Golan Levin: Welcome back to Shall Make, Shall Be. Our next speak­er is Andy Malone. Andy Malone holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Detroit Mercy, has worked in the exhib­it design and cus­tom fur­ni­ture indus­try for over twenty-five years. Notable clients of Andy Malone’s include Google, Twitch, Konami, Salesforce, Dolby, LG, Dodge, HP, T‑Mobile, and Bethesda Games. His playable sculp­tures and games have been shown in over seventy-five exhi­bi­tions since 1995 includ­ing two recent solo exhi­bi­tions, Play Room, and Happy Accidents.

As a cura­tor of the game arts, Andy Malone has co-organized Game Show Detroit in 2006 at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit, and Game Show New York City in 2011, at Columbia University. Malone also curat­ed the Bravo! Bravo! Art Exhibition at the Detroit Opera House in 2004 and 2005. Malone cur­rent­ly serves as Vice President of Hatch, an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary arts cen­ter in Hamtramck, Michigan.

Friends, please wel­come Andy Malone.

Andy Malone: Thank you very much. And thank you every­one for tun­ing in. So today I’m just going to talk very briefly about some of my past projects. And then hope­ful­ly that’ll pro­vide some con­text for my Second Amendment piece for the upcom­ing Shall Make, Shall Be show. 

So my name is Andy Malone and I make inter­ac­tive sculp­tures and games. For the most part, my work is intend­ed to be phys­i­cal­ly han­dled and manip­u­lat­ed. So by press­ing a but­ton or turn­ing a crank, draw­ing a pic­ture or mov­ing a game piece, the view­er engages with the work and they com­plete its purpose.

So I exhib­it in tra­di­tion­al gal­leries and muse­um spaces, but the work is intend­ed to be manip­u­lat­ed by the view­er. So to appre­ci­ate it, the view­er must break the first rule of most art spaces: do not touch. And it throws peo­ple off for a few sec­onds but soon they fig­ure it all out.

So the toy-like nature of my work can be sub­ver­sive. It draws the view­er in, and I actu­al­ly like to call the view­er the play­er, or the col­lab­o­ra­tor. But it also serves as an entry point for some more provoca­tive themes. So I strive to cre­ate some mean­ing­ful expe­ri­ences through inter­ac­tion and community-building. 

So I was born on the West Side of Detroit in the 1970s. My mom was a teacher, my dad was a painter and illus­tra­tor. And in addi­tion to paint­ing and mak­ing my birth announce­ment, my dad drew a semi-regular com­ic strip that was pub­lished in Detroit and Atlanta. And his work was also fea­tured in an inter­na­tion­al col­lec­tion of car­toons, which he was often one of the few black car­toon­ists represented. 

So one of these books, it fea­tured a ret­ro­spec­tive of Rube Goldberg. And as a child I was fas­ci­nat­ed by his whim­si­cal chain reac­tion machines. Rube Goldberg made mech­a­nisms humor­ous and relat­able. And so this plant­ed seeds for my inter­est in tech­ni­cal draw­ings and artis­tic machines. 

[These fol­low­ing descrip­tions nar­rate the first ~1:42 of the above video.]

So I went to archi­tec­ture school, but I did not inher­it my dad’s draw­ing abil­i­ties. So I enjoyed mak­ing automa­ta and table­top games out of wood. And I called them playable sculp­tures. So these pro­to­type abstract strat­e­gy games were an attempt to inter­pret some the­o­ret­i­cal con­cepts in game mechan­ics and to explore how play­ers inter­act with the envi­ron­ment and each other. 

This video was cre­at­ed for a gallery that was exhibit­ing my games, and they want­ed to have some­thing on a loop next to it so that peo­ple could see how the game was played. So this par­tic­u­lar one’s called Meander, and the con­cept behind it is that every­one’s play­ing simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. And they’re mov­ing their pieces simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, so they all need to be in sync. 

This next game is called Ex Cross and it’s anoth­er abstract strat­e­gy game about shift­ing ide­olo­gies. And play­ers need to mod­i­fy their sys­tems of move­ment by what­ev­er sym­bol is on the top of their piece. So Xes move diag­o­nal­ly, cross­es orthog­o­nal­ly. And it’s based on the con­flict­ing philoso­phies of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

And this game is called Nexus and it’s a—these are all work­ing titles, by the way. But it’s anoth­er pro­to­type and it fea­tures a shift­ing topog­ra­phy. So it needs to be recon­fig­ured to cre­ate paths and ways to vic­to­ry. And also the pieces can be placed on the sides. 

There’s a few more—actually there’s a lot more but I’m not gonna get into it because I want to be con­scious of time. All these games have a basic set of rules, but I pre­fer to have the play­er devel­op their own rules by play­ing with the items and see­ing what hap­pens intu­itive­ly. So this is my favorite set of rules that some­one devel­oped for one of the games. I think if some­one can fol­low those rules I think they’re pret­ty good. 

So, my son Martin is an amaz­ing kid. But he’s averse to most forms of com­pe­ti­tion. And so Quarturn is a game that I made with the inten­tion of cre­at­ing some­thing that he would enjoy. 

So this is a simul­ta­ne­ous turn-less game. So, peo­ple play­ing it don’t need to wait for every­one else to play, they’re all play­ing at the same time. And so every­one needs to be syn­co­pat­ed. And what you’re doing is it’s essen­tial­ly a game of Connect Four for four play­ers, played on a rotat­ing board. So the goal is the same as Connect Four: try to get four in a row. I believe this game’s very immer­sive, and I believe that when you have a game that’s immer­sive it can be called art. 

So my artis­tic phi­los­o­phy is sort of a work in progress. At this moment I would say I’m cre­at­ing envi­ron­ments for peo­ple to play, and learn, and be trans­formed. I love moments like this when the tra­di­tion­al bound­aries of the gallery are blurred and the view­ers become col­lab­o­ra­tors. So I feel like these pieces sort of informed my work for the Shall Make, Shall Be exhibition. 

So with that intro­duc­tion, I’m sure you’re prob­a­bly won­der­ing how this sor­ta mild-mannered game designer/kinetic sculp­ture artist became inspired by the Second Amendment, com­mon­ly known as the right to bear arms. 

Well, here’s a quick sto­ry. Until recent­ly I had a pret­ty neg­a­tive impres­sion of guns. I nev­er felt the need to car­ry one, and I did­n’t like the way it made peo­ple act. I did­n’t like the sound it made. And I did­n’t like the dam­age that guns cause. 

So one of my friends who’s a self-defense advo­cate, he thought it was absurd that I had such strong opin­ions about guns but nev­er fired one in my life. So he assert­ed that— Actually, I wrote it down because I did­n’t want to get the quote wrong. An armed pop­u­lace is able to con­trol their own des­tiny and not be a vic­tim of fate.” And he remind­ed me that the Civil Rights Movement relied on armed volunteers. 

So he chal­lenged me, or guilt­ed me, depend­ing on how you look at it, to not be afraid of the tool. So I went to vis­it a gun range a few times. And I’m glad I did, because it elim­i­nat­ed the mys­tery of firearms and allowed me to look at the Second Amendment more objectively. 

So the goal of this project was to think crit­i­cal­ly about both sides of the debate and to chal­lenge my own point of view. So to orga­nize my thoughts I sort of went to the famil­iar com­ic for­mat. I want­ed to cre­ate sort of a cohe­sive narrative. 

So the Second Amendment’s a con­tentious sub­ject. I don’t need to remind you of that. And it was a tough thing to for me to get my brain around. The first thing I had to do is real­ize I did­n’t need to be an expert on it. And I wish I would have got­ten that through my head before, because I was doing a lot of research and felt…unqualified. But then I real­ized we’re all com­ment­ing as artists on these amend­ments. So I chal­lenged myself to think about it objec­tive­ly and not polit­i­cal­ly. And after a lot of sketch­es I deter­mined what I want­ed to do is cre­ate a pen­ny arcade-style game. 

So the play­er would approach this table, which had a puz­zle. And they would com­plete the puz­zle and the puz­zle would rep­re­sent the utopi­an ver­sion of the Amendment. And then that would trig­ger some ani­ma­tions and a music com­po­si­tion on the wall that’s more of a com­ment on gun cul­ture today. So I want­ed to cre­ate sort of a cause-and-effect rela­tion­ship between the puz­zle and the sort of messy reality. 

"What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance" —Thomas Jefferson, American statesman

So here’s the ide­al­is­tic inter­pre­ta­tion. The Second Amendment ren­ders any pro­hib­i­tive reg­u­la­tions on arms uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, because the founders cor­re­lat­ed arms with per­se­ver­ance and inde­pen­dence. So for many Americans being armed was a way to main­tain an equilibrium—and equi­lib­ri­um” is the oper­a­tive word here—between peo­ple and the things that might do them harm. So in this utopi­an vision, the right to bear arms main­tains a lev­el play­ing field and it also is afford­ed to all able-bodied cit­i­zens, no excep­tions. Notice I said utopi­an.” That’s not how it is in real life. But the peo­ple should be pre­pared and equipped to defend them­selves, to main­tain an equi­lib­ri­um in the pur­suit of life, lib­er­ty, and hap­pi­ness. So as the proverb says, it’s bet­ter to be a war­rior in the gar­den than a gar­den­er at war. In oth­er words, it’s bet­ter to have a gun and not use it than to need one and it’s not there. 

Line drawing of two men, one laying on the ground facing the other standing above him, both pointing guns at each other.

So for my project, like I said equi­lib­ri­um was the oper­a­tive word and a bal­ance of pow­ers is also known as a stand­off, which is the title of my project. And a stand­off was a stale­mate or dead­lock between two peo­ple in con­flict. An armed stand­off occurs when every­body points their weapons at each oth­er and they all become par­a­lyzed by the fear of mutu­al destruc­tion. An armed stand­off can take many forms and is com­mon in pop cul­ture. Games and puz­zles often dis­till con­cepts and ideas into sim­ple sim­u­la­tions, so I want­ed to make an abstract puz­zle that when com­plet­ed sor­ta con­veyed a sense of equi­lib­ri­um or an uneasy peace. 

So I was drawn to the con­cept of fin­ger guns as a metaphor. I also did­n’t want to use actu­al guns in this project. That was sort of a chal­lenge for myself, to not make this about shoot­ing things or make this about overt violence. 

So the ges­ture of using your hand to mim­ic a gun is often used in harm­less or humor­ous con­texts, but it has a cer­tain pow­er. Like for exam­ple in your state of Pennsylvania, fin­ger guns were ruled that they pro­vide a reck­less provo­ca­tion, which means you can actu­al­ly be arrest­ed for using a fin­ger gun on a police­men in Pennsylvania. 

So I start­ed carv­ing the hands out of blocks of sol­id oak. And then I start­ed cre­at­ing the puz­zle. Each block is adorned with a pair of carved wood­en hands. There’s ones that are 90 degrees each from each oth­er in the cor­ners. And they’re in line on the sides. So the object of the puz­zle is to neu­tral­ize all of the fin­gers so they’re all point­ing at each oth­er and the fin­gers are basi­cal­ly can­cel­ing each oth­er out. So at that point you’ve achieved the clas­sic standoff. 

So once the puz­zle’s solved, there’s some but­tons on the front and they’re pow­ered up and they acti­vate some mech­a­nisms on the back wall. These draw­ings are an old­er pro­to­type but the con­cept is still the same. The back wall is a com­men­tary on gun cul­ture in America. The abstract­ed sim­plic­i­ty of the puz­zle gives away to more of a com­pli­cat­ed lega­cy of racism and clas­sism and cruelty. 

So when the left but­ton is pressed, a music com­po­si­tion will play. And this is a music box mech­a­nism that’s trig­gered by the loca­tions of bul­let holes from my paper tar­get. And this com­po­si­tion­s’s called Aversion Therapy,” to sort of rep­re­sent my ini­tial ambi­gu­i­ty toward firearms. And this is a good exam­ple of an acci­den­tal com­po­si­tion, sort of in the spir­it of John Cage. It’s a com­po­si­tion that’s free of the com­poser’s will. In oth­er words it’s inter­est­ing but it might not be uh…melodic.

Additionally there will be two drums, one at three beats per minute and one at forty-five beats per minute. And this will rep­re­sent the rate of fire between a Revolutionary-era mus­ket and an AR-15 respectively. 

So when the right but­ton’s pressed, a flip­book mech­a­nis­m’s acti­vat­ed and mul­ti­ple ani­ma­tions will play simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, cre­at­ing sort of a loop­ing col­lage. The ani­ma­tions rep­re­sent data about guns in the US and images asso­ci­at­ed with guns. And it’s my thought that we pri­mar­i­ly don’t talk much about the root caus­es of gun vio­lence because we haven’t allowed our­selves to col­lect the data. And so the graphs are heav­i­ly influ­enced by WEB DuBois’ data por­traits that he exhib­it­ed in Paris in 1900

And I believe the Second Amendment is not nec­es­sar­i­ly the only cause of this con­flict, but I think it’s cre­at­ed this polar­iz­ing effect on the debate. And I want­ed this to be a lit­tle over­whelm­ing. So the play­er can choose to either focus on details or the larg­er picture. 

So I’d like to con­clude this pre­sen­ta­tion with a quote from James Baldwin. He said, I love America more than any oth­er coun­try in the world and, exact­ly for this rea­son, I insist on the right to crit­i­cize her per­pet­u­al­ly.

So Standoff is about appre­ci­at­ing the spir­it of the Second Amendment while still despis­ing gun vio­lence. And it’s also about rec­on­cil­ing American mythol­o­gy with American bru­tal­i­ty. And like America itself, I think the Second Amendment can be many things at the same time. Thank you.