Your Inventory is Full

Nika Kupyrova, White Honey at Galerie 35m2, Prague, 5. 10. – 2. 11. 2018 (curated by Tereza Záchová)

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Roses are red,

Gaming is fun,

‘You are carrying too much to be able to run’.”

The Internet

 

Looking into the short history of video game design one may gain insight into much more than the narrative frames pertaining to the various manners of electronically manipulating images. From games like Minecraft, Call of Duty, and other first-person designs, to games like Diablo, World of Warcraft, that is, games utilising a third person perspective and defined as RPGs (role-playing games), the relationship towards possession changes drastically, especially when considering the various approaches toward the inventory, a trusted element of game design. In his essay ‘I Am Overencumbered: Why Game Inventories Matter’ (1) Rob Sherman offers several solutions of how to approach and discern the variants of in-game garnering of items. These could be summed up with a simple typology: there are the itinerant ascetics, wandering an unfamiliar landscape equipped with minimal tools or even with nothing more than their bare hands and a modest garb, yet are faced with an environment rich with resources, an environment that they must face alone, relying on skills of rationing and commonsensical accumulation; similar to them, but less monastical are the tactical ascetics, masters of un-possession in a resource overabundant (yet highly aggressive) environment, which constantly forces the protagonist to make quick decisions regarding what to take on, and even more importantly, what to leave behind; whereas on the other side of the spectrum, are the indefatigable collectors, sporting a physics-defying collection of gear, consumables and trinkets, for whom nesting and curating are the primary strategies of choice.

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Installation view, Galerie 35m2 (2018), courtesy of the artist

In most of these cases, as Sherman points out, the protagonists are abstract entities, whose personality and outlook are defined by the items they choose to acquire and the pattern, in which they use or consume them – a notion quite familiar even beyond game mechanics, especially considering Google AdSense, creation and selling of consumer tokens (identities based on individuals’ online behaviour), etc. It is by abstraction of this kind, that White Honey gains its specific edge. Even though we are no longer faced with a virtual environment of electronically manipulated images, and instead occupy actual space, Nika Kupyrova’s objects are defined by specific linearity. These are the objects belonging to a world intrinsically flat, yet still not part of a Flat Earther’s worldview. With a modest presence, a shy cling to the wall, they don’t pose to be much at all. As in the case of Backpack #1, #3, #5, #7, and #9, they rather divert the attention to their small, rounded curvatures or notches, harbouring eclectic items (such as a pocket knife, a fork, a miniature disco ball, etc.). This, coupled with their smooth and minimalist design (imbuing them with a semblance of spectrality) makes them less objects and more a notion of possession instead – elusive and ever more otherworldly.

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Backpack #1, 65x65cm; MDF-Platte, Granit-effekt Farbe, gefundene Gegenstände

All this becomes even more apparent when looking at works as Backpack #2, #4, #6, #8, and #10. It is not only a matter of elusiveness but rather about the abstract mechanism designed and set in place to counter its effects. Just as with the linear grid in Tetris, the primary principle of which is designed to ensure a consistent and orderly accumulation (and furthermore transmutation into points or value), the manner of scale and alignment of the artworks poses a framework, through which the ambiguous materiality is set in place and made digestible. So, if the field of game design already happens to be burdened by an ever more constraining model, at times even declared as ‘a lose-lose situation’ (2), White Honey opens it up to contingency and ‘play’. It unloads the necessity to accumulate on the objects themselves, binding them to a conceptual (and in the case of Backpack #4 an actual) loop, where incentives, objectives, or other points of interest are indeed nothing but a monotonous exchange between ‘grab’ and ‘use’ (3), however now exhausted and spiralling in a direction unknown.

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Backpack #4, 90×90 cm; Stahl, Textil, Leder

 

 For a full photo report click here.

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(1) SHERMAN, Rob, ‘I Am Overencumbered: Why Game Inventories Matter’, 8. 4. 2014, https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/04/08/i-am-overencumbered-why-game-inventories-matter/

(2) “Designing an inventory system is a lose lose situation.” BAIRD, Jimmy ‘Inventory’, 12. 2. 2010, http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/JimmyBaird/20100212/4400/Inventory.php.

(3) ‘Grab’ and ‘use’ are also standard action tokens, that is modes of in-game interaction with items and their environment. Whereas in the past, action tokens presented a complex set of modes that by mere complexity alone introduced an additional problem-solving dimension to the game’s design, today they are streamlined into a binary set that sacrifices the puzzle aspect for a more fluid and dynamic gameplay experience.

Author: Domen Ograjenšek

Writer, art critic, curator, PhD candidate at the Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien

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