Luka Gallery is an artistic and curatorial collective from Poznań (Poland) existing since 2017. On occasion, but not because of the pandemic, the group has started and is currently rapidly developing a complex curatorial activity set online in the popular game Minecraft. The new gallery branch is called Luka 5G. Its activity is planned for many months or even several years. The authors are interested in the processual nature of activities related to art and the creative reformulation of well-known exhibitive forms. This unique, unprecedented space is governed by specific, clear rules that the authors of the initiative associate with the atomistic model of the world. We talk to the content coordinators: Julianna Kulczyńska, curator, MA student in Curating and Theory of Art at the University of Arts in Poznań, and Jakub Kosecki, artist and curator, a graduate of Intermedia and MA student in Curating and Theories of Art at the University of Arts in Poznań. Other members: Alicja Mielczarek, Nikodem Biegowski, Olga Truszkowska, Wiktor Gruszka, and Mikołaj Torz.
Dobrosława: What is Luka 5G?
Julianna: The easiest way is to recall how it all started. We decided to undertake a gallery project together during the pandemic, although the Luka Gallery collective was already thinking about some Minecraft-related activities before. We decided that we would launch such a place, the Luka 5G server, and we felt that it was somehow an “art instance” for us.
Jakub: Luka 5G is a platform for art, for artistic activity. I find the concept of a gallery and exhibitions problematic. I perceive it as more of a linguistic custom, a habit, and not the heart of the matter. We meet on the Luka 5G server, we carry out an art program in the form of exhibitions and concerts, but at the same time, there are works created or activities taking place. To sum it up, a certain kind of artistic practice is conducted by various people on the server. It’s also a place that you can join and co-create with us with appropriate hardware resources. The ease of connecting with us is one of the goals we pursue.
Dobrosława: What more could you say about the Minecraft game itself?
Julianna: Luka 5G is a space for art, as part of the activity that Jakub talked about. Regarding the statement that we organize exhibitions and concerts on the server – we use these titles for communication purposes, but these events are actually broader and more diverse. Concerts may resemble exhibitions, and exhibitions, through their sound elements, resemble concerts. Minecraft’s capabilities are so vast that it’s fluid.
Jakub: The world of Minecraft itself doesn’t contain exceptionally complex narratives. This world isn’t defined, except that the blocks that it’s composed of are referring to reality in a sense. People rent servers where they build, wage wars, or simulate social life. Minecraft works outside of servers. You can buy or set up your server on your physical equipment. The world has been generated on our server, through the game is ours as a whole. In the case of the Luka 5G server, there is no question of buying the world, its terrains, fragments. More specifically, the server itself has an internal engine coming from the game, it’s a permutation of the Minecraft world, so every action requires the use of an interface. This world is built on very specific and consistent rules, where we can interact with its elements. Each atom of this world, each block, can be removed or moved. It’s a “sandbox game” – its content is modal for the user. We neither win nor lose, we rather test the game’s possibilities. We use this sandbox in the context of “fun with the art world”, or you could say that we perceive the art world as such fun. This is the main point of this game. We could change its look to a more authentic one, but Minecraft is all about these bricks, so it will never be this realistic. This game isn’t about pretending to be the reality at all, but about adopting a convention that the world is homogeneous and consists of cube-shaped atoms. It can be said that Minecraft presents a specific philosophical model of the world. It’s not a direct model, it presents one concept – the world consists of cubes shaped grains, which are dependent on us – the subjects. We decided that we can act artistically here. This is our interpretation.
Julianna: Making the game’s world similar to the physical reality is, however, also possible in Minecraft. Building a white cube with white walls, floor, and ceiling, and uploading a photo of the work (there’s an option to add external files) is possible, and the interior of the game may pretty much resemble reality. However, it’s less interesting this way. Even if Minecraft strives for reality, it’s always a bit of a mockery.
Jakub: I remember how people reacted to Minecraft when it was still a novelty. It was seen as a naive interpretation of reality, without understanding what the game was about at its core. Minecraft, if it’s a game of something, is a game with the philosophical assumption that everything is made of cubes. If we try to look at it as a one-to-one simulation of reality as if we wanted to make it a game goal, then we’d have to put it differently – what happens here is our experience, just like in the real world.
Julianna: Only that it’s realistic. Jakub: Maybe even real.
Julianna: With more visually realistic games, you have to break the barrier of a typical perception of this object, how you usually think, and how it’s talked about. With such flexible matter, it’s simpler, more open, and brings more equality to the table.
Jakub: We are used to a given way of using things and we fit into it because it’s convenient. By creating a white cube here, we build it with the perfection that cannot be achieved in physical reality, we’re giving it perfect dimensions and location. We play with information and images. There’s a perfect cube in this Minecraft world – in ours, there isn’t. The perfect white cube that we build is an accurate visualization of what a white cube is supposed to be. We thought so and created one at the beginning. Now, if we are building a white cube or we want to use it, it’s because this world has such a strong assumption, objects interact with each other, there’s a light programmed in this world in such a way that a perfectly white environment can simply be handy for us to show something at the moment. This is not a convention that we use. I think that the idea of the white cube had such a lineage – it was about abstracting objects, associating this space with a blank sheet of paper or with order – but the assumption that a white background is an actual abstraction also eats itself up from the inside.
Dobrosława: Could you indicate the most important thing that distinguishes this space from other gallery options, both real and virtual?
Julianna: For me, it’s distinguished by the egalitarianism of use. Anyone can log in to the server, and, although we are forced to block certain key blocks and areas, everyone who logs in can build something or comment. It’s not like art galleries that most people perceive as exclusive and strange situations. It’s also not a gallery in Second Life where you first have to buy something to be able to build.
Jakub: The most important feature of LUKA 5G is its interactivity. I’m probably talking about the same thing Julianna mentioned, just looking at it from a different perspective. In our gallery, a group of people could band together, login, run far to a place we have no idea about, and start building their own space or even define it as their own. Second Life is the most exploited game in terms of the conventionality of online galleries that simulate social reality instead of opening up and creating new opportunities. The world of Minecraft, due to the coherence of the rules of its functioning, is an alternative, it allows doing something new, instead of posing or imitating something that already exists.
Dobrosława: Was the creation of the server a result of a pandemic?
Jakub: We thought about it before, but the pandemic simply created a situation where we had the capacity and few external factors could have distracted us from working on it. Getting started with the project required sitting in front of the computer, and the forced stay at home was beneficial to it. Julianna: Lockdown has allowed us to focus our efforts on a larger project. We found time to write an application and now we are financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage (“Networking Culture” program – “Kultura w sieci”), so we have the funds to run the Luka 5G project.
Dobrosława: The world of Minecraft feels quite stable and predictable. In the era of continental fires, melting glaciers, pandemics, this is a world where we can finally feel safe, it gives us a sense of control. How do you relate and can we generalize your attitude for an entire generation?
Jakub: In my practice on the server, I often catch myself burning trees or blowing up holes. Recently, on the occasion of the exhibition Interface Mantra with the artist Agata Konarska, we blew a huge hole through the whole world with dynamite. The next example may be less direct, but some time ago I flooded the forest with lava to see it burn. Functioning among the internal references of this world makes you feel very safe because everything can be overwritten, you can reverse the consequences of your actions. I think a lot of people who never played Minecraft behave like they are doing just that, with a similar interface to accountability for their actions. Games today often show the naivety of both the older generations and the younger ones. Julianna: I don’t like to generalize. It seems to me that this supposed sense of control is quite deceptive. In case there is no electricity, our work on the Luka 5G isn’t possible. In the context of our generation, I think the server is a kind of showcase. With this project, we illustrate a bit of what happens in the context of internet activities. After the project, we’ll leave our trace in the form of screenshots or server saves.
Dobrosława: I think these are also attempts to take control of your life. Whatever you do, you never die.
Julianna: For me, it’s much more attractive to test those kid’s dream possibilities of flying, jumping, teleporting, and water elevators. It’s about breaking the laws of physics. This gives you an even greater sense of agency.
Jakub: This is the question of whether death or a threat to life is meant to be a touchstone of change, or the experience itself should be. It seems to me that experience is gathered here on other levels than in the so-called real life.
Dobrosława: Why did you say “so-called” real life?
Jakub: Because I don’t perceive the virtual world as something separate from the real, physical world. This game is not an illustration. Perhaps in this sense, Minecraft differs most from both Second Life and many galleries or institutions that function physically that create some kind of image. I think that the Luka 5G server, potentially, like any other servers, set up for any other purpose, and the way the world works in Minecraft, how it’s randomly generated, in such a way that you can explore it and not find the end of this world, its limits, for a long, long time, still discovering new places. I think that this place is much more processual and participatory in interaction than a typical model of art reception, in which we go to a gallery to see an exhibition or take part in a performance. This, of course, is due to economic conditions, but also because of the mindset. For example, I was looking for such forms of activities outside of Minecraft. I conceptualize and test this form of spending time as a matter of art – I go with my friends to the forest and build installations from found elements there. This is also the form of art or culture-creating practice that I am looking for. Here, this freedom is realized and requires a certain technical background, but not so large in the world scale compared to others, taking into account poverty or natural disasters.
Dobrosława: For me, the notion of reality is often blurry too, but I’m curious what you mean by putting these two worlds on an equal footing.
Jakub: I feel that it has its materiality. All these processes that take place inside the computer or server are visualized on the screen. It’s an arrangement of objects, and the object has never really been material. It can be defined in various ways. The object can be a block or an entire island. Not to undermine the very matter of which it’s made, or the matter of which galleries and works of art are made, I see it as an even plane. I don’t notice a hierarchy between these entities. Usage is critical.
Julianna: The object itself is just a concept.
Jakub: For me, language is virtual. What is happening, the very fact that there is a process going on, that we can interact with it, that we can look at it in an instant, walk away, then come back and see that it’s continuous, is an evidence that this world has the same properties as the laws of nature, the laws of physics. So the process evidences life. This is how I perceive it, how it seems to me. It doesn’t matter what it looks like or how big it is. It just happens elsewhere, that’s how this place looks like. We are here, and that is there. Everything has its place and time. It’s a matter of the point of view. We have power over it, that’s how we see it, but it can also be reversed. These are just the limits of our perception. It seems to me that the question of the superiority of one type of matter or process over another, which we can abstract from the rest, is just a fetish. But also, of course, an echo of the history of civilization, humanity, for which this new world is still a new phenomenon. Games, as a commercial industry, are 40 years old. Sandbox games have been functioning more actively since 2009. Earlier games had a 2D view, the former platform games were even more limited in terms of spatial relationships. The world of Minecraft is written on the xyz axis.
Dobrosława: What are your plans for the future?
Julianna: We’re at the beginning. Ministerial financing lasts until the end of September, but we plan to get further support. With every event we organize, there are new perspectives and ways of implementation that we cannot always delve into as much as we would like, due to deadlines. I would like to continue working on this project as long as possible. There is still a lot to be discovered.
Jakub: We, in a sense, impose on ourselves a certain implementation time with this program, and, at the same time, we test how quickly something can be done, and what we imagine is possible to implement. Since entering this world is an entrance to some principle of functioning, it can be perceived as a philosophical basis, but also as a formal one.In the next stages, we would like to invite more artists to cooperate.
Julianna: Playing with the convention of transferring typical patterns, i.e. exhibitions, concerts, performances, if we were thinking about translating subsequent ones, the vision of a residence, for example, which puts even more emphasis on the process, is very attractive to me. The topic is very broad.
Dobrosława: You can practically redefine everything you knew so far.
Jakub: Yes. It happens because we throw a well- known convention, such as an exhibition, into a world that is so internally coherent, where these cube-shaped blocks pass through all of this reality. In a sense, we disenchant common forms, such as the functioning of an institution. When it comes to plans, we also thought about intergenerational cooperation, we want to invite older artists. We know that Paweł Althamer used Minecraft, he was building something with his sons. He displayed some Minecraft constructions on the screen, during the exhibition. We want these actions to happen in Minecraft, and to provide their continuity, maybe even create a local subculture. We are talking about a situation where anyone can go in and out at any time. So far, art has occasionally used Minecraft but hasn’t operated in its reality. Participation is essential for our idea. For now, we radiate our activity outside, e.g. on streamings that are watched by others. Still not so many people enter the server, but that’s ahead, we’ll make it happen. We are working on technical solutions that will make it easier for recipients to reach us.
Julianna: We are currently developing models of operation because we believe Minecraft is so easy and accessible to play that it’s possible for an artist who hasn’t had contact with it to start doing something on this platform. That’s why I think that the plans to invite older artists or curators are realizable.
Dobrosława: You are both students of the University of Arts in Poznań. Have you consulted the idea with university professors? My question concerns both the relationship of academic structures with the latest media and the relationship vs. independence of students from the university.
Julianna: No, this activity isn’t connected to the university. At the university, new technologies are much more often talked about than used.
Jakub: We invite the community of our university to participate, and their reactions to what we are doing are rather positive. Apart from the university grounds, we consulted the curator Jagna Domżalska to a small extent. Minecraft is a place that has its own fairly stable rules, which is why I think it can be an interesting ground for intergenerational communication – it creates a stable context that sort of does it for us. We don’t have to open up too much or build a new context for someone to understand us. We meet on the “hard ground” where others come to the existing situation.
Dobrosława: And your more personal plans for the future?
Julianna: I’m currently testing the waters. I was on internships in various institutions in Poland, I am also planning to do so abroad. I’m checking what model of work interests me. I’m curious about activities related to the market but not enough to abandon independent projects such as the Luka 5G.
Jakub: Recently, I have been interested in cooperatives in the context of art and the art market, in the context of how galleries function, in what relationships they are with artists. I am looking for a grassroots platform that does not create a border between the gallery owner and the artist, between the art consumer and the artist. Besides, I continue my artistic activities, both visual and musical.