A collision of gaming and art, visitors are encouraged touch the work in Manuel Rossner’s digital exhibition

This unique digital experience that sits somewhere between game and art asks its visitors: what is possible in a physical space and what can it be?

5 May 2020

At this current moment in time, it’s near impossible to go strolling around an art gallery. If that was a previous past time and if you miss this activity however, there is one exhibition that you can still visit – albeit in the digital realm. Not only does a visit to this exhibition turn you into an avatar where you can interact with objects in a kind of parkour exercise, but this exhibition is now also a game. The objects on display in this show titled Surprising This Rather Works by Manuel Rossner are designed to broaden the perspective on what painting and sculpture can be in the digital realm.

The entire gallery space of Berlin’s König Galerie is transformed into a gaming environment inspired by the 90s game show American Gladiators, mixed with a more contemporary twist. The artist – who graced the site last year with the creation of the first 3D type foundry High Type – also looked to the so-called ‘gyms’ used for cutting edge AI research in the tech industry to inform this wonderful digital space. Available to play and experience, through the download of König Galerie’s app, Manuel’s marvellous exhibition is a vibrant alternative to visiting the famed brutalist building in person.

“I started creating digital replicas of gallery spaces a few years ago,” Manuel tells It’s Nice That, “so I’m quite familiar with the process now.” What was new for the Berlin-based artist was the gaming aspect of the work – the greatest challenge for the project. Working closely with curators Anika Meier as well as the gallery’s namesake, Johann König, the collaborators assessed the essential elements that make up a game and a gallery space. “Is it too much of a game if there is music playing inside the gallery?” posed one question.

Elsewhere, Manuel pondered what frequent gamers would expect from this gaming environment. Does there have to be a conclusive ending which isn’t some kind of reward? Eventually, Manuel and the curators came up with a solution. Somewhere in the depths of the virtual gallery, he hid an egg which visitors can seek out. The egg hints to prominent ideas in art history and with the inclusion of such an object, Surprising This Rather Works becomes further intertwined between the two worlds of art and gaming.

Ultimately, this unique experience is an eye opener for any visitor, expanding our perceptions of what space can be and how it can be used. “What keeps me going in the direction of the digital,” explains Manuel, “is the persistent search for a suitable way to deal with virtual environments.” And by posing these explorations in open and accessible ways to wider audiences, Manuel continues to ignite a burning interest to explore these unknown territories even further. Before he became an artist, Manuel was in the midst of pursuing a career in architecture. He was interested in discussions of public space and how society is structured, but he found that as his research deepened, such ideas moved into the digital realm.

Coupled with an increasingly prominent gaming culture, Manuel felt that “approaching these topics within a gallery context is truly an important thing right now in order for contemporary art to stay relevant. And also to establish an open environment for reflecting and experimenting outside gaming and tech culture itself.” What is impossible in an art gallery ordinarily, let alone the physical space, becomes possible in Manuel’s digital environment. In the game, a treadmill can break through the walls of the old church venue and huge yellow sculptures sprawl across the stairwells like a spiralling plant. Rules that usually apply to the confines of an exhibition space no longer matter. Most importantly, adds Anika, “visitors that are typically warned not to touch the artwork, are now asked to ‘please interact’.”

GalleryManuel Rossner: Surprising This Rather Works

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About the Author

Jynann Ong

Jynann joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. She went freelance in 2022.

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