John Klima


The Great Game


Visitors to the site initially see the map as it was on Oct. 7. Every minute or so, though, it automatically advances a day, eventually arriving at the present. Over time the digital skies fill with blue bombers, and the green Taliban strongholds within the country's red-limned borders vanish. More significant, the map is in 3-D, which means that viewers, as they witness this history unfold, can actively change their perspective. What they cannot do is control the action; all they can do is watch it as it occurs. As Mr. Klima said, "You can't actually play the game."


{Matthew Mirapaul, A War Game (Sort of), but You Canít Control the Action, The New York Times, Nov. 26th, 2001}




The title refers to a diplomatic, political, and military "side-show" which has taken place in that region from recorded history onward and which reached its (literary) cynosure during the XIXth Century as the British Empire alternately combined or skirmished with other European powers to prevent Czarist Russia from acquiring ice-free ports (and so threatening British hegemony on a global scale) -- however all major powers of the day were involved, including China.The "Great Game" itself more specifically refers to the intelligence and espionage component of this struggle and has been immortalized in many of the works of Rudyard Kipling and other writers of the period.Indeed this is how the current conflict has been presented in the West, supposedly a short, sharp military action designed to topple the Taliban from power and thus allow for Western special forces to root out the Al Qa'ida terrorist network and its purported head, Osama bin Laden.


In selecting this textual figure (the war in Afghanistan), Klima returns to a trope now receiving long overdue attention, one he has long advocated and already demonstrated his mastery over:computer games.People are dying, millions (if not billions) of dollars worth of the Western arsenal is being expended and yet, when this data is presented to the user/viewer thru a computer, what is it... what does it become?The signifiers which tell us that this is other than a game, other than an amusement or pastime, are things we must supply ourselves.The partial news-blackout surrounding the campaign, so disappointing to the mass-media audience who found in the Gulf War of a decade ago a sort of amped-up remote fireworks display, leaves little information beyond the organically valueless ciphers Klima employs by way of the icons used to convey information on the progress of the war.So it is given to the user/viewer to take those icons (the information is updated on a daily basis) and make the crucial critical determinations which separate "sign" from "symbol".



Anyone who has played a few strategy games on a computer will have learned how such programs make use of icons and how they are employed as the signage germane to game-play.Yet icons are also used in military briefings and there they are not signs at all but potent and perhaps fragile symbols -- of human life, of vast amounts of money, perhaps of political will itself.This war will not be televised as all wars the US has fought since Viet Nam have been.Though the technology now exists to allow live streaming "battle-cams" accessible by anyone with a computer, none will be employed for "reasons of security" (valid in theory, indeterminate in practice).So it is left to us to experience Klima's "The Great Game" and see that the map is called "the game board" and understand that the icons are said to be "pieces" and muse yet again (as we are called to do whenever we see Klima's work) on the nature of mediation, on what we gain by it and what it costs us... on how "real" reality itself has become through nothing more than the various agencies of its representation.


{excerpt from exhibition notes by Blackhawk, from Shrink to Fit, NYC, October, 2001}



John Klima is represented by Postmasters Gallery, NYC. His work was recently included in the Whitney Biennial, 2002 as well as in the Whitney Museum's "Bit Streams" exhibition, 2001.