54 The Gate @ Arcadia Missa Open Office
Emoji summary: 🧛🏾♀️ 🖲️ 💗
I love it when we shift; just move the weight over to another foot or readjust, let the blood flow into muscle where it’s been locked off.
Way back in March 2020, when we first went into lockdown, Gabrielle started writing exclusively about video games. I love it. It feels like the blood is returning to new muscle, like she is alive in her entire brain and just producing these energetic texts that are full of magic. I admire her bravery in being able to admit that art and exhibitions weren’t serving her, but I’ve been wondering: why did I continue? Does art serve me? Do I find value in exhibitions, or is writing about art just habit? Or expectation? And am I just being stubborn!? Through lockdowns and pandemic, the art world has felt like a weird place, and it’s been funny trying to negotiate the absolute pointlessness of it. Art online is in competition with Netflix, youtube, tiktok and everything else; it hasn’t even tried to keep up, and I mention this failure almost every other week.
Now art is returning and it is summer. I am nervous about being outside, but I am also bored by the idea of risking it all to spend an hour in a stuffy gallery. Now, if I leave my house, I want it to be lurid and dreamy, I want to be outside in technicolour. I want to review a heatwave, volvic fruit water, my tan lines, Birkenstock sandals; anything anything but art, because godddd it feels like a drag. What is the point and why am I still here? My theory is: it’s sunk cost fallacy or some completionist urge deep in the old lizard part of my brain. I am built for endurance, I love clenching through until it passes, I am patient and good at the long game. But also: I know what I want, and sometimes I see it in brief flashes.
Art needs to be more fun. Funner. It’s rarely fun. And I think art should be fun! I feel like that is what I walk into/click onto galleries looking for, that is what I find missing, and that is what feels misaligned; I am bringing this need in with me, and walking away with blueballs. I WANT TO HAVE FUN. I am not looking for an intellectual exercise, or a transcendental conceptual conversation, I am looking for a good time.
Arcadia Missa have a lil online ~viewing room~ called Open Office, n it’s kind of a supplement to physical exhibition. To accompany an IRL show in their old project space on Bellenden Road, they’re hosting a lil online show called 54 The Gate, with another organisation called The Gate.
The lil gallery blurb reads: 'The Gate is an arts centre for adults with learning disabilities, based in Shepherd’s Bush, London… The central ethos of The Gate is that square pegs should not be modified to fit round holes but rather those holes should be made square; the goal being to create contexts where our members’ work can be accepted and understood for what it is rather than what it isn’t.’
When the pandemic hit, the Gate moved their services online; the members had been working on a game, and out the other end of these online sessions popped <Gate Station>. Gate Station is an online game; Gab would have actual proper terminology to describe format and technicalities, but unfortunately I am a million years old. All I know is: it’s mostly text based, you click through options that lead you down into these rabbit holes, pages and pages across a sprawling story network. The story is a good excuse to spend time with all the artists that the Gate work with, that made the game, getting to know their work and having a peep around their aesthetic and vibe. The lil gallery blurb text says, ‘The artists at The Gate have their own pages within the game, for example Duane’s world which features his tiktok videos and music that he has made over lockdown. These are incorporated into the narrative of the game’. It acts like a little world; rather than take you on a grand narrative arc, it presents you with little pieces. The pieces all have a lustre, something about fascination. It is a game rigged up as a mode of presentation, delivery system, game as mechanism and tool rather than content in and of itself.
Yes, yes, game is this container and coating, mechanism and way of introducing you round the party, getting you familiar with the faces. It is also fun. When you enter, you are presented with 3 choices: turn into a werewolf, a frog, or a vampire. One time I clicked and clicked and clicked through pages until I was just watching the lyric video for red red wine by UB40 looping over. Also, a Tupac fun fact quiz (and a wordsearch).
I know I need to describe the events of the game to you, but I want to hold onto what unfolds, because part of the joy is the surprise and thrill of discovery when you stumble across something. Leme describe what it’s like through proxy, with metaphor as buffer:
It’s like going to the beach, and walking up to the shoreline to search for a really cool rock. You rummage through the sand and pull out a shell with an iridescent pearly centre. The shell is tied to a thin string that trails back off into the wet soupy sand. You tug on it till it’s taut - there’s resistance. You pull and pull and out pops a cool terracotta stone, smoothed by the waves into a glossy surface, but there are little pores trailing indents across the underside. More string, you pull pull pull. There’s a spirally shell with a cracked back, eggshell thin. Pull pull pull pull pull on the string; ammonite fossil, ridged and tight, small enough to curl itself into the palm of your hand. And you pull on the string, another thing pops up, pull pop and again. You just keep finding really really fucking cool rocks, linked to each other gently, they present themselves to you like lucky dip.
Maybe it’s also like a magicians handkerchief and the gag is that it never stops. You’ll just get stuck blooping around from page to page, stumbling across happy little spaces with image and sound spilling out. Whenever I found my way out of the game, at the exit or end point, I just closed the window and found the link to dive straight back in from the beginning all over again. I wanted to find another way through, run up against different pages that I could run my hands against. Isn’t that so crazy! I’ve not felt that in such a long time, I’ve never gone back into an exhibition as soon as I came back out. That return felt so rare and special, like such a powerful testament to the quality and fun-ness of it. Like, ey - here’s why I’m still here. I know what I want, I know it’s out there. I’ve just gotta be a critic-as-beachcomber. I’ve gotta dig through the crap to find it, but I do wish there was more fun out there.
I have one soft thought that I’m hesitant to include here, because it’s only half-baked. In the gallery blurb there’s a mention of an article about the Gate, where they’ve been billed as ‘The Home of Outsider Art in London’. It made me pause, and I have been thinking about it. I’ve never much understood ~outsider art~ as a category or label, not got any idea what makes it distinct or specific from other art that’s inside or plain. Part of me thinks it feels like an arbitrary line, but then the other (larger) part thinks that there’s a power in being outside. I identify with the need to set what you’re doing apart from the machinery that whirs away in the background, chronic white noise. Like ‘here I am, I’m not one of u lot’, and fair enough. But against the backdrop of my search for fun; maybe fun is something ~outsider art~ understands and can deploy a bit more effectively? Because seriousness is something so precious, so tied up in intellectualism, a straight face and gentle nodding. And Art™️ can be so stingy and narrow-minded with what it’ll take seriously, it’s rarely ever afforded to people outside of Formal inside art and its institutions. I wanted to mention that here, even though it’s still a soft thought, because I don’t think the Fun-ness of this exhibition is something that diminishes the quality of the game as a legitimate artwork.
Maybe fun is like: the presence of quality without the baggage of importance. - ahhhh I don’t know! I’m not convinced by that entirely, I don’t think my search for Fun is something I should have to justify or make excuses for. But I do want to keep running that thought through the ringer. I want to give this question some actual consideration: how do we make art fun, and what makes it fun? Where is there more of it, and how do I get there?
54 The Gate is up on Arcadia Missa's Open Office, you can access it here.