An exhibition about games? Sounds like fun. Except that’s where I was half wrong.
It’s not an exhibition.
“Joue le Jeu” (Play Along) at the Gaîté Lyrique describes itself as a celebration of “toutes les formes d’interaction ludique” (all forms of game-playing interaction) but denies that it is an exhibition in the strict sense of the word. Rather, it is an exploration of our relationship with leisure, leading on from last year’s “Public Domaine”, where skateboarding was the thematic du jour. The Gaîté Lyrique, known for its focus on contemporary phenomena, invites adults, children, groups and individuals to come and explore their 9500m² playground…
The idea of the game is explored in all its media. From digital to physical, the traditional to the downright trippy, even the building itself becomes part of the game. On entering the space (let’s see if I can avoid saying “exhibition”), wild shrieks of laughter, flashing lights and a concoction of different musical sounds hit you all at once from a selection of internationally-designed installations.
I was immediately drawn into my first and favourite, “Electricity comes from other planets”. Creators Fred and Nat (collectively Fred and Company), with an unexpected nod to the Velvet Underground, have created what is – in grossly simplistic terms – a human keyboard. Eight different tracks are laid on the floor, each linked to an abstract light sculpture. By walking up and down, the sound linked to that particular track changes in complexity. As more people join the other tracks, the music created evolves into a collaborative soundtrack and each sculpture reacts visually with gradiated patterns.
The space is organised over four levels. Whether this was part of an unadvertised treasure-hunt or the result of an awkwardly- designed layout, it was tricky working out where to go next. At -1, where Fred and Company are to be found, there is also a darkly-lit arcade, with a selection of conventional and conceptual video games, a collection of motion-based installations, the “chambre sonore” and “The Building is”, a game running throughout the building involving a scorecard and various challenges.
Back up the stairs, turning the corner, past the most extreme hopscotch course I’ve ever seen, up more stairs, and the experience takes a kooky turn. “Meowton” is a surrealist installation, a miniature feline-themed town. A stand-out piece was “The Cat in the Coup”, a cat mosque by Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad, which you have to enter on all fours. Once inside, playing the documentary videogame involves batting a ball on a string, trying to knock objects off shelves on the screen in front of you.
Back down to the second floor (perhaps it was just me doing things in the wrong order) takes you to two further games, and to where the Gaîté Lyrique reveals her history. A stunning 18th century foyer gives off the main space with enormous windows and an elegant bar at the far end with seating for people recovering from playtime.
Overall, “Joue le Jeu” is whimsical, contemporary and a fun experience for all ages and backgrounds. There are some brilliant pieces which explore the relationship between play, art and space in an intelligent and often beautiful way. If there is one criticism I would give, it would be a lack of continuity, both in the physical and conceptual sense. There was so much going on that it was overwhelming at times. That being said, especially for a group of friends, I highly recommend this exhibition (there, I had to say it).