Let the games begin

Last weekend Material Exchange—a group of four Chicago alums who breathe new life (and art) into found objects—got Hyde Parkers young and old to turn off their iPods, put down their Wiis, and step right up to their latest project, a collection of artist-made carnival games called King Ludd’s Midway Arcade.

The show, which continues this Friday and Saturday, features a hand-crafted wooden pinball machine, a giant kaleidoscope made from steel drums, a vintage 1970s air-hockey table powered by bicycles, and more. John Preus, MFA’05—who organized the show with Sara Black, MFA’06; Alta Buden, AB’07; and David Wolf, MFA’05—explained the project to UChiBLOGo via e-mail.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHow did this show get its name?
QandA_ADrop.jpgA worker’s manifesto from around 1811 and other publications were signed Ned Ludd, or King Ludd. Lore has it that Ned broke two stocking frame machines and unwittingly ignited the Luddite movement, which began as a resistance to both the introduction of new technologies in the textile industry and of free-market practices, as opposed to standardized pricing structures.
The term “midway” was coined during the World’s Fair, more or less the site of the current arcade. [The 1893 World’s Fair] stands in history as an almost inhuman accomplishment, and one that inspired thousands of people, but which also left behind a black city, squatted by the homeless, many of whom had been laborers at the fair. It seemed akin to current economic and social patterns.
The games are almost all low-tech, hand-manipulated machines in a time when the digital-gaming industry is a multibillion-dollar behemoth.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat are the big ideas behind it?
QandA_ADrop.jpgQuality of life as a subtle balance between individualism and cooperation, technological advancement, and restraint. The tactile joy of hand-made mechanisms. The relationship between art and games, and authorship of games as something akin to the development of a system. Games as an alternative mode of social interaction that evokes novel responses, humor, and generates social cohesion through both competition and cooperation. An arcade as a novel form of arts funding. The artists will receive royalties from the playing of the games.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow do you hope people will respond to the games?
QandA_ADrop.jpgWe hope most of all that they enjoy playing them. We hope that they have a unique experience of games, seeing behind the curtain so to speak. We hope they are inspired to think about rules and what they mean, who makes them, and the degree to which they are adaptable.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow is Material Exchange funded?
QandA_ADrop.jpgSome of our projects are commissions/residencies; some, like this one, are funded through admission fees; some are not funded, and we eat lentils.
QandA_QDrop.jpgHow does a recession affect artists who use recycled materials?
QandA_ADrop.jpgI’m not sure a recession has much impact on recycled materials. It affects artists who rely on patronage or grants because art is discretionary by most accounts. We would like to say we do not use recycled materials; we simply use materials that still have some life in them.

Elizabeth Station

King Ludd’s Midway Arcade continues Friday, May 1, 7-11 p.m., and Saturday, May 2, 2-8 p.m., at the Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone Avenue. Adults: $5; kids $3.



April 29, 2009