What Does It Take to Be Number One?: Rutherford Chang Is Playing Tetris Live on Rhizome’s Website, Aiming for Supremacy

Rutherford Chang Game Boy Tetris RHIZOME/NEW MUSEUM

The game.


This week (it started Sunday and is ending Thursday), the artist Rutherford Chang will be live-streaming his playing of Game Boy Tetris on Rhizome’s website, presented in tandem with the New Museum and broadcast via the gaming platform Twitch. The daily—between noon and 1 p.m. (EST)—is an extension of an ongoing Tetris-based project by the artist’s, which is thoroughly documented on the website

Chang is currently the number two Game Boy Tetris (points) player on the Internet, according to Twingalaxies, the scorekeeper of record. During his week streaming on Rhizome, he could potentially become number one. Chang told me he looks at the act as an ever-developing performance piece. “Everyone growing up in the ’80s and ’90s is familiar with this really simple language and knows how it works,” Chang said in a phone interview. “Basically I’m just obsessing over it and doing it over and over and seeing it through that lens.”

Game Boy Tetris has long had an enduring counter-cultural presence. I remember one artist from my hometown who used to take mushrooms and play it upside down. Chang noted that “another interesting thing about the game is you can never win.” No matter how good you are at Tetris, you are going to eventually die. To Chang, it’s all about “having as much perfection as possible in that time” and “making as much order out of the random chaos.”

Past Chang works have included a project dedicated to buying and displaying (in real life and on Instagram) copies of The Beatles’ White Album (he currently has 1,368) and an alphabetical catalogue of every hedcut published by the Wall Street Journal in 2008. He told me that over the past couple of days he’s played some good games and some bad games. When I asked him, sportswriter style, if he thought he was going to break the record, he wasn’t sure. “I’m trying, but I really don’t know,” he told me.

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