a ‘ping pond table’ and an electric shock arcade game are just two in a series of twisted classics being exhibited as part of maat’s playmode exhibition. proposing a reflection on the possible relations between art and video games, the exhibition brings together more than thirty international artists including david shrigley, gabriel orozco, michael anastassiades and mary flanagan.


from now through february 17, 2020, playmode explores the power of game transformation, looking at playful and multi-sensory strategies in the field of contemporary artistic production. curated by filipe pais and patrícia gouveia, the exhibition is divided into three thematic areas: ‘ways to deconstruct, modify and speculate‘, ‘ways to transform, dream and work‘ and ‘ways to participate and change‘.

'ping pond' and other twisted classics at MAAT's playmode exhibition

‘bombscotch’, 2012, mary flanagan
images courtesy of MAAT



in the first section, the set of works explores the ways of playing, deconstructing, modifying and speculating about the game. the painstation for example, created by german artists volker morawe and tilman reiff (fur art entertainment interfaces)  reconfigures the video game’s system of reward and punishment. in their 2.5 version, when one of the players does not return the ball, they are punished with an electrical shock or a burn, making the body of the player part a physical part of the virtual ecosystem.

'ping pond' and other twisted classics at MAAT's playmode exhibition

painstation 2.5, 2004, volker morawe and tilman reiff 



in mapscotch, digital artist mary flanagan asks players to draw their own field of play, exploring critical issues related to their social and cultural context. in the bombscotch version shown above, flanagan replaces the numbers in the circular spaces with words related to the war atrocities committed by the USA or to other socio-political issues.

'ping pond' and other twisted classics at MAAT's playmode exhibition

your parents, you, your wee sisters and the social services, 2001, david shrigley



ping pong has its fair share of adaptations, the first being gabriel orozco’s ‘ping pond table’. instead of the net that normally separates the two sides of the table, his version doubles the space and places a pond at the center. another is david shrigley’s ‘your parents, you, your wee sisters and the social services’, a static metaphor of a game in motion that criticises a small social ecosystem through tragic comedy. the bats are labelled ‘your parents’ and ‘the social services’ and the balls, carefully positioned between the bats, are ‘you’ and ‘your wee sister’.

'ping pond' and other twisted classics at MAAT's playmode exhibition

the 23rd player — a behavioural ball, 2012, miltos manetas



artists transform the rules and games we know, forcing people to come up with their own rules by ridding iconic titles of their much-loved familiarity. in miltos manetas’ ‘the 23rd player — a behavioural ball’, the football takes on a new role. instead of touching the ball, players are supposed to influence its movement through their positioning on the playing field. the 23rd player is the controller who tries to direct the ball’s movement remotely. the ball, which at times acts independently, encourages a strange dancing performance in which the players are trying to understand their impact on its movements and behaviour.

'ping pond' and other twisted classics at MAAT's playmode exhibition

o desenho da menina a fugir do seu suporte, 2014, ana vieira



other examples include the popular action-adventure series grand theft auto, which has been reconceptualized to demonstrate play and its capacity to transform cognitive, physical and social structures. joseph delappe’s modified version of the game auto depicts a series of crimes with firearms in the streets of a north american city, an excerpt from a longer video in which the game engine plays by itself, without human involvement, for a whole year. updating in realtime using records available on the website of the gun violence archive, the system presents the total number of murders in the USA since the beginning of the year before returning to 0 at midnight. 

'ping pond' and other twisted classics at MAAT's playmode exhibition

elegy: gta usa gun homicides, 2018–2019, joseph delappe 



in brent watanabe’s san andreas streaming deer cam, the player’s avatar in the video game grand theft auto v (rockstar north, 2013), is replaced by a deer. using artificial intelligence, it roams freely and unscripted through the streets of san andreas, a fictional state of california. its an uncanny experience that proposes contemplating the field of play and its mechanics.

'ping pond' and other twisted classics at MAAT's playmode exhibition
elegy: gta usa gun homicides, 2018–2019, joseph delappe 



this continues in ‘transforming, dreaming and working,’ where video and photographic work by american artist brad downey includes sculptures made from paving stones, posters and advertising. he explores urban space through play, making the vast array of signs and images that for our attention an elemental part of his game of art.

'ping pond' and other twisted classics at MAAT's playmode exhibition

house of cards, 2009, brad downey



elsewhere, online war videogame counter-strike is transformed by artist eva mattes. appearing in the game as a terrorist, she pleads with the other players to save her, explaining that she is there as part of an art performance. the result is her being killed again and again with reactions to her performance: ‘ok, dude, if you’re just an artist, then go play and paint. don’t play counter-strike. what you gonna do? escape and disconnect from game. ‘cause you’re just an artist. you don’t wanna be in this game.

'ping pond' and other twisted classics at MAAT's playmode exhibition

freedom, 2010, eva mattes



finally, the section on ‘how to participate and change‘ evokes the power of the game to call our attention, its capacity to make us participate in something. the seven digital games presented in this area propose different ways of changing our perspective and awareness of certain social and cultural conditions.

'ping pond' and other twisted classics at MAAT's playmode exhibition

the graveyard, 2008, interactive real-time 3D application, created with the unity engine, black and white; auriea harvey e/and michaël samyn tale of tales



‘the graveyard’, an interactive real-time 3D application created by video game artists auriea harvey and michaël samyn, places the player in the role of an elderly lady visiting a cemetery. this short game resembles an interactive painting that is explored through a short walk, a moment of rest on a public bench and a song that makes us reflect on death.


another features a recreation of marina abramović’s famous art performance ‘the artist is present’, which saw her sit on a chair for eight hours a day in the foyer of the museum of modern art (MoMA) in new york. in this recreation by video game maker pippin barr the player is submitted to real-life circumstances, like the real opening hours of MoMA and the queuing time to get into the museum, becoming an essential aesthetic element to the piece.


in an age where the number of games has increased exponentially, its importance in everyday life is plagued with questions over free-will, mental wellbeing, morality and institutionalization. using gaming in a critical light, the artists exhibited in ‘playmode’ offer interpretations of these themes. art interrogates the world of play, and in particular video games, where escaping reality, social construction and transformation, subversion, and criticism of the game are all present themes that trigger dialogue.

'ping pond' and other twisted classics at MAAT's playmode exhibition

the artist is present, 2011 video game; pippin barr




project info


institution: MAAT
exhibition: playmode
dates: – on show until 17 feb 2020
address: av. brasília, 1300-598 lisboa, portugal