Text by Morgan Quaintance
Games People Play:
The Artist as True Player
Look at this video footage from the late 1960s . Two men are sitting poolside, in the shade of a large rainbow coloured umbrella. A casual interview is taking place. The interviewer is a young, clean- shaven, white man with close-cropped hair. His name is David Prowitt, ‘science editor for national educational television’. The interviewee is an elderly man, also white. He has a long, thinnish face and a prominent nose that supports black-framed prescription glasses. Together these features form the countenance of a serious man, a man of science. His name is Dr. Eric Berne and he is the author of the multi-million selling psychology book ‘Games People Play’.
‘In a nutshell, what is transactional analysis?’ asks Prowitt.
‘It is a system’, replies Dr. Berne, ‘for understanding people’s behavior, trying to change people’s behavior, and for predicting people’s behaviour’.
For Berne, communication between people in the modern world is predicated and driven by ulterior motives, by what can be gained from interaction. Conversation, then, functions as a transaction between two parties, the success of which is not measured in monetary, but emotional gains. In such an exchange, each subject looks to glean these emotional gains through satisfying the needs of one of three ego states: the child, the parent or the adult. According to Berne, ‘individuals can shift with varying degrees of readiness from one state to the other’ ; they can also occupy complementary (adult-adult) or counterproductive ego states (adult-child).
The important feature of all interpersonal transactions is that they are qualitatively distinct, they have themes. It is in the set performance of these transactions that the game emerges. Here’s Berne, ‘a game is an ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome’ .
Since it’s publication in 1964 ‘Games People Play’ has sold over 5 million copies worldwide . Part of its popularity lays in the use of plain English to identify and recast everyday communications in domestic, professional and familial environments as games, games we recognise we have potentially played, or seen played by others . But there is another reason for the book’s popularity.
Berne’s ‘Games People Play’ panders to our pervasive cultural sense, in the West at least, that the game is an apt general metaphor for all aspects of modern life, especially under late capitalism. Game metaphors are everywhere and so is the game grid: an invisible matrix of rules, levels and sectors of play underpinning all of our interactions. There’s the game of love, the hip-hop game, the numbers game, power games. Life is measured in terms of success and in order to succeed subjects must become adept at negotiating the unwritten rules of life-games, they must become players in their chosen field.
In the art world, game metaphors persist. Again, success is the goal of all players – that is all arts professionals – and one must advance by any means necessary towards achieving a set of goals – wealth accumulation, prestige, ubiquity, institutional seniority – that will signify you, as an active player, have won. For artists things are more complex.
Beyond the game of success (played out and exhausted by the likes of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst) the practice or ‘primary game’ of contemporary artists concerns playing with and rearranging the signs and symbols that validate aspirant, capital and power driven imperatives; forces that govern our movements around the monopoly board of modern life. Curator Suzanne Posthumus has recognised this state of affairs. Her use of the murder mystery, the board game Clue, and the grid as exhibition design and framework, add up to an astute and pertinent curatorial move. Like Berne’s reconfiguration of intercommunication as a kind of massive and inescapable multiplayer game of success, Posthumus’s recasting of the critical space of the white cube as a gridded playing field opens the door to a compelling conception of what it is art and artists do. It allows the theme of the artist as a juggler of signs to emerge, the artists as deconstructionist and rearranger, the artist as true player.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBO38HqQTgI Berne, E. 2010 edition. Games People Play. London: Penguin. ibid http://www.ericberne.com/ For example, Berne identifies ‘the most common game played between spouses’ as the ‘If It Weren’t For You’ game. This game typically involves one spouse explicitly or indirectly accusing the other of preventing them back from being able to do something. From this foundation arguments ensue and the perpetrator of the game is, more often than not, able to satisfy their emotional need to feel as if they have been existentially thwarted, or held-back all their lives.
Curatorial: TRUE PLAYERS, W139
Will Sheridan Jr.
Sponsored by Volkshotel with contribution by Royale Belleville
Curated by Suzanne Posthumus