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Art, Architecture, And Gaming Meet In Interference: Q&A With Eric Zimmerman And Nathalie Pozzi

La Gaité Lyrique, a digital arts center in Paris that’s currently a paradise for children and game addicts with its gaming-as-art focused exhibition, Joue Le Jeu has transformed its three floors with a plethora of video games and interactive installations. From classic joystick games to installations that react to the player’s movements, your creativity guides you through this temple of play.

Video game designer Eric Zimmerman and architect Nathalie Pozzi exhibited their work at MoMA last year, and are known for creating multi-dimensional pieces in public spaces. Interference, the piece they’re currently exhibiting, occupies the second floor of La Gaité Lyrique. Throughout the installation, neither screens nor cables are visible. Instead, huge metal panels representing cells and serving as the game board provide a platform on which the players can interact.

As described on Zimmerman’s website:

The game is played by pairs of opponents (there need to be at least two pairs of players). Each pair plays only on a small section of one of the walls—a “cell colony” which is centered on a special black piece. Your goal is to have more of your color pieces in each of the cells of your colony than your opponent.

Complicating this simple strategy game is the fact that each turn, you take pieces from other colonies—the active games of other players. And they are doing the same to you, creating chaos in your game as you are playing. Typically, Interference players begin to metagame heavily, striking deals with players in other pairs, and telling them which pieces to remove.

To learn more about this competitive game of thievery and deal-making, as well as how it was created and received, we spoke to the artists.

The Creators Project: Your games have been exhibited all over the world and seem to have universal appeal. Why do you suppose that’s so?
Eric Zimmerman: Well, our work often merges several practices. It really is somewhere between art, board games, computer games, and architecture. What we’re doing might be difficult to pigeonhole, but a lot of contemporary museums are trying to reach bigger audiences and many contemporary artists are becoming more experientially focused.

Do you have a specific target when developing a game?
Zimmerman: Maybe. We don’t think of audiences in a traditional way. With Interference, we really struggled in trying to make a game which was interesting and deep enough that visitors could play it more than once. We created a video introducing players to the concept behind the game. We also have attendants there, so there is someone that can teach people the game. We also like this piece because you don’t necessarily have to play it to appreciate it. We think that it’s a beautiful object as a sculpture; it’s fun and intriguing to watch even if you’re not playing the game yourself.

Photo by Evan Sklar for the New York Times

Regarding the aesthetic of your game: a traditional game table is horizontal, yours is vertical. What was the purpose of this different orientation?
Nathalie Pozzi: It was very intentional. When we started thinking about the game, we were actually in a park in Brooklyn trying to pretend there were walls. The first game we designed was in a space on the floor between the walls, but every player was facing down and not looking at the others. And that’s precisely why we wanted a game that was social: it came out of frustration!

Zimmerman: In a sense, we have five vertical game boards, and by hanging them in space, we can start using transparency so the players can look at each other. We can use the two sides of the wall to provide information, and it really sculpts a passage through space.

Pozzi: In this case, the space and the game are the same thing. In other games, the physical component was either the scenery you were in or the background. Here, the two things completely overlap.

Do you think that it is the very notion of space that unites both of you? What is the common ground between architecture and game design? Is it the fact that you both create a new space of possibilities?
Zimmerman: Yes, maybe. I don’t know if you saw the title of the lecture we gave at La Gaité Lyrique (“The Space of Possibilities”), but this is sort of a key point for us. Game designers and architects create structures, and people inhabit these structures. Through their habitation, new behaviors immerge, like the way that companies can grow in an office building or relationships can grow and change in a house. So, what we love about creating designs is that we don’t know what people are going to do with them. We create these spaces, possibilities of space as possibilities of actions.


And what do you think would be the ideal space to exhibit a game?
Pozzi: I am afraid I don’t have one answer. All the spaces where we exhibited were very different from each other, but all of them were interesting. We exhibited in a brick building in Brooklyn that was about six meters tall, in the sculpture garden at MoMA, in a glass façade… I guess that architects are pretty happy to consider the conditions in which the space exists beforehand, rather than having a pure white box of a gallery space. We are excited about the conditions, whatever they are. We want to work with these conditions.

Zimmerman: In my mind, a designer is worried about solving a problem. Even with the problems that Nathalie and I are trying to solve, she’s more interested in having to work within a context that is given to her. That’s an interesting design problem to solve, rather than inventing your own ideal space. Interference was also about the idea of walls being sort of a passage between the bar and the staircase. The idea of walls and corridors that you can walk through was meant to enable people to flow through the space.

Pozzi: Exactly. For me it was a challenge to build something decorative, light and interesting for such a space. Space is a good challenge.

Photos : © 2011 Maxime Dufour Photographies

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