A project by WLFR + ConceptsAssociated.
Exhibition: alsospace, C-Space, Beijing, China. 01—16 May 2010.

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The game of chess is an icon in Western culture. In a sense, it is a metaphor for the nobility of civilisation: if someone is able to play a decent game of chess, (s)he is felt to be someone capable of mastering the universal laws of being human — those of logic, ethics, and æsthetics. In this light, there are fundamental questions — what is a 'decent' game of chess? What is 'chess' anyway? What does 'chess' mean? And why is it important?

From the point of view of the arts, the focus would be on the compositional space of chess. How would we be able, seen from the universe of chess, to achieve relevant works of art?

Firstly, we should realise that any chess game is driven by two factors: rules and intentions. The rules of chess are clear and unambiguous, as defined by FIDE — the international chess federation. There is this universe, the board and its pieces, and there are the laws of the universe, the rules of chess. But anything happening within this universe, any game of chess performed, is driven by intention. The initial intention of chess is to beat your opponent.

Secondly, it is important to realise that these two factors are separable. You can play a game of chess, within its rules, but without the initial intention to win the game. This broadens the mind. Why be opponents, for instance? Why not be collaborators? This immediately questions the goal of the game. It does not change the rules, but it changes everything else. The board, as a universe, becomes a stage on which moves are choreography, music, or any kind of temporal form of art. And any position of the pieces could be created and perceived as a composition within the spatial and rule-bound possibilities of this universe.

It shows that æsthetics are a distinct mode of interpreting reality, apart from its ethical and logical modes. On the other hand, it shows the potential of thought, the possibility of any system to be explored, released from its paradigms, in an æsthetical way.

The games in this project are examples of such an exploration. They are experimental works of art. Any game in this project is a draw, by nature. It is a collaboration, not a competition. That, in itself, is a paradigm shift. These works are all legal games of chess, following the international rules of FIDE. But they differ greatly in their intention — being compositions rather than competitions. This results in an entirely different perception of the game, of the universe that comprises chess. Rather exotic rules, such as the promotion of pawns to queens, rooks, knights or bishops, become central goals in the construction of positions of the board. Common important situations in chess, like the situation of check, are collaboratively dealt with. It also transforms each game from an initial improvisation, in which linear time is perceived as an unfolding, unknown future, into non-linear time, where compositional techniques can be used to create choreographies. While this rejects the competitive goal of playing a game, it introduces an entirely new raison d'être within the universe of chess. By this, it also creates a dichotomy between the composer and the performer of a game. Playing a game becomes performing a score, like playing sheet music — with all its liberties and limitations.

Each day during the exhibition, a new game will be composed by two players. Any game in this project will be a tiny work of art, consisting of a number of moves on the chess board and resulting in a æsthetical final position. They are conceptual compositions, to be perceived in any way, as any game of chess can be. Each rendition emphasises different aspects of a game — a chess editor, for instance, shows the overall position of pieces in relation to each other and focuses on the relations between the pieces in space (and time). Chess notation, on the other hand, reads more like concrete poetry and exposes the rhythm and methods of movement. As works of art, these games show aspects of the relationships between conceptual compositions and their sensory perceptivity. To chess players, these games open up a new way of looking at the universe they spend a considerable part of their life in. During the exhibition, we propose the opportunity to perform the compositions we present each day. Visitors are also free to improvise, to vary on the themes we have supplied. We aim to enrich people with a new perspective on the game of chess (and games in general), broadening it from a mere competitive universe to a more rich one by introducing collaboration as an alternative. At the same time, we propose to experience art as a specific, peculiar mode of manipulating a system, exploring its properties in unusual ways. Whether this system is the game of chess, or the universe we live in.

As such, the principle of this project, applying æshetical perspectives to rule systems like games, is a general one. It could be applied to any system or game. We would like to encourage players of other games — xiang qi, go, checkers, and so on — or any other system, to develop collaborative versions, to explore the æsthetical perspectives of all these universes.

Peter Manuel + Taconis Stolk
01 May 2010

ConceptsAssociated is a corporation in Amsterdam, Netherlands, dedicated to the interrelations between ethics and æsthetics, founded in 2007 by Peter Manuel and Taconis Stolk.
WLFR is a body of ideas, investigating conceptual æsthetics and itself as an alternative to the universe.
Peter Manuel (1972) is an information scientist, neo-situationist and chess player, working on the ethical foundations of society.
Taconis Stolk (1967) is a conceptualist and hypermodernist. He explores the laws of form in conceptuality.

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