous Beast artists Charlie Roderick and Josh Ipple is a perfect example of the absurd. To create the requisite air, four people have to ride stationary bikes attached to the table. Air produced by the whirring tires is captured in hoses and pushed into the table. This version of air hockey requires six participants instead of two (and looks ridiculous), but it also draws attention to the benefits of technology that we rarely stop to consider.
On the other hand, MX’s giant labyrinth game captures the sculptural quality noted by Black. The sharp bends and angular lines of the wooden “Stockyard Labyrinth” evoke a Cubist painting. The game measures about five by five square feet and requires numerous participants to tilt the board this way and that by using rudder-like handles. Players must coordinate their efforts to succeed in guiding the psychedelic ping-pong ball through the maze.
Games are more collaborative than competitive in nature. And while MX chose to name the installation after King Ludd (a fictional character used by British textile artisans in the early 19th century to protest mechanized looms), Black insisted that MX is not against technology. Rather, they hope to draw attention to the assumption that “technology” and “progress” are synonymous.
King Ludd’s Midway Arcade is open May 1 from 7—11pm and May 2 from 2—8 pm. Adults $5, Kids $3.