Empowering the Human Voice: Kunal Gupta on Media That Matters

by Stephanie Brown

kunal_gupta_use_this_oneAs we count down the days until Media That Matters 2014, check the CMSI blog to learn more about our #MTMDC panelists and why they engage with media that matters. 

Kunal Gupta of Baycastles and The Silent Barn will be speaking at Media That Matters 2014 on the panel Digital Games: Using persuasive play for social impact. Here is his story.

1. What do you do? How is your work breaking new ground?

Babycastles produces, or facilitates, exhibitions of independent video games.

2. How did you get where you are? What have you done in the past?

In a DIY-manner, through placemaking and volunteer participation networks.  Babycastles put a name, a mission, very little money, and pretty minimal technical assistance to a small basement section of a multi-use venue in New York, and repetitively asked the city to come in, get curious, and participate in making a culture for independent video games. As it turns out, many people in New York were immediately ready to make a place, to come in and inhabit it, contribute work to it, perform at it, write about it, get their hands on it in every way. And these people just simply kept showing up, and I feel like they always will, mostly in gratitude.   Babycastles basically gave a name, some aesthetics, and some ethical guidelines to frame the games exhibition movement, and I think it’s been all forward in New York from there.

3. What current or future projects do you want to tell us about?

After a few years of shorter term locations in Queens, Manhattan, and Brooklyn, and after exhibitions produced in partnership with worldwide institutions such as MoMA, Telfair Museums, the Museum of the Moving Image, American Museum of Natural History, Brooklyn Academy of Music, SFMOMA, Science Gallery Dublin, and La Gaité Lyrique, Babycastles is finally setting some roots down.  We are working to create a permanent independent games exhibition venue in New York City, opening as soon as May 2014.  We are currently mid-fundraising via a gallery memberships program, as well as private support.  Our opening exhibition will very likely be “Assamalualaikum Babycastles,” an exhibition of contemporary Islamic video games. Details soon!

Additionally, we are producing an exhibition of independent video games called “Art Video Games in China” at the Ace Hotel with the support of The Armory Show, which opens on March 6th and is playable 24hrs/day until March 31st.

4. What do you think makes media a powerful tool for change?

Broadcast media is an effective framework for placing boundaries on a majority of societal conversation. Changes in the ownership of any medium can set those boundaries and are substantial instruments of change, which applies to newspaper, film, books, and just about every means of communication, with ownership used loosely.  Babycastles and other video games culture development projects propose to shift the entire video game ecosystem, from authorship to audience and all points of participation in between, to an independent, local, and human level. The end goal is a diverse public agency and ownership of the medium of video games – and we have a long way to go, but it’s also pretty easy to get there.

5. Have you personally experienced a situation in which media made a positive difference? Tell us about it.

Art is a force of empowerment of the human voice. It makes an enormous difference in the artists’ lives, has an inherent community-building capacity in its celebration, and proposes a lens with which to acknowledge people in their full range of being. I see this often in hip hop projects in brooklyn. And with games, well, they’ve got a lot of joy in them to share, when a physical exhibition is built right. That joy builds bonds, and those bonds build movements, and those movements begin to do a lot for each other, together.  So media in the right context is cultural empowerment.

6. Why do you want to speak at Media That Matters?

I’m not an academic, so I’m out of the loop on much of the conversation around video games – I barely understand the terms ‘persuasive play’.  However, I have a rich, hands-on experience in both building the Babycastles exhibtion environments and in building some of the larger “DIY” cultural institutions around New York City, and I’m hoping I can speak for some of the change that’s right in front of our eyes regarding video games as an art medium.

Meet Kunal and other innovative media makers at the Media That Matters conference this February. If you haven’t signed up yet, visit the registration page.


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