BY ŁUKASZ BIAŁKOWSKI
A match can be won, lost, or tied Kazimierz Górski
The unforgettable coach of the Polish national football team was known for a peculiar sense of humor. His tautological bon mots, such as the one above or the claim that “the ball is round and there are two goals, either we win, or they”, are repeated even today. They arouse amusement with their majestic tone. They sound like quotes from Montaigne, Pascal, or other philosophers. This style adopted by Górski, to give a rank of philosophical maxims to the obvious statements, was an ironic tweak of the nose at tacticians, strategists, commentators, sports journalists, and all those who like to talk too much about sport. Górski wanted to suggest that there is no sense in talking too much about sport, that rules of game are simple and apart from them there are only: rivalry, skills, and a stroke of luck.
It is so, because every game involves taking risks and a possibility of losing. If we are not absolute nihilists like Beckett, who was excited by going “worstward” and “failing better”, we always want to win the game. English and Polish languages reflect it very well, differentiating “the game” [gra] from “the play” [zabawa]. For a German or a Frenchman, who name these two phenomena with one word (das Spiel and le jeu respectively), the aspect of winning the game does not sound that significantly as for a Pole or an Englishman, for whom the matter is clear. A play is a joint action, where all participants are equal, they want to achieve the same aim. They take a collective effort, preferring cooperation over competition. However, although a game can be a play, it is played to win. A game involves a conflict, difference of interests, and a necessity to eliminate an opponent. While a play has an inclusive potential, a game is always excluding.
I don’t play, I won’t lose, because I don’t have any ambition at all
Just as a bad compromise in politics, a draw for a player simply means defeat – an expected goal, the win, is not achieved. One way to avoid a defeat or a draw is to resign from the game and focus on play only. It does not matter whether it is a sports game, or some other, longer lasting game, for example the social life. In both cases, a risk of losing disappears, and waiting for fun and harmonious cooperation in play with others remains. Instead of competing for the best position in social stratification, what inevitably means the exclusion of others, a participant of the play counts on performing a common dance, in which all subjects are equal. In the ecstasy of play it is easy to forget that it has also the rules, and their participants often play the roles set in advance. In contrast to the dynamic world in game, a world in a play has on one hand a tendency to petrify roles and social positions, and on the other hand it can aim to give an equal status to all the participants of the play.
Let us recall that social games involving a risk of losing have been criticized in the history by various reformers, utopians and visionaries of new rules of social order. A world of game without a risk and a possibility of losing, and thus a world of play, would be for example a world of Marxian classless society – the society, which will emerge when the working class first takes up the game and the risk to change an unfair distribution of social roles and flip the gama table. When this happens, the working class will move to the play consisting in co-existence of all subjects and devoid of class antagonism. The world of social equality would be created, where it would be impossible to win or lose – there would be nowhere to climb and to fall. The position of art and an artist’s functioning in culture would be interesting in these circumstances.
Cause this whole rap game wants me not to record anything
It’s incredible, I’ve got a pentacle from the devil
TeDe (Jacek Graniecki)
When we take a look at artists’ readiness to indulge in the play: to create a field of culture which would involve harmonious and friendly participation of all subjects, it is visible with a naked eye that the play does not interest them. They prefer much more the game. Maybe it is not even a matter of willingness, but a matter of the (infra)structure of the field in which they function. Galleries and museums have not found a way yet, to present all the artists who would like to be shown. Therefore, a continuous selection is being made, inevitably classifying the artists to the better and the worse, to those who deserve being presented in the institution and those who do not. Thus, the field of art is far from a known thought of Chekhov, who has written in The Seagull: “But there is enough place for everyone, for the new and the old ones – why barge?”. An artist must barge, because otherwise he or she would be pushed back. Few of them dare to say, that a colleague is actually a competitor, that there is not enough place for everyone, and that “being” of the one is dependant on “not being” of the other.
Social agonistics and rivalry – taking a risk of the game – is present in the art like nowhere else. However, not much is being said about them. Unlike, for example, in the culture of hip-hop, in which the conflict is the essence and the driving force. Its fuel of free flight are beef and diss, open challenging to the duels to see who is be better. In the visual arts such incidents happen very rarely. Among the best known there is Robert Rauschenberg’s action of erasing Willem de Koonig’s picture. In Poland, there was Wiesław Borowski, calling in the 1970s most of authors of that time “pseudo-avantgarde”.
In the world of art, which is in the world of game, there are no draws. Thus, there is no play. There is only a necessity of winning, created by the structure of this field. So, to whom are those nudges that Łukasz Prus-Niewiadomski gives, defeating virtual characters or obstacles in videos ? He surely plays a game with himself, a game with the machine and the spectator. But it is hard not to notice that each time he wins, he sends a message to colleagues. Repeated shots in a loop, like Sisyphean task, compulsively give the world a message, that unlike in Beckett’s works, it is all about faithfullness to victory. At least as long as the world is in the game.