The Kartoon Kings (Simon Grennan and Christopher Sperandio), Conflict Theory, 2010. Mixed media, detail of installation.

The Kartoon Kings (Simon Grennan and Christopher Sperandio)

Ann Arbor

Slusser Gallery, University of Michigan

In this era of video games like Call of Duty, it seems that nothing is more fun than ersatz warfare. Though the high-tech incarnation is new, games that link battle with play are probably as old as human conflict. Back in 1913, pacifist H.G. Wells published Little Wars, a rule book for table-top warfare with tin solders and doll houses, in the hope that such substitute play would satisfy the growing desire for real combat in the run-up to World War I. Borrowing Wells’s idea, Simon Grennan and Christopher Sperandio have produced their own war game with the interactive installation Conflict Theory (2010).

The artists worked with University of Michigan students and Ann Arbor community members to design and build a room-sized, operable game board outfitted with replicas of campus and city buildings. Game pieces consisted of five-inch-high cast plastic figurines modeled after local residents (like “Parking-meter Guy” and “Protesting Woman”). Grennan and Sperandio also formed a “Game Committee” of volunteers to test the implications of Wells’s original regulations and modify them if necessary. Visitors to the show were invited to read these new rules, arrange their white or black figures across the gridded board, and take turns firing the missile launcher (a modified toy armament)…see the entire review in the print version of September’s magazine.