Anthony Montuori's retro-style video games might be called the art of losing. In one, you're the legendary Sisyphus failing to lift a boulder to the top of an 8-bit mountain. In the Mario Bros.–style Ragz, you hop along ledges trying to collect coins. Unfortunately, Montuori notes, "All the coins are placed where, if you try to get them, you'll die, or you can't get them." In Debtris, you play a version of Tetris to earn minimum wage toward paying off crushing student loan debt (beginning at what he says is his personal total: around $80,000).
Intended as jokes inspired by the 26-year-old Jamaica Plain artist's own life, they resonate with the frustrations of Great Recession America. "I'm not that pessimistic about the world and about life," says Montuori, whose newest game, in which you can work a virtual shift at his day job as "visitor assistant" at the Institute for Contemporary Art, debuts October 27 in the group show "Ask Me" (all the contributors are ICA visitor assistants) at the Howard Art Project. "I just think that these things are realities, and they're kind of depressing, but I really want to make fun of them. I want to poke some fun at the seriousness of it all. I think that's what makes art kind of cool. . . . You can make fun of an existential crisis or debt or futility. And it's okay, for, like, five minutes."
Montuori had been making conceptual gags — toilet paper for handling "dense concepts" or a puzzle depicting relational-aesthetics thinker Nicolas Bourriaud — until he signed up for an intro-to-programming class at the Museum School (he got his MFA in May 2012).
"I've been playing video games since I was five," he says. "And when I went to college, it was beat out of me: 'That's not an acceptable or viable form of art. You can't work in that medium. It's entertainment. It's not interesting.' It took eight years [of college] to get there, but right in the last semester, I was like, 'Wait a minute. This is what I want. I think there is something in this.' Having some conviction about it and just admitting, yep, I'm a geek, this is what I do. I play video games. I love video games. I'm entrenched in the culture, and I'm going to do that as an artist."
"ASK ME" :: Howard Art Project :: 1486 Dorchester Ave, Boston :: October 27–November 11
: Museum And Gallery
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