An empty storefront at the corner of 16th and Washington has transformed into a neon arcade wonderland for Art Basel, as the FAILE & Bast Deluxx-Fluxx Arcade Miami 2013 (Presented by Perrier) opened to a game- and art-starved public this week.
The front room featured a series of arcade cabinets with different mechanics and multiple games per type. Some games appeared to be more traditional, while others just asked you to manipulate the art and create soundscapes. The subject matter of the more traditional set was Miami-inspired, and though the concepts are ubiquitous to the point of being numbing (playing as a rolled-up $5 trying to follow a zig-zagging white line of yeyo), some of them see new life when placed in the current Miami art scene narrative.
In one cabinet, you race another player to tear down palm trees and build high-rises. Across the room, you use a gun to shoot down the same high rises to replace them with palm trees, while bros on jet-skis speed across the screen shouting things like, "Cowabunga!"
One arcade cabinet was fitted with brass knuckles instead of a pair of joysticks. The games invited players to punch a series of things, including a piñata and the artists' own collages. While the artists created many of these games (and even doctored the arcade cabinets themselves) to interact and manipulate the art, I'm not entirely sure they intended players to make off with the hardware---by the time I left, both brass knuckles were gone.
The digital, hyper-stylized games gave way to a pair of custom pinball machines incorporating FAILE & Bast's art. The pinball machines were beautiful in their simplicity. My childhood arcade machines were the '90s-renaissance tables: Addams Family, Twilight Zone, Terminator 2---digital behemoths full of lights, voice-overs, loops, ramps and even attempts at narrative structure. The pinball machines at the Deluxx-Fluxx hearken back to the golden age of pinball, with analog scoring and streamlined, clean design. In another nod to arcade culture, the pinball machines could only operate with custom Deluxx-Fluxx tokens, which you could get from an arted-up machine.
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The back room was a blacklight neon wonderland with custom foosball machines. It was in this room where the laughter was the most raucous and competition was at its fiercest, and you start to realize that this could potentially be the most fun (outside of a straight-up party) people could have in an art space. As the mainstream industry surrounds itself with ramped-up realism, review scores, graphical fidelity, and fanboy rage, it was jarring to remember, "Oh, wait. These things are actually supposed to be fun, too."
While the gaming industry at large debates the question of whether games can be considered art, this exhibit instead asked (and successfully answered), "Can art be video games?" Stumble into the arcade on 16th and Washington, open now until December 7, and try for the high score yourself.
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