States of Play: Roleplay Reality @ FACT Liverpool


Emoji summary: 🚨😡❌


When i used to go out-out, it was down to pure chance if i’d have a good time or not. i was new, going outside and hoping the wind wouldn’t blow dust into my eyes. ; mostly getting drunk would be fine - id b bouncy, on the pull. but sometimes a small indirect action would set me off and id want to fight someone ! or i’d be in tears, crying because i was young and so embarrassed about everything. My previous relationship coincided with this time and if that boy’s exes would see me in a club they’d come for me, throwing a drink that was meant for him (in retrospect i forgive their misplaced resentment, how they were braver with a drink in hand and ready to deal with his selfishness in abstract girly ways).

i only got drunk from ages 17-21 and now I’m 23 n I no longer will because I know truly truly that i’m not emotionally fast enough to get over things while I’m still trying to navigate the social obstacle course of being on a night out. I know this is about to become a mad analogy but i believe in it, so: when I’m going to galleries every week looking for exhibitions I can review for the white pube, I’m reminded of the same risk i used 2 take drinking vodka n coke and falling towards good and bad memories. (i can feel in my bones how i’d tip toe around on edge; and i’m doing the same here n now). I continue to write reviews because occasionally I’m thrilled by a gallery encounter; it can b the loveliest thing to float away with art; and admittedly i go on writing because sometimes I can get a building fight out my system in a healthy deserved way. When i visited the FACT in Liverpool this week for their current exhibition, it was like being in a club and bumping into that one person you really really dont wanna see, and ur having to hav a word with yourself in the bathroom mirror because it’s ruined your whole night.

States of Play: Roleplay Reality is yet another oversubscribed group show full of tech art under spotlights in the darkened rooms of FACT: if u have been to one of these at the gallery, you’ve been to them all. They are curated like ‘what if we tried to make the gallery look like the internet but in real life!’ i used to be excited at that but now im over it. States of Play is ‘exploring the complex, contemporary landscape of video games’ with a particular focus on role-play. Upstairs, and straight to the point of contention, there’s a virtual reality film that lasts just over a minute made by art bro Jordon Wolfson. in the video a computer generated version of the artist beats a man, who is kneeling on the pavement before him, to death. It is called ‘Real Violence.’ as the viewer, you are bodiless and watching over the scene as it plays out in a cleaner, emptier simulated new york. There is a Hanukkah prayer being sung somewhere as Wolfson begins by using a baseball bat to knock the man down, before stamping his head repeatedly into the ground. the victim’s legs twitch emphatically on the floor. and both murderer and victim are generic looking white men, just to set the scene.

I am biased because I think artists like Wolfson are entitled af and intent on force-feeding a bizarre complicity onto their viewers, but more seriously, and I quote @Sir_Berus on Twitter when they say, ‘there is nothing moving, profound or necessary about reproducing violent imagery in art when that imagery only seeks to reinforce the status quo. Creative provocation that makes no challenge to power is a vapid use of shock value.’ Wolfson’s VR piece is masturbatory, pointless and selfish. Across the artist’s practice, he publicly indulges in different male fantasies and then asks the gallery visitor to get into them with him. Na, and I’m not going to do what I’ve seen other critics do and justify his art by saying it is a catalyst ! for ! social ! commentary ! when all he’s making is one-liner art like a darker, nerdier Ryan Gander.

i am sick 2 death of harmful art being platformed by institutions made up of people who should know better.

also: I am sad that it felt like this art poisoned the show, like it was that one lad out looking to get into a fight with a bouncer or a girl in the mood to swill someone. Imagine literally sitting in your studio and thinking about how to make a thoughtful piece of art that engages with ideas of violence, the banal, computer games and voyeurism and deciding instead to take all those points and produce a stress test instead. When I was younger, someone beat me up with a crowbar and when I’m close with a friend I might tell them why and its interesting how they’ll be so saddened and empathetic at my story and I don’t need to whip one out to make them think about it. interesting! Wolfson is not edgy or challenging, he comes off smarmy and frankly he is abusing the closeness of virtual reality to attack the gallery visitor.


two white plinths opposite each other with a VR headset placed on each one