It all started at Carlos Seveso’s Workshop, our Art Professor at IENBA. As students, we have been asked to choose an artist whose work captivated us in terms of concept or style and then, to produce an original and personal art project based on our research and interpretation of his/her work. We’ve chosen Marcel Duchamp, challenging but fun…

Duchamp was fascinated by chess. He considered chess a mechanic sculpture where people could build wonderful problems to be solved, a kind of beauty created with mind and hands. He would follow moves using flat chess pieces on chessboards painted or hung vertically on his studio walls. He even adapted a standard pocket chess set the size of a wallet, sticking tiny flat red and black celluloid chess pieces created by himself.

In fact, since he had presumedly retired from art in 1923, Duchamp devoted ten years of his life to playing at professional championships and in 1925, the Fédération Française des Échecs conferred him the title of Chess Master. By 1933 he had already competed in twenty four international tournaments winning the championship in Hyères in 1928. He was a member of the French national team in four Chess Olympic Games and in 1932 he stood in for the world champion Alekhine on behalf of the Féderation Internationale des Échecs. In 1933 he devoted himself  to different kinds of “non retinal” chess games such as telegraphic chess, phone chess and correspondence chess. Crazy, isn´t it?

So, astonished by all these facts about Duchamp’s biography we started to explore the idea of an audible chess table able to produce a sound each time a piece is moved and…Oh!! It had already been created!!!!  We didn´t know it then, but it didn’t take long to discover that it had been Duchamp himself and also John Cage who had the idea of performing a chess concert at an event called Reunion which took place at the Ryerson Theatre March 5, 1968 in Toronto.

The event consisted of John Cage and Duchamp having a game using an electronic chess board especially designed and built by Lowell Cross. The board was equipped with contact microphones and each move triggered a wide range of amplified electronic sounds plus some oscilloscopic images on television screens visible to the audience. Apparently, the event has been a real bore and it has also been said that Cage was really bad at chess. Duchamp conceded some advantage nevertheless, he couldn´t help beating his opponent.

Upon learning all this, we started to feel a bit disappointed… Were we going to do something that had already been done by someone else? After some consideration, we found it was a perfect idea for our course objectives. Moreover,  those talks and workshops on tangible surfaces and Reactable at Daniel Argente’s Physical Computing courses motivated us to explore and do some deeper research. We loved the idea of using “ready mades” -found objects chosen and presented out of their original context and designated as art– used as chess pieces. There’s still a lot more to tell about our audible chess project but for the moment, we’ll stop here…

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