Animal Crossing, live streaming and viral social media challenges are becoming mainstream content in the art world during the ongoing global pandemic COVID-19. Why is this happening and what does this mean for the way we connect with art and each other?
TEXT: Reena Devi
IMAGES: Courtesy of various
It is a known fact that necessity is the mother of invention but to see it taking place in a world grappling with a global pandemic, besieged by economic and social upheavals, at a frenetic pace no less, is something else entirely.
Yes, invention is definitely taking place, even in the art world. No, this does not refer to the digital presence of art fairs, galleries and museums involving static website pages featuring artworks and videos, online viewing rooms and virtual tours inspired by established aspects of their physical premises. The kind of innovation happening currently involves something far more improvisational and community-centered while bordering on the cusp of entertainment and leisure.
Most people would have heard of the highly popular Nintendo Switch game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, currently enjoying a surge of interest because most of the world is in lockdown and quarantine due to COVID-19.
The social simulation game, which involves players customizing their individual towns and trading with friends, also allows them to create their own museums, galleries and installations using tools available within and outside the video game.
Most recently, the Getty Museum got in on the fun, creating the Animal Crossing Art Generator tool. Players can use artworks from the institution’s massive collection for their simulated art spaces or as patterns on any surface of their choosing. Getty even provides step-by-step instructions on how to do so on their blog.
This new tool has proven to be quite the hit—most recently, famous Japanese artist Takashi Murakami posted on his Instagram account, a slew of screengrabs shared by players of the video game who used his artwork prints in all sorts of inventive and diverse ways from wallpapers and T-shirts, to decking out the walls and floors of the game interface.
Meanwhile, installation artist Shing Yin Khor drew some buzz in April for recreating famous artworks such as Marina Abramoviç’s renowned performance piece The Artist Is Present (2010), Robert Smithson’s acclaimed earthwork Spiral Jetty (1970) and Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s installation The Umbrellas (1984–91). This was part of her efforts to build a tongue-in-cheek version of New York’s Museum of Modern Art in the video game’s virtual space.
In its latest update, Animal Crossing has its very own shady art dealer, Jolly Redd, who sells artworks on his boat which are not necessarily originals, so players have to discern which are forgeries or real. There are already YouTube videos providing tips on how to do so. This update also includes a new museum wing solely for showcasing art that you bought from Redd.
For readers who are in complete disbelief at this point, wondering what in the world do video games have to do with art, the simple response would be: possibly a lot. In fact, a New York court ruled just last month that Call of Duty—a video game series that has been around since 2003 and has an immense global following—is considered a work of art. While there is a lot more context behind this legal ruling, it is safe to say video games have all the makings of a future mainstay in the art world, given current public interest.
The future art world also looks like it would involve a lot of live streaming, based on how this mode of social media broadcasting is gaining tremendous popularity during isolation and social distancing.
Over the past month, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago initiated weekly programming involving workshops and events, mostly taking place on Instagram Live and Zoom, as part of the museum’s digital platform Commons Online. These programmes included a virtual fashion show featuring young designers, guided meditation, drag queen storytelling, and crafting guides for families. At the end of March, New York’s MoMA PS1 hosted a festival online titled “Come Together (Apart)” featuring livestreamed DJ sets, remote film talks, and virtual workshops. These are only two of various museums, artists, art spaces, curators, art media and more using live streaming to engage audiences now. This phenomenon cuts across other industries as well.
While to some people, this may seem like a passing fad that will die down once we are able to leave our homes to frequent public spaces and socialize in real-time, live streaming provides an authenticity, immediacy and intimate sense of connectivity that audiences could find appealing even then. There is a stark contrast between the highly edited content we have been consuming for decades and the live streaming content that is becoming mainstream now. Live streaming fully grasps the concept of uncertainty, allowing the viewer to feel as if they are experiencing almost exactly whatever is happening with those on the other side of the screen. This is akin to live broadcast television but with the added perception of connectivity imbued by various social media platforms providing such streaming.
This sense of connectivity is the main reason live streaming, Animal Crossing and other community-centered platforms and content are taking off right now in the art world and beyond. Never have we hungered more for a sense of community and connection as this present time with most of us physically separated from one another.
This is blatantly apparent in the viral Instagram account @tussenkunstenquarantaine, meaning “between art and quarantine” in Dutch. The account and its ensuing movement were started by a Dutch woman Anneloes Officier while at home due to social distancing measures. She recreated the classic Vermeer painting Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) with her roommates, using a towel, a placemat and a clove of garlic.
As expected, this largely improvisational and inventive challenge took off, with droves of people across the world sharing their recreations of the greatest artworks in history with household items online. While viral social media challenges are nothing new, this time major institutions in the art world are paying attention and even adapting them.
The account is followed by the Louvre in Paris and MoMA in New York. Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum promoted the viral Instagram account on its Facebook page and J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles launched a similar social media challenge.
Sarah Waldorf, a social media lead at the J. Paul Getty Trust told Artsy that, “As people are isolated, a sense of community and connection feels more sacred than ever…people at home are seeking ways to bond with their friends and family, even from a distance.”
It is entirely possible that viewing community and connection as sacred may not necessarily end with the reopening of cities and resuming of our daily lives. In fact, this notion could become entrenched in our collective and individual mindsets, changing the way we create content and connect with each other, even in the art world, forever.
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