Hacking The Sims with Angela Washko and other fun and games at VIA | Art Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Hacking The Sims with Angela Washko and other fun and games at VIA

Festival’s art offerings are as cutting-edge as the music

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One iteration of Angela Washko’s Free Will Mode series - Image courtesy of the artist
  • One iteration of Angela Washko’s Free Will Mode seriesImage courtesy of the artist

While Pittsburgh’s VIA Festival might be best known for its music offerings, it also presents provocative arts programming.

This year, highlights include the VIA Games Salon, at Garfield’s BOOM Concepts during the Oct. 2 Unblurred gallery crawl. The artists deconstructing games of all sorts for amusement and edification include Angela Washko, who’ll give the first-ever live performance of “Free Will Mode,” her breakdown of the hit PC “life-simulation” game The Sims.

Sims players create virtual people (“Sims”) and select or build the houses in which they’ll live their everyday lives: preparing food, going to work, buying stuff. To critique the game’s cultural biases, Washko alters the architecture so Sims can’t do certain things like, for instance, leave their houses or interact with other Sims. “Free Will Mode” is an option for players who don’t wish to guide the Sims themselves; Washko discovered that with the basic premises of their environment confounded, Sims, left on their own, often sort of went bonkers.

“I always find they’re not designed for resourcefulness,” says Washko, a visiting professor of electronic time-based art at Carnegie Mellon University. The games became “six hours of watching things fall apart.” She adds, “Some of them die.”

Washko’s Sims videos — which she hopes encourage viewers to question how architecture guides our behavior — have screened at venues including New York’s Bitforms Gallery; the VIA show will be her first real-time performance of the series.

Washko specializes in exploring feminism in the context of gaming, in video games and online. Through her Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft, for instance, she has pursued conversations about feminism in that male-dominated role-playing game. She’s also known for BANGED, her long-form Skype interview with a notorious pickup artist and blogger. (See 
www.angelawashko.com.)

The VIA Games Salon, which is free, also includes work, some of it interactive for visitors, by visiting artists Daryl Kamen, Soha Kareem and Isla Hansen, and locally based Hannah Epstein and Dadpranks.

Elsewhere, VIA offers two lecture/workshop combos. What is #Additivism? includes a Sept. 24 lecture and an all-day Sept. 25 workshop on the potential of 3D printing to facilitate radical social change. And Aftersound, an exhibition on sound art, opens at CMU’s Miller Gallery with a Sept. 25 reception, followed by a Sept. 28 performance and Sept. 29 lecture, both by New York-based composer and experimental turntablist Marina Rosenfeld.




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