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Is It Art

With Love + Cynicism

Binder Games

I wish to make a Binder Game. An RPG bound in some silly three ring binder, except probably not exactly that because I Do Not Like How They Feel when you open and close the rings, but something similar. Maybe like a folder or something? A thing which contains other smaller things. An assemblage of loose leaf paper that grows and evolves over time. There’s probably only one copy. Only I really know how to run it, because it’s mine. When I die you can try to piece it together like Dogs and Pigs.

Binder Games could be more connected with the notion of RPGs as a folk art. When I daydream about its historical roots as an oral tradition, the creation of “a text” becomes less and less exciting to me. I don’t need rulebooks. If there is any text to be published, let it be like Rules to the Game of Dungeon — written and shared out of a deep love for the work.

If I make a Binder Game then I don’t have to think about logistics. I can make it look pretty if I want, but that’s just for me. I don’t have to talk to a manufacturer, or ship boxes of things out of my 450 sq ft apartment. Nothing needs to be replicable, or scale with the success of my kickstarter. I can make my own little character sheets, card decks, and tokens… do I even want tokens?

Playing the game could be like a performance. I’d work with galleries, community organizations, and whoever else will pay me to run the game like a workshop. I could still get paid CARFAC rates because I am still an artist, right? Maybe I could be the next Unsettling Catan (I can’t believe this game is STILL getting press like it’s a new thing???)

This is not a game as a commercial product, but nonetheless I would also do it because it is one of the ways I can make a game and also get money to live. As a grant-funded artist I have been learning to spin my work in a way that is compelling to the Art World. I can write a grant for a Binder Game and it will be compelling to the jury because it doesn’t come in multiples and that gives it more of Benjamin’s Aura. Unless it’s multiples of prints like litho, intaglio, screen, etching, etc. Then it would be Cool in the Art World.

Here’s the thing: artists themselves are privileged as arbitrators of art. They ponder and quarrel about its porous boundaries, define disciplinary categories, and then transgress and challenge them, but they fail to realize that art, as with any other cultural product, is a genre of its own. It is a set of traditions and expectations that make art legible as a category. This is as true in a gallery of landscape canadiana as it is in dumpling making workshops, creative wayfinding, and interactive willow log installations. These projects, valued for their “creative risk,” have to appeal to other artists. It’s no secret that provincial and federal arts councils assemble jury of peers. Who better to evaluate your work than those in the field?¹

A Conversation on Canadian Art


anyways so like, one of the ways that the canadian arts scene differs from other scenes but in particular the states is that it has a specific relationship to public funding

so like as a ""practicing artist"" I can choose to pursue commercial practice and seek to make ye olde relationships with collectors or smaller commercial projects, but there is not nearly the same hunger for commercial practice here in canada as there is in the states. I think this is especially true of the west coast, which has its own set of of faux modernist aesthetics

Aside from economic factors, this is also in part because of advocacy from artist-run initiatives (the main outcome of which is the institutionalization and national recognition of the Artist Run Centre as its own category of art space)

The primary goal of these institutions was to divorce art making from the commercial sphere. This is not a new idea, but one which takes root in a specific way here

As anyone will tell you, there are long, annoying debates about art, a lot of which I remember reading and witnessing in school. I distinctly remember my ultra-feminist prof (who admitted that art as category is contested, and still hated the likes of modernist champions like clement greenberg) STILL espouse the idea that art is without function

(it's one of the rhetorical arguments against pottery and ceramics as art, which is why those who attempted to access art spaces would often puncture their vessels — eliminating the function of the work to make it palatable)

anyways I think I'm off topic. What I wanted to say was that one of the core ideas that seems to have stuck as a result of the artist-run advocacy in the canadian arts ecosystem is the divorce from commercial practice. So to be a publicly funded artist largely necessitates a noncommercial practice. And while the boundaries of the category of art has expanded, this value remains in place

as a result, I end up having to frame my games work in very particular ways, because of the industrialization of rpgs in recent years has created a suite of expectations in line with commercial values, this is one of the ways in which I feel caught between two worlds — as I do in most things

I like these slippery spaces but they are very difficult to get support in, I must say

So the idea of the binder game to me feels like it would actually be very palatable to the art world. Because even if things like printed editions of other media exist, the reproduction of games, the "kitsch" of the subject matter, and its association with commercial practice make it seem not "up to snuff" with the rest of the contemporary arts scene in a lot of ways

Okay I feel like I could keep going but I'm fucking churning out thoughts

I wanna say binder games feel a lot like the punctured pottery

of course this is not generally true, I am just thinking about how im navigating the world

(replying to punctured vessels)

Christ, this jumped out to me. I've heard similar horror stories from [REDACTED] about her time in art school, but every time I hear about this it sounds like satirical hyperbole???

Is this a brainworm from the "publicly-funded artist" set? (Not familiar with that category, because where I am that kind of contemporary fine art artist doesn't exist; overly dependent and stymied by commercial-gallery-plus-collectors) Sounds like it is a roundabout way to obfuscate a fundamentally commercial practice---in this sense that the "market" is the public funding body, and said market rewards novel and severe obfuscations that one is part of an economy ...


Another anecdote to add to [REDACTED]’s horror stories: During my graduating year I was building out a body of autobiographical work that explored the idea of glitch as trans metaphor. My exhibition space at the end of it was this vibrant pink retro-futurist bar littered with gender-fucked ephemera: a projection that plays videos of me that glitch as my body is revealed. An arcade cabinet with a twine game that gets more surreal as you play it. A makeup vanity with warped "mirrors" and a women's washroom sign I ripped off of the school's washrooms. One piece of feedback I got on the work was the suggestion that the bar stools could be sawed and the welded back together at a slight angle, both to emphasize discomfort in the space but also to make sure they were art that couldn't be reused elsewhere.

I tend to associate it with that publicly-funded category of artist but I think it's also very present in the artist-as-celebrity archetype, whose work is so lauded and sought after that they are able to make a living just by touring (and sometimes selling work to collectors, though that is rarely part of the exhibition--as though it's by happenstance). It's all the illusion of being free from the "market" but in actuality is beholden to the same forces in a different shape.

This is not lost on everyone in academia, to be clear. I remember one of my profs diagramming how a simplified cycle of commodity production might look like production > distribution > consumption > and back again, and then immediately beside it diagrammed the cycle of artistic creation as creation > presentation > reception > and back again. The same cycle by a different name, running in parallel.²


Late last year ATTI would've been part of a pretty large group show (this one, which incidentally [REDACTED] was also part of. We'd been invited as the wider ATTI project. Our final proposal was basically to have the market town from Ngelalangka on laminated instructional cards on a table with chairs: its map would be enlarged to fit a whole table; there'd be some character sheets (with character illustrations and text prompts, also laminated), with markers and tables and chairs---still a little simplistic, but giving people an idea how the medium lives in play. (I had also committed to be present in the space to run games.) And I wonder whether this is similar to the dilemma you feel about having to adjust your games work for an art world context. That transposition of games into binder form? I know for me it was about puncturing it as a packaged product specifically---this was mainly so we wouldn't be leaving art books on a table in a gallery, but "installing" it as something a little more site-specific (inasmuch as the white box is a site), a little more performed?


I am really interested in how you would have presented this work. I think games tend to occupy a pretty similar space to performance when it comes to arts spaces, although the latter is both less folk art and less industrialized, which gives it a lot less friction when entering exhibition spaces. With both performance and play, though, there's so much that's realized in the act itself where often the elements at the peripheral, by nature of "the exhibition", become works in their own.

Like when you photograph a performance and exhibit the photographs, the photos themselves become a kind of work, which kind of brings up the question: where does the performance itself fit in the gallery space, unless it can be performed right there?

RE: We Are What We Own

Last February I published a blog post that looked at the Action RPG Elden Ring and conceptual art by French artist Sophie Calle as examples of stories being unearthed through possessions absent their owners. It was one of my favourite blog posts, not because it had anything especially exciting to say, but because I probably got the most engagement out of it IRL. It seemed to capture people that I know in games and people that I know in art — fields which out here in the Pacific North West don’t intersect as much as I wish they would. Each person was attracted by the work they recognized and later intrigued by the work they didn’t. I got my friend who was in the process of knitting underwear for a project to read my musings on Elden Ring, so I consider that a success.

Inevitably, another friend of mine who read the post posed the question as to whether I felt like Elden Ring was aspiring to something more than entertainment; after all, I had just compared it to a pretty well-regarded artist whose work transgresses social and legal boundaries. The question was genuine and curious and I could tell he was trying to figure out the words to use — I don’t think he wanted to suggest it might be entertainment dismissively, but rather, that he felt he might be missing something really interesting in the work. He was trying to find the most polite way to ask: “Is it art?”

My answer was similarly delicate. I referenced art as a social category, the implications of class in the distinction, the specific western canadian context that makes that distinction have more gravity, and the historical functions (including entertainment) that art has played.

In short I was saying: “It doesn’t matter.”


  1. This is an incomplete critique of the canadian arts sector, and is in many ways is only emblematic of my experience in the pacific northwest which, as I’ve said elsewhere, is still predisposed to The White Cube in a sort of contemporary faux-modernist way. There’s quite a lot to be said about recent transformations to the Canada Arts Council’s programs and juror selection process in particular — many of which are positive and signal a more deliberate “shepherding” of the future of the arts sector. This is also one of my perennial habits of identifying biases and gaps in awareness without suggesting an alternative, largely because it is hardly responsible for me to do so. It might sound like I am making a value judgement on the state of canadian art, but I am just a troublemaker.
  2. The parallel cycles I’m referring to here are an example used to illustrate that art is commodity by a different name, and furthermore that the distinction is somewhat arbitrary (yet she also actively and knowingly upheld that distinction… a woman of contrasts). The idea of the cycles in parallel is a halfway point between two perspectives. The first being the mythos of the artist and “truly challenging work” as free from the whims of the market. The other being that the artist is actually producer of commodity, even when in this “noncommercial” context that canadian art supports.

2 thoughts on “Is It Art”

  1. You continue to astound me with your thoughts and reflections on art. Approaching the very question of what art and games can be the way you do it is thought-provoking and inspiring.

    On one hand I want you to continue testing the boundaries of your art – doing what matters to you, regardless of the views of management/arts sectors/corporations.

    On the other hand I also want everybody to get the next Caputo game, performance and book injected straight into their veins, especially seeing as how I am one of those everybody.

    Stay you, stay awesome, and hit me up with your creations of every kind!


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