Gabriel Massan & Collaborators. Third World: The Bottom Dimension
Serpentine North Gallery, Jun-Oct 2023
Moved by curiosity as much as ignorance (as I don’t know much about digital games), I went to see the exhibition Third World: The Bottom Dimension, hoping to learn about this experimental project conceptualised by multi-hyphenate artist Gabriel Massan and his collaborators Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro, Novíssimo Edgar, Lyzza, Jota Mombaça and Ventura Profana at Serpentine Gallery North. Confronted with the competing influences of colonialism, capitalism and queerness, as well as the Black Brazilian experience, Third World provokes and challenges you to rethink and reflect on how you can understand and orientate yourself in relation to difference, otherness and – indeed, strangeness.
Digital artists have created, through gaming, a new way of telling stories. Massan, who has always been attracted to the subversive potential of storytelling to instigate new meanings, believes this medium clearly holds huge potential.
Third World: The Bottom Dimension provides an opportunity to experience a multi-level, single-player PC game played in a site-specific space and incorporates digital tokens powered by Tezos. By minting “memories” (players’ personal actions during the game) on a blockchain, players contribute to a public archive of game perspectives.
The game has no maps for players to follow, this being an objective depiction of reality. There is a purpose to this, with Massan challenging the player to: stop to listen, hear to see and then choose. Creating their own map in the process.
The virtual ecosystem animated with Gabriel Massan’s sculptures has had its environments, different levels of play and soundscapes created by Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro, Novissimo Edgar and Lyzza. On the other hand, Igba Tingbo and Sofo provide the game environments simulating South American biomes with craters, caves, gorges and deserts changeable at each level. Players navigate different dimensions, timescales, languages and geographies, considering ideas of transformation as they do so.
Funfun and Buburu are characters with their own stories, and through choices, you learn how to survive. Have you seen everything appearing every time your character dies in the game? “Keep on living, transform the things you find necessary and thank you for making me a vehicle for your temperature…” Intrigued by the game text, I asked translator Andriana Francisco to talk about her experience. “In 2022, I contributed as the English-Portuguese translator for Gabriel Massan & Collaborator’s Third World at the Serpentine. Right from the start, it was clear that the artists understood the timeless power of storytelling. The script not only deals with complex issues such as violence, inequality, and the environment but also offers a reassuring sense of hope. The visuals within the game are undeniably beautiful and thought-provoking, but what struck me most was the narrative balance between encouraging us to embrace transformation – both body and mind – and grounding us through language and memory.”
Inside of the game invades the outside space via Furmaan Ahmed set design Lyzza’s multichannel sound installation, lights and video images all on a 45’ loop. Sculptures juxtapose the futuristic and the arcane and expose the ancestral identity of Brazilian African Diaspora culture. Ventura Profana’s 2020-Advanced Sentinel, Immortal Guard also questions the role of the church in her practice. Novissimo Edgar painting Tapestries represents the characters in the game. The masks are a strong popular clay tradition representing familiar faces displayed in the representational form for Exu (spirit in Afro-Brazilian Quimbanda). Yet, it is Jota’s Mombaça’s work projected on the wall that says it all.
Maria Herminia Donato to London Art Walk