Suddenly forced to close their doors, museums and galleries all over the world are scrambling for solutions. More than a month into ECQ, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts has yet to present clear cut solutions for its industries, offering to trickle down aid through DOLE’s TUPAD program as a reluctant solution. Amidst this growing uncertainty in the field, arts collective Para://site Projects mounted an online exhibition called Internal Server Error hosted within Club Matryoshka’s private Minecraft server.
To Para://site Projects’ co-founder and curator Mariano Batocabe, the building capacity and gameplay of the sandbox game were terrains he had already mastered. In his process of choosing participating artists, he opted to bring in those unfamiliar with the Minecraft landscape. With a final line up consisting of Alfred Marasigan, Joanne Cesario, Mirjam Dalire, W Don Flores, Cos Zicarelli, Mariano Ching and himself, Batocabe brought in both young and established artists from different demographics, and who made use of different media in their works.
Installations by Cos Zicarelli, Mirjam Dalire, Alfred Marasigan, Joanne Cesario, and Mariano Batocabe.
According to Batocabe, there was constant collaboration between the team of Club Matryoshka and Para://site Projects to create a world that was both visually stunning, and easily navigated by players. Artists were given free reign for their builds; they only had to be mindful of the distance between pieces. You could row your way through the ocean to reach installations that stretched into the atmosphere, move your mouse cursor to view the suspended bricks around you as you were shot up into a library, and climb an impossible amount of steps to reach a work carved within a mountain. All these marked by red beacons that served as wayfinders. It was a far cry from solutions of digital slide shows and impossible-to-maneuver 3D map iterations.
Para://site Projects began conceptualizing this exhibition prior to the announcement of city-wide lockdowns. I spoke to Batocabe about the ingress process and creating art in a virtual environment.
Could you talk me through the people who helped create Para://site’s spaces on the Club Matryoshka server? How did you go about your ingress process and guiding your artists?
Teaching them Minecraft is one thing, but I also required them to have the app Discord which we used for communicating online. For the ingress naman, I let them in the server a month before the exhibition for them to get the hang of the game. Game mechanics, how to walk, how each block responds, etc. I gave them the liberty to build muna anything, like a prep time or studies for their builds (this was before the actual preparation of the server for the festival). The artists naman responded by exploring, trying to build stuff like houses, towers — in general trying the game (and not dying as we played it in Survival mode at that time).
For the builds, what I was aiming for as the curator of the exhibition and as a visual artist myself, is the idea of presenting an artwork that isn’t just about looking, but more of the experience of experiencing the work within the game. I am tired of seeing works online in an album format on platforms like Instagram and Facebook, as I think the album format only caters to the audience in a way that they can just scroll or swipe to go to the next image without any interaction or reflection of the artwork (the least interaction is zooming in on the details and looking at it). While in Minecraft, you experience the fatigue of playing, from walking and even pressing the forward button, to dying in-game due to fall damage or drowning.
I understand how the process of building Internal Server Error might have felt daunting in the beginning, but what were the advantages of creating it within a virtual space? Did the artists conceptualize the works with the virtual environment in mind?
Yeah, it was daunting! At first we were overwhelmed by how big the map was. The idea was tackled in Dominic Zinampan’s write up for the art exhibition, on the game’s blocky and distinct visual imagery. Works were more of a manifestation of the idea that each artist had.
Scroll to second slide to read the exhibition notes by Dominic Zinampan
The idea was to build two to three galleries around the map, but due to the time constraints it became two na lang: the MalWarehouse and the Para://Site house. We were thinking about the idea of re-imagining the spaces where we would show the works: one was a museum, and one was an “alternative” space.
For Cos Zicarelli’s work for example, he made installations and experimented, and with the infinite resources that he had, he built an island work entitled Island in the Year 2478. He built the island far from the spawning grounds and [it] could only be reached by either a boat or by teleportation. For my work, I had an idea to build an upside down obelisk. This fell in line with the theme for the festival on our side of the map: desolation and the post-apocalyptic. I matched the work to the surroundings. Building the obelisk in between the valley gave it a feeling of being a relic, hence the installation’s title Glory of Man.
Views of the Malware House and the Para://site House
Other builds such as Alfred Marasigan’s Smoke Screen were built before the construction of the highway and the buildings around it. The highway built behind his work added more context on how to look at the piece. Joanne Cesario’s installation is a stand alone art installation near the MalWarehouse, and Mirjam Dalire’s installation is carved inside of a mountain. Artists responded differently given the freedom they had during the exhibition. Some opted to play around the landscape while some opted to build an installation that is independent of its surrounding.
Para://site has conducted exhibits and installations in the past that coax its audience to experience art and its definitions by interacting with media differently, as opposed to just moving through a white box. In a world now under ECQ, how does your collective and platform envision the immediate future of art spaces and what sites do you hope to activate?
The whole idea of Para://Site is to situate a project. It’s our means of naturally incorporating what we have, what’s readily available, what’s accessible to us as artists into our own art practices.
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With the recent ECQ, we are now more concerned about surviving but that doesn’t limit the ideas that can come to any artist. The idea between the Artist and the space the artist inhabits is really crucial, even the white cubes that we speak of are now distant because of the ECQ. Artists are asking if we can still live out, continue our perceived career amidst the pandemic, since we know that the Cultural sector in the Philippines is mostly composed of different forms of movement. This shared fear, and at the same time, this holding on to that sense of imagining of a future now bleaker than ever was, is the main drive for this exhibition.
I can only speak for myself, but I’m at a point in my art practice where it really doesn’t matter where, when, and how I show it, but as long as I can show it and it still holds up to the idea that I am seeing in my head. That’s what’s important to me.
Art spaces? It can be called as spaces na lang siguro. Spaces to share ideas, spaces to present work, spaces to engage. A space where people can imagine and care about ideas. Be it in a bedroom in Pasig because of the ECQ, a gallery somewhere in the Philippines, or a garage in Las Piñas. We’re hoping that different pockets of communities emerge and make use of the internet as a platform for making sense of what’s happening right now. An internet highway that people can participate in, or at least can gain access to.
Screenshots taken in-game at Club Matryoshka
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