Material World 

A video game, a tranquil shark and cables of light: Explore variations on modern concepts of flow.

click to enlarge Kellee Santiago and Jenova Chen founded Thatgamecompany which came up with the video game, "Flow," pictured here in a screen grab.
  • Kellee Santiago and Jenova Chen founded Thatgamecompany which came up with the video game, "Flow," pictured here in a screen grab.

In case you weren't paying attention, video games are considered art. Need proof? The Museum of Modern Art acquired 14 video games two months ago, the beginning of a collection its curators expect to reach about 40.

Along with expected games such as "Pac-Man," "Tetris" and "Sim City 2000," it acquired "Flow," a noncompetitive indie video game created in 2006. The game also is part of the new show at University of Richmond's Harnett Museum of Art: "Flow, Just Flow: Variations on a Theme," an exhibition of 21 contemporary artists addressing the psychological state of flow.

"There's some very traditional media in this show, but also some nontraditional," exhibit curator Elizabeth Schlatter says. Among the disciplines are photography, kinetic sculpture, painting, sound and video, but the first thing you see upon entering is the video game.

It's the first PlayStation 3 game that designer Kellee Santiago worked on after co-founding Thatgamecompany. "Flow was created to experiment with applying Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's theory of flow — or the theory of how we as humans become fully engaged and happy in an activity — into video games," she says.

The rewards for players come from creating music as it's played, and growing their creature, which looks like a sort of underwater centipede, all while enjoying the tranquil environment they move through. The intent is for gamers to feel the same satisfaction they'd have with scores but also open the experience for people who don't play games.

Daniel Canogar's "Pneuma" is a colorful interplay of flowing light using telephone cables. It seems to be a subtle reference to communication flow, specifically obsolete communication methods.

"As with so many of us, I'm seduced by access to the endless communication that the Internet promises, but also overwhelmed by it," Canogar notes in an interview with the curator. "The mountains of discarded cables I find in junkyards summarize that attraction/rejection I feel towards our highly networked society. Works like 'Pneuma' allow me to marvel at the engineering miracle of technological communication and to regain appreciation for the almost magical quality of energy flowing through our modern communication networks."

U-Ram Choe's "Jet Hiatus" hangs from the ceiling, a whirring metal take on a basking shark complete with flowing movements that would seem natural underwater. "Although they have organic shapes and movements, the body is made with artificial materials, easily attainable from industrial society," Choe says. "Motors or metal components are plainly exposed to show that they are organisms composed of machinery products."

Surprisingly striking is "Wind Map" by Hint.FM, or Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg, a video screen showing current wind patterns on the U.S. mainland. Marilyn Minter's "Playpen" video shows a child being surprised and delighted at having silver metallic paint poured over him. "Lunar Drift," by Katy Stone, a Seattle-based installation artist, presents organic shaped forms floating away from the wall bit by bit, as if trying to detach themselves from the larger, flowing group. Facing it, you get the sense that the piece wants to be liberated from the wall.

Because the concept of flow can apply to so many things — liquid, movement, travel, thought and communication — the interpretations are countless. This exhibition offers an engaging look at how flow is being processed and created by contemporary artists for viewers living in a constantly moving world. S

"Flow, Just Flow" runs through June 28 at University of Richmond's Harnett Museum of Art. For information, go to museums.richmond.edu or call 289-8276. A variety of talks and workshops continue through April. For event dates, visit flowjustflow.com/programs-2.


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