Fotograf Magazine

Urszula Kluz-Knopek

PlayDead.info as an Iconoclastic Great Adventure

The Polish artist Urszula Kluz-Knopek invites everyone to play a very special online game about our own death, funeral and fears connected with the thought of dying. The aim of this text is to draw attention to the visual dimensions of this project, analyzing the strategy of using photography and creating iconoclastic collages.

According to J.K. Rowling, “After all, to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.” What about those people whose minds are not well-organized? The Polish artist Urszula Kluz-Knopek invites everyone to play a very special online game about our own death, funeral and fears connected with the thought of dying. The aim of this text is to draw attention to the visual dimensions of this project, analyzing the strategy of using photography and creating iconoclastic collages.

Kluz-Knopek introduces herself as an artist who is interested in the oppressiveness of popular culture, which she views as promoting eternal youth and physical beauty, the disavowal of death from one’s consciousness and the fear of the circumstances of dying. In the description of the game, we read: “We have been attacked with hundreds of images of death, both real ones coming from reportage, everyday news, and the fake ones that spill out of the cine- ma screens”. Despite this large amount of images of death, we are still unable to accept that people, as with all other living beings, experience birth, development and then death. Kluz-Knopek’s artwork, created in the form of an online interactive and participatory game, invites us to tame our death-related fears by arranging our own funeral party and in this way bringing back this social event which has largely disappeared from our consciousness since the second half of the twentieth century.

The interface of playdead.info is extremely simple and gives everyone the possibility to upload an image of herself/ himself and make her/his own in ‘effigy’. There are a number of options for different types of players: those who are more creative and those who would like to rely on randomness. If we upload our own photos, we can use tools such as ‘fire’, ‘pin’, ‘medusa’, ‘disease’, ‘pimple’ or ‘random’ to modify our appearance. Kluz-Knopek has created an opportunity to make a special kind of collage that shows our face in the context of vulnerability, fragility, ugliness and illness. We receive certain tools which are able to change our images and visualize the processes connected with dying and death. It stands in sharp contrast to many ubiquitous beauty apps which are so common and trendy at present. David Freedberg, the author of the acclaimed book “The Power of Images”, would argue that we are invited by Kluz-Knopek to create a masochistic act of iconoclasm because we attack our own images with the help of these tools. We can cover our faces and bodies with pimples and traces of disease, hurt them with pins or even burn them. Freedberg would also say that in the case of playdead. info, the aesthetic response is based on a radical disjunction between the reality of this game and reality itself, and that it involves the repression of emotional reactions in which the distinction between the virtual world and life is ignored. By playing this game, which involves certain visual strategies that change our uploaded photos, we become iconoclasts and tame the fear of our own death. The iconoclastic images shared by the players show deconstructed faces and bodies as a result of acts of individual violence.

The game playdead.info thereby provides us with many illuminating insights into a neglected topic like death, which has been displaced from our reality. Kluz-Knopek’s project makes us aware of the paradox of our times: we are still afraid of death although we have been attacked with hundreds of images of it. It fuses desires for mental changes and the dismantling of the dominant cultural values with computer gaming. The Polish artist achieves this on the basis of the interactive use of photography, which can be perceived as the next great adventure in investigating the human condition. And these powerful images are not easily forgotten even when the game is over. They are mind-altering tools for expanding our social consciousness concerning being mortal.

Marta Smolińska


URSZULA KLUZ-KNOPEK visual artist, writer, Ph.D. in arts, and a bachelor of computer science. In her work, she takes up problems related to the relationship between nature and culture, the oppressiveness of popular culture, and the perception of natural death in the context of virtual life. She also deals with design- oriented user problems and needs and runs her own graphic studio – Studio Bakłażan.

MARTA SMOLIŃSKA is a Polish art historian, art critic and freelance curator of many exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. She is professor at the University of the Arts in Poznań.

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