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Cube-ism: Tate Artworks Get Minecraft Makeover

The original was a Fauvist view of the Thames from London Bridge - it was a trade-heavy section of the river featuring a lot of cargo ships and activity

Tate gallery group has announced Tate Worlds; a project wherein artworks are being transformed into explorable Minecraft maps.

According to Tate, “The maps allow players of Minecraft to explore a range of paintings and sculpture, undertaking various activities and challenges that relate to the themes of the artworks, or exploring how they were made. Tate has teamed up with some of Minecraft’s best known mapmakers to create these virtual artworks, offering a unique combination of art, history and adventure.” I’m not so sure.

Two maps have been released thus far each relating to cities. One is focused around Andre Derain’s The Pool Of London from 1906 and the other is built around the New York seen in Soul Of The Soulless City, a 1920 work by Christopher Nevinson.

Six more are planned for 2015 and will deal with the ideas of Play, Destruction and Fantasy.

I’m currently unable to actually explore them as I seem to be stuck in some kind of authentication loop with Mojang – I need to reset my password but it seems that in order to do so I need to upgrade my account which requires my username and password. What japes! So here are my current thoughts and I’ll get back to you with how the maps measure up if I can get them working.

The painting actually underwent a renaming which may have reflected Nevinson's increasing disaffection with New York

I’m a big fan of the idea of interpreting art in new ways and opening up different entry points for people. But what I see in these creations isn’t quite that. Minecraft is actually a tricky medium to work in because of its rigid geometry. Taking Soul Of The Soulless City, the painting is this Futurism-flavoured swoop of train track and skyscraper. There’s a sense of movement and inhuman beauty offered up by the distorted architecture which is crucial to the work. Looking at the Minecraft recreation, neither of those things is present simply because of the different limitations of the medium. Elongation and swoop aren’t qualities best expressed visually in Minecraft so they’re instantly lost.

That’s not to say I don’t think it could work in other ways. In watching the trailer Alan Lewis (tewkescape) created for Soul Of The Soulless City it looks like you can ride the railway itself so that could feasibly encourage a similar sensation of wonder and motion. There are also other activities on offer – collecting boxes of materials was the one I saw. I’m not entirely sure how that would tie in, although it might be part of a wider effort to encourage children to see art as a playful space rather than a NO RUNNING, NO TOUCHING, NO EATING gallery trip.

My main concern, then, is the linking of the two things; map and artwork. If someone enjoys the space and sensations created in the Tate Worlds offering, does that actually bear any relation to the corresponding painting or sculpture at all, especially given the aesthetic homogeneity I find Minecraft produces? The trailer and the blurb on the Tate Worlds page make Soul Of A Soulless City sound more like a trip to 1920s New York, seeing Minecraft renditions of what Nevinson would have seen, than anything explicitly relating to or opening up that particular artwork. That prompts the question of what duty (if any) a Tate Worlds creation necessarily owes to the original artwork. Perhaps this is the 2014 equivalent of being asked to tell a story based on a painting – something I remember from my own primary school gallery expeditions.

If you’re interested in exploring either of the aforementioned works, the maps are free to download via the Tate Worlds page.

Other works set for inclusion in the project during 2015 include John Singer Sargent’s Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose, Peter Blake’s The Toy Shop, John Martin’s The Destruction Of Pompeii And Herculaneum, and Cornelia Parker’s Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (one of my own favourites).

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Philippa Warr

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