Waiting as art.
Waiting is an inevitable part of human existence. Prehistoric men waited for mammoths the same way the modern man now waits for an espresso in a coffee shop. We spend our lives waiting in lines: employment bureaus, dentist anterooms, train stations, and cinema lobbies. We spend it waiting for an appointment, waiting for an elevator, waiting IN an elevator, waiting for a progress bar to reach 100%, waiting for the next sentence amidst mutual silence in a conversation between two friends who have nothing left to say to each other.
Waiting as an absurdly everyday phenomenon was emphasized by Beckett in his iconic “Waiting for Godot” – waiting as a negatively irrational passivity (seen as such by an outsider / observer) versus waiting as an indispensable, but undoubtful activity (seen at least by Vladimir, since Estragon is not really affected by waiting). The act of waiting is not necessarily an attribute of a bigger action, but has an existentialist turn.
20th century with all its combined wars and luxuries changed the act of waiting into a new state of mind, almost dystopian in nature. The hectic pace of life transformed it into a contemplation of escapism, a neo-flâneury to the point of a legitimized procrastination. Waiting became fashionable. Waiting became art.
Waiting is present.
Marina Abramovic transformed her visitors with the power of waiting into an object of art. Her performance, “The Artist Is Present,” (a note, that usually means a chance to meet an artist live at a vernissage) made waiting the goal. Visitors stood in lines for many hours to have a silent short vis-à-vis with the artist.
The artist is the exhibition. The encounter – meditative and lacking in information – is not the focus of this collective performance by Abramovic with her auditorium. If the museum attendees think back to their experience, they recall the auratic wait in line.
Waiting became an active operation in the latter part of the 20th century. There is a long-playing art object by Bogomir Ecker at the “Galerie der Gegenwart” in Hamburg, titled “Tropfsteinmaschine 1996-2496” (“Stalactite machine 1996-2496”). Built in 1996, it’s a scientifically accurate construction with dropping water. Every day, the water will generate a 10 cm long stalactite and stalagmite. In the year 2496, they will coalesce. There is even a “Stalactite Society” founded in Hamburg, whose task it is to ensure the problem-flee completion of the project in the 25th century.
“I took this photo two years ago, so the installation should have grown 0.2 mm. at the moment”
The waiting here isn’t a hypothetical action, at least not until the next director of the museum has a different opinion.
The art underwent a metamorphosis from an annoying, but obligatory, waste of time to a playful, desired, act. What better way to integrate this phenomenon in our culture than video games.
Game of Waiting.
Marina Abramovic became a person of interest in a video game by Pippin Barr titled “the artist is present.”
This is a simulation of a visit to MoMA, designed in a 8-bit mode. You have to open your browser during the normal hours of real MoMA, or you’ll have to wait till the offline museum opens.
“I was too late – the museum was closed already”
After the museum opens, you cannot just walk into the halls. You have to wait in line to buy a ticket. As you spend $25, you may walk across exhibition halls until you stumble upon a line of people. Their aspiration is to speed date with Marina Abramovic. Honestly, you need a whole lot endurance here, akin to fighting a boss in the end-level of a hardcore action game.
This wonderful simulation of Abramovics performance by Pippin Barr is hard to finish. It’s a trial of courage or a tool of torture, more than just a game, similar to other congenial meta-games like the “Ancient Greek Punishment”. Here you have to choose between various Hades tortures:
Every torture is impossible to finish, i.e. a very authentic experience. In the case of Sisyphus you have to roll the rock up the mountain and you will fail, but you can try again and again in order to see in the moment when the rock rolls back down the hill.
Camus wrote in his famous survey about the philosophy of absurdity, “Le mythe de Sisyphe,” that Sisyphus would find meaningfulness and sense in this eternal exercise, mastery in the impasse. His actions would essentially be his goal and he would eventually come to enjoy this repeating operation that he was forced into. We could almost imagine him as a happy man.
From this point of view, the waiting is not torture. It’s everlasting pleasure.
While the waiting in this game is pretty l’art pour l’art-ish, “The Desert Bus” (perhaps the most prominent game from this list) is challenging. The act of waiting is a necessary side effect. Designed by comedy illusionists Penn & Teller and often characterized as “The worst video game ever created,” you have one goal:
“The objective of the game is to drive a bus from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada in real time at a maximum speed of 45mph. The feat requires 8 hours of continuous play to complete, since the game cannot be paused.“
The bus has a control failure: it tends to veer to the right. So you have to constantly counter-steer the bus. Otherwise it will bump into the side of the road, then towed to the start point in real time. If you reach the target, you get exactly one point. You then have to drive back on the empty road with empty skies. Even the bus is empty. No traffic. No sight-seeing en route. Just repetitious landscapes. And random traffic signs. Devastating melancholy of an lonesome inter-regional bus driver. The only thing you can do is wait to arrive at your destination.
People say there was a man who got 90 points in this game. This man should be also happy according to Camus (at least during the activity). When he finished the game, the perpetuity of his enjoyment was interrupted.
A real-time game doesn’t allow a speedrun, but here is Dave, who drove the bus 10 hours long. And here is the first part of his travels (29 parts to follow):
Dave is cool.
But waiting as an integral part of our ontology can also be considered from another perspective like the award winning game: “Papers, please”.
This simulation transforms you into an omnipotent being. Yes, exactly! – to an immigration officer of a fictional European country. You have to supervise and register the waiting line of foreigners who want to enter your fatherland. You have to choose between being heartless, but securely denying everybody, and being humane, but dangerously generous. Every new visitor could be a terrorist. And the bombs will explode. Oh yes, they will.
Simon Parker from The New Yorker called “Papers, please” Game of the Year 2013 and added:
“Grim yet affecting, it’s a game that may change your attitude the next time you’re in line at the airport.”
You await the dark consequences of your deeds. In the best case, you’ll get your justly earned salary at the end of the day. In the worst case, your country will be blown away by a mysterious terrorist organization. Very realistic, very paranoid, very addictive, and a very horrible way of enjoying your time. Dystopian masochismus. In a minesweeper-like way, you preside over people’s fates. A bureaucratic RPG, almost as beautiful as Stanley Parable (www.stanleyparable.com/), but not absurd anymore. How much realism can one endure in a game? A lot, as we see.
You have to withstand a lot of realism in the survival first person line-stayer: “Waiting in Line 3D.“
In a DOOMish nostalgic pixel world, you can jump, move, punch… You can do everything you can, but… All this freedom of movement culminates in the standing in line. The object of longing remains unknown. Perhaps you are experiencing it already. The “Journey” is the Reward.
Your freedom doesn’t have value since you have to keep standing in line. You will be menaced with falling asleep. In order to stay awake, you have to punch yourself in the face. But beware of suicidal automutilation. You have to find the fine balance between staying awake and being alive. The waiting is existential, even existentialist, whatever it takes. But it is also a play. With our desires, with our fears, with our destiny.