G is for Games — Stephanie Hessler — 2018
This text was written for the book ABC B.A. published in 2018 by Dent-de-Leone and distributed by Les presses du réel. This monograph is composed of a collection of texts and critical essays in the form of a abc-book. Based on key words, twelve art critics, curators or writers wrote a text commenting on Boris Achour’s work. The book also includes an iconographic collection offering an overview of the artist’s work.
G is for Games
“Just as the imaginary situation has to contain rules of behavior, so every game with rules contains an imaginary situation.”
— Lev Vygotsky in “Mind in Society”
In Lev Vygotsky’s founding work of constructivist psychology from 1934, Thought and Language, the relation of thought to word is established as a process, not a thing. In the continual movement back and forth between thoughts and utterances, each of these interdependent elements undergo changes as they react to one another in more or less intense ways. Thought comes into existence through words. Yet words also limit us. And more than just words, it is the space defined by social interactions in which they take shape that affects the way we think, feel and experience the world.
Language is a tool we use to make sense of the world and to negotiate meaning in communication, just as other species utter sounds and respond to a multitude of stimuli and sensorial signals. Yet, words as we use them are also deeply enmeshed in societal and social structures. Norms are embedded in words to the extent that we often don’t notice it. Whether it is their history, their connotations or their gendered bias: words are far from neutral. What’s more, changing these meanings and the way they form us and our relations to others is far from simple.
How, then, can we create new worlds, either within or transcending the limits established by the structures shaping us? While we can know no definite answer, with his work Games Whose Rules I Ignore (2014/2015) Boris Achour suggests that one way to disrupt, pause, reshuffle and change the existing order is through play.
Rather than renouncing frameworks altogether, Achour’s games set the parameters for different kinds of interaction. Their rules are construed by objects that act as what the philosopher Michel Serres calls quasi-objects. When they are used in the games, theyproduce neither object nor subject, nor are they constituted by exclusive relations. Instead, once they are activated as tools, they nurture both, object and subject, and constitute their being and relation. In the sense of Serres, a soccer ball becomes a soccer ball only if it is used by the players, constituting the latter as they kick it.
The toys in Games Whose Rules I Ignore serve to reconfigure relationships between people, be they social, emotional, physical or conceptual. The sculptures are accompanied by videos that document how the objects are put to use in play. In these fictionalized narratives, the rules of the games have already been internalized. The players know the possible moves on a board, they are familiar with the designs, the tactility of the objects, the consequences of an action. Yet, as the sculptures are exhibited alongside the videos, they gain a further dimension. They suggest a possible reappropriation and alteration of their rules and usages to create yet other sets of relations between players, between objects, and between players and objects.
In each of the six videos, Achour’s camera shows the moves in the play and homes in on the players’ faces, bringing out at times intimate and at times competitive interactions. The moving images make us assume deep psychological layers that are being acted out and at times find release in the games themselves.
Each video is different in style and focuses on a different game. In one of them, players move round shapes over a yellow board. At times they remove them, sometimes to keep them until the next round, at other times to put them back in a different place. The rules appear simple, like in a popular card game. Yet, even after watching the video several times, the exact rules still remain obscure. By denying any resolving end, the work suggests that the outcome of the game remains open to be challenged, rethought, replayed.
In another game, players interact with a rope-like shape laid out on the floor and furniture of a domestic environment. The two women measure their bodies in relation to the physical space surrounding them through the shapes and movements enabled by this tool. They combine the rope with red, blue and green half circular forms to create sculpture-like gestalts. The video ends with one of the players entangled in the rope and released by her partner at the end of the session. However, the editing and final cut suggest that this closure is only the beginning of a new round.
Yet another video shows two men moving I- and L-shaped black marble pieces across a table in a bar. We see the light reflections of a disco ball moving around the space, while muffled music is playing in the background. The men don’t talk, interacting only by moving marble cuts across the table top. What appears to be an analog version of Tetris, or a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, nevertheless follows different rules than those of the games they seem to resemble. As the title Games Whose Rules I Ignore suggests, Achour’s work looks to disregard the set parameters of existing games. In doing so, we can—perhaps—create new ones, if only to challenge them again once they appear established. Achour’s games address the relation between thought and word, language and other signifiers, normative structures and thebecoming of subjects. He points to the impossibility of entirely translating abstract ideas into oral speech, referring to the formal relationship between thought and action while creating visual forms of poetry. The work challenges not only the relation between thought and utterance, but also moves beyond any understanding of language as unidirectional. Moreover, it cuts across language as the only means by which we construct and make sense of our—multiple—worlds, imagining different possibilities for interpersonal, abstract and material spaces.
Achour’s games suggest that play can be so replete as to erupt through the borders of the possible. By imagining new games as spaces of negotiation, aided by quasi-objects as mediators, we can contrive new sensations, exchanges and conceptions, and thereby possibly detect, modify or transgress existing ones.
 Cf. Michel Serres (1982), “Theory of the Quasi-Object”, in Michel Serres, The Parasite, Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press.