Marina Abramovic's "The Artist is Present" Performance Becomes an Infuriating Video Game

Marina Abramovic's "The Artist is Present" Performance Becomes an Infuriating Video Game
In Pippin Barr's video game version of "The Artist Is Present," players can enjoy, in the comfort of their homes, the agonizing wait that thousands of people endured at MoMA.
(Screencap by ARTINFO / Courtesy of the artist)

Did you love Marina Abramovic's epic "The Artist is Present" performance at the Museum of Modern Art last year? Well, now viewers can experience it all over again — virtually. Copenhagen-based game creator and scholar Pippin Barr has transformed "The Artist is Present" into a browser-based video game in which players control a tiny, 8-bit avatar of themselves wandering around MoMA. 

The stage is set with a pixelated version of MoMA's front doors, which the player's character walks through to find a ticket booth attendant and a door guard who pointedly enforce the museum's new $25 ticket price. This is meant to inspire outrage. As Barr told ARTINFO, "You find yourself taken aback at paying 25 virtual dollars for what feels like a pretty shitty experience!" Attempt to break the rules and these non-player — i.e. computer controlled — characters will send you back with a forceful line of dialogue. Only after purchase are players allowed to peruse the galleries, which feature lo-fi replicas of van Gogh's "Starry Night" and Warhol's Campbells Soup Cans, both standouts of the real MoMA's collection.   


Finally you get to... wait in line. Players are confronted with a long queue of 8-bit people replicating the hours-long lines Marina commanded at the museum for the chance to sit with her. Starting at the back and following as other people take their turns, it could take hours of passive monitoring to make it to Marina — if you miss moving up in line, another non-player character will cut you, and you'll have to wait longer. Barr wrote that at last play-through, it took him five hours to reach the game's end. The reward is sitting and staring at a Marina Abramovic sprite.  

"I have gotten a couple of fairly hostile reactions from gamers who, I suppose, did feel antagonized by the game when they played it," Barr recounted. "Their complaints were along the lines of the game being pointless, unrewarding, not helpful, overly constrained, and all around stupid.... It's easy to characterizethis game as antagonistic, but only if you're subscribing to a very conventional view of what games are and should be. Why shouldn't a game (or a game-like thing, if you prefer) expect you to wait in line five hours? There's no rule against that."

The game's perversity is what makes it provocative: we expect to have fun playing a video game, for the experience to serve as entertainment. Here, Barr uses Marina's performance as a metaphor for how art can work against its viewer, fighting against expectations. "The Artist is Present" video game "may not be fun, but maybe it's interesting for another reason." Barr wrote. "I certainly had a surprisingly intense experience when I played it — in particular I became incredibly panicky about missing the queue moving upand losing my place."