At art exhibitions, the general rule is to look but not touch — and certainly not pick up.
But “The Weight of Privilege Game,” on view as part of South Puget Sound Community College’s Art Faculty and Staff Exhibition, is meant to be played.
The ceramic game, created by studio technician and teacher Nicole Gugliotti in collaboration with fellow artist Mac McCusker of Durham, N.C., includes scales and game pieces labeled with privileged statuses — “white,” “male” and “middle class,” for example.
Instructions with the game invite gallery visitors to play against one another, with both placing the pieces that reflect their privileges on their sides of the scale. “The player who has amassed the most stones wins,” according to the instructions.
“I am a pretty conventional white woman, and Mac is a white trans man,” Gugliotti told The Olympian. “Certain parts of our identities make us targets, but we both walk through the world with white skin, which confers a ton of privilege. We wanted to make a piece that examines the privileges we have in a way that was kind of fun.”
Placing the appropriate clay pieces — there are 10 for each player — on the scale takes only a minute or two, but seeing that the other player has a larger pile has a surprising impact.
“The Weight of Privilege,” rendered in all-white clay, was intended to start conversations, and it does: What’s the definition of “middle class”? What does it mean to be “thin” — and does it mean something different for males than for females?
“If you’re in a position of privilege, it’s easy to move through the world and not ask certain questions,” gallery manager Sean Barnes said after playing the game himself.
“Sometimes looking at art can be a very passive activity, but with this project, you’re looking at yourself and comparing yourself to another player,” he said. “It’s semantic, but it changes your perspective.
“That’s what I love about socially engaged art,” he added. “It can do things that painting, sculptures and performance can’t. With paintings and sculptures, you are a step removed.”
With socially engaged work, “the audience is necessary to complete the work,” said Gugliotti, who co-founded the national Socially Engaged Craft Collective, which aims to raise awareness of interactive work.
The show includes another of her pieces, “Things That Shouldn’t Need To Be Said,” a series of wall-hung pieces, each bearing a proclamation such as “Keep families together.” This piece doesn’t have an obvious component of engagement, but during the closing reception, it will.
“I’ll have ceramic buttons, so people can make their own buttons of things that shouldn’t need to be said but obviously do,” she said.
SPSCC Art Faculty and Staff Exhibition
- What: This exhibition of work by the art department faculty and staff includes photography, drawing, painting and sculpture.
- When: On view through Sept. 27, when it closes with a reception from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The gallery is open from noon to 6 p.m. weekdays.
- Where: The Gallery at the Minnaert Center for the Arts, South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Road SW, Olympia
The artists: The show has work by Sean Barnes, Joe Batt, Liza Brenner, Colleen Gallagher, Nicole Gugliotti, Lisa Mellinger, Dan Meuse, Edgar Smith, Jane Stone and Bruce Thompson.
- More information: 360-596-5527, spscc.edu/gallery