Exhibition Total Refusal

Three armed video game characters climbing down a rope outside of a building in a still from Operation Jane Walk. Courtesy of Total Refusal

Thu, 03/14/2024 -
Thu, 04/25/2024

Goethe-Institut New York

Total Refusal upcycles the resources of mainstream video games to create political narratives

The Goethe-Institut New York is pleased to present the first New York institutional solo-exhibition of the filmmaking collective Total Refusal. Founded in 2018, Total Refusal upcycles the resources of mainstream video games to create political narratives in the form of videos, interventions, performances, and lectures. From March 14th through April 25th, three of Total Refusal’s films will be on view.

Join us for the opening reception on March 14th at 6pm.

Operation Jane Walk (2018)
A city tour through the architecture of an Online-Shooter Operation Jane Walk is based on the dystopian multiplayer shooter Tom Clancy’s: The Division. The game’s digital war zone is appropriated with the help of an artistic operation: Within the rules of the game’s software, the militaristic environment is being re used for a pacifistic city tour. The urban strollers avoid the combats whenever possible and become peaceful tourists of a digital world, which is a detailed replica of Midtown Manhattan. While walking through the post-apocalyptic city, issues such as architecture history, urbanism and the game developer’s interventions into the urban fabric are being discussed.

Superwonder (2021)
Superwonder is about the representation and perception of the world, mediated by the experience of contemporary video games. The starting point is the observation of digital worlds in current open-world engines that construct their cosmoses as pre-aristotelian discs. A flat map is the centre of the circling universe, which can have the form of a box (skybox), sphere (skydome) or be a dynamic, multi-layered animation (skysphere). The sprawl of information within the age of digitality also yields the dissemination of the flat earth movement. In Superwonder, avatars set out for penetrating the supposed infinity of the universe surrounding them. So the constructedness of the digital firmament becomes visible and points of contact between late capitalist, conspiracy theorist, and romanticist world experience open up

Hardly Working (2022)
Hardly Working gives priority to characters that normally fade into the background of video games: NPCs. NPCs are non-playable characters that populate hyper real worlds to create the appearance of normality. With ethnographic precision, the film observes these characters’ daily work: a rhythm composed of loops that makes them work daily and tirelessly. Their work neither results in a product, nor does it change anything about their status quo. Here, work becomes a pure performance, carried out for its own sake. NPCs perform so-called surrogate actions that generate no social benefit. These actions are performed and enforced for the sake of appearances to ensure a social order. NPCs are digital Sisyphus machines that have no perspective of breaking out of their activity loops. In the moments when the algorithm of their existence shows inconsistencies, the NPCs break out of the logic of total normality, display their own faultiness, and appear touchingly human.

Total Refusal
The artist, researcher and filmmaker collective and pseudo-marxist media guerrilla Total Refusal (Susanna Flock, Adrian Haim, Jona Kleinlein, Robin Klengel, Leonhard Müllner, Michael Stumpf) appropriates contemporary video games and writes about games and politics. They upcycle the resources of mainstream video games, creating political narrations in the form of videos, interventions, live performances, lectures and workshops. Since its foundation in 2018, their work has been awarded with more than 50 awards and honorary mentions - such as the European Film Award, Best Short Direction Award at the Locarno Film Festival, the Diagonale Film Award for the Best Short Documentary, the Contemporary Visual Arts Award of Styria, and the Vimeo Staff Pick Award. Total Refusal’s work has been screened at over 250 film and art festivals - such as Berlinale, Doc Fortnight at MoMA New York or at the Locarno Film Festival - and has been exhibited at various exhibition spaces like the Architecture Biennial Venice 2021, the HEK Basel, and Ars Electronica Linz.

Curated by: Zachary B. Feldman
Curatorial Assistance: Olivia Al-Slaiman

Exhibition hours: Monday - Thursday, 10am - 6pm