A Witty Installation Artist Is Recreating Famous Artworks Inside the Wildly Popular ‘Animal Crossing’ Video Game and It’s Kind of Amazing

Check out video-game recreations of Spiral Jetty, Urban Light, and the Artist Is Present.

Shing Yin Khor recreated Marina Abramoviç's seminal performance piece The Artist Is Present in their Animal Crossing museum. Screenshot courtesy of the artist.

Nintendo’s new game Animal Crossing: New Horizons has become a sensation in the social-distancing era. The latest installment of the long-running series, which casts the player as the lone human character on an island filled with anthropomorphic animals, dropped March 20—and has exploded in popularity since then. (Think of it like the Sims, except with lower stakes and cuter animals.)

But in addition to serving as a much-needed distraction, the game has also become an unlikely venue for an innovative art project. Installation artist Shing Yin Khor has drawn droves of admirers by replicating famous artworks inside the game.

Shing Yin Khor recreated Christo and Jeanne Claude's installation artwork <em>Umbrellas</em> in her <em>Animal Crossing</em> museum. Screenshot courtesy of her artist.

Shing Yin Khor recreated Christo and Jeanne Claude’s installation artwork Umbrellas in their Animal Crossing museum. Screenshot courtesy of the artist.

The best part? You can visit this virtual museum of knock-offs yourself, logging on to see the artist’s versions of Robert Smithson’s famed Land Art masterpiece Spiral Jetty, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Umbrellas, and other works of art. (The gaming site Polygon first reported on Khor’s project.)

Before the era of self-isolation began, Khor had never played Animal Crossing. But it has offered a momentary escape from the stresses of real life. “I don’t think it could have come at a better time,” the artist told Artnet News in an email.

The inspiration for the tongue-in-cheek digital art project was simple. Animal Crossing already had a natural history museum (it’s run by a sleepy owl named Blathers). Feeling competitive, the artist tweeted on March 28, “Imma gonna build MoMA.”

Shing Yin Khor recreated Robert Smithson's Land Art piece <em>Spiral Jetty</em> in her <em>Animal Crossing</em> museum. Screenshot courtesy of her artist.

Shing Yin Khor recreated Robert Smithson’s Land Art piece Spiral Jetty in their Animal Crossing museum. Screenshot courtesy of the artist.

The execution required some creative thinking. “Animal Crossing only has very limited customization and interaction options, so there are significant restrictions on which art pieces can actually be replicated within the game,” Khor said. “It is more of a conceptual exercise than a technical design one.”

The artworks “on view” include a text piece inspired by Barbara Kruger’s Untitled, which, instead of “your body is a battleground,” reads, “your turnips are a battleground.” Khor is also slowly building a version of Chris Burden’s famous Urban Light —a process that will take a while because streetlights are expensive to collect in the game.

But the hit of the show was undoubtedly Khor’s recreation of Marina Abramoviç’s seminal performance piece The Artist Is Present. After the artist tweeted out an invitation for followers to enter their private world, the artist’s avatar sat for an hour at a table across from an empty chair, welcoming the public to perhaps the most unique art experience of all the new virtual offerings launched in the last few weeks.

The experimental performance, as it were, had its challenges—”Animal Crossing’s travel system does not make it easy for large volumes of people trying to visit,” Khor cautioned—but the artist still had an overwhelmingly positive response. “People love it,” Khor said. “Animal Crossing is an inherently fun and social game, so… joy happens, as designed.”

“I think The Artist is Present in Animal Crossing especially resonated with people in this particular time where we are so isolated from other people,” Khor said. Indeed, most museums are closed, including MoMA, the piece’s original setting. But, like at MoMA, the one-to-one experience (albeit through avatars) stirred real emotion. “Lots of people said that the experience was surprisingly emotional.… The simple act of sitting in a chair and staring at another person without speaking is still a moving experience, even if mediated by the internet and a video game.”

“But also, it’s funny,” Knor added. “I’m glad I got to put a silly goof out into the world and made people laugh.”

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