2016: The Year in Review Artists News

Inside GameAugur, Artist Edward Shenk’s Mystical Sports Betting Service

Close up from Edward Shenk's piece Divination Chart I: Cardinals @ Panthers 10/30/16 (2016, giclee and tarot cards on watercolor paper, handmade psychometric familiars, tamper-evident identification tags)

Detail of Edward Shenk’s piece Divination Chart I: Cardinals @ Panthers 10/30/16, 2016, giclee and tarot cards on watercolor paper, handmade psychometric familiars, tamper-evident identification tags.


Last year, the artist Edward Shenk was dining at an “uninspired Irish restaurant” in Long Island City when he made an observation. He spotted around a dozen men “all looking down at the tables, clearly preoccupied with something, many of them referencing spreadsheets. Some scribing,” Shenk told me over email. He soon realized he was witnessing a fantasy football draft. He was intrigued. “There was something ceremonial and mystic about it. Like a séance with more paperwork,” he said, comparing the scene to a session of Dungeons and Dragons or Magic: The Gathering. “The whole vibe was very occult,” he continued, noting “the great geek-jock crossover potential.”

This revelation is at the heart of Shenk’s latest project, the website GameAugur, which, using tarot, astrology, numerology, and other spiritual methods, attempts to pick winners for NFL football games. Over email, Shenk broke down how picks are calculated.

Let’s say the Cowboys are playing the bills on October 27.

Referencing the astrological compatibility (synastry) between a given team and a game day is the first step. First the astrological data for the teams is referenced. Every team in the NFL has a franchise DOB and therefore has a birth chart just like a person. The Cowboys are an Aquarius, Taurus rising, with moon in Aquarius, the Bills are Scorpio, Capricorn rising with moon in Virgo. Each team’s 3 signs, sun, moon, and ascendant, are then cross-referenced with the corresponding astrological data for the date and place of the game–our game day example is October 27, 2016 in Buffalo, NY.  At that time the sun will be in Scorpio, the moon in libra, and Capricorn is ascending.

Sun signs are the most well-known, they designate the overall personality of the team. Moon signs speak to the subconscious and hardwiring. The rising sign describes how one is viewed by the outside world and speaks more to the dynamic of interaction. This Astro data is used in the weighting of certain card significances during the tarot read (next step).

An invocation is read aloud while clasping two handmade psychometric stand-ins for the teams. These take the form of bead lizards. Currently my favorite invocation is this one I found written by a child on reddit.

A tarot reading is then performed. Two decks. Four cards each corresponding to the four quarters of a football game. Synthesizing the meaning of the four gives a picture of the general arch of the team’s gameplay. The Astro data informs the significance of certain cards over others. (Every one of the 78 cards in a tarot deck has astrological associations.)

Kabbalarian numerological data culled from team birth dates and name factor into score determination. I won’t go into that here.

Finally, the strength of the super-forecast is weighed against the sportsbooks. The rest is secret.

At the time of our interview, Shenk’s success rate rested at 54 percent on the moneyline (betting just on victory) and 56.45 percent against the spread (betting for a win by a minimum number of points). “55 percent is considered very good,” Shenk said. His subscriber base is small but growing. The artist told me he stopped counting after 50. Prices range from $169 for a full-season pass, which provides the user with the picks for every game of the 2016 NFL season, to $12 for a full natal report on the NFL player of your choice. (“Learn their strengths & weaknesses, affinities & problem areas, and see how their chart aligns with the current season,” the website promises.) In terms of legality, the artist told me he got the go-ahead to proceed from his lawyer.

According to Shenk, the website’s design was inspired by “several small-time, non-mobile-friendly sports picks sites … Sites that haven’t changed their layout since 2005 but want to seem relevant so they throw in some emojis.” The photos used for the free picks section are supposed to feel “somewhere between eBay photos and forensic crime-scene documentation.” The final result is a combination of sports, mysticism, and dated internet aesthetics that would feel mysterious if stumbled upon with no context.

“I wanted to create a seemingly plausible startup around which a body of artworks would evolve,” Shenk explained, speaking to the larger goals of the project. One secondary work derived from GameAugur is a dense digital print that focuses on one matchup: the Carolina Panthers versus the Arizona Cardinals. To the uninitiated, it might look a bit like the kind of graphic that conspiracy theory enthusiasts would create. In another image Shenk sent me, the ancient symbol known as the Tree of Life was assigned football positions.

“GameAugur emulates a trend I’m going to call Big DIY—the marketability of the niche, the artisan. Everyone is a ‘creative.’ The consumer is a ‘creative,’ ” Shenk explained, going on to mention the startup Blue Apron, who will “curate some weird dinner for you, send it to your doorstep, but then you do the cooking part so you feel like you have some ‘creative’ agency, and things aren’t so corporate and evil and faceless,” he continued. “It’s audience as screenwriter.”

Shenk has a history making work that explores fan participation strategies. His King of the Hill fan art project (made in collaboration with the artist Victor Vaughn) was at once dark, funny, and rich with narrative, creating mise-en-scènes that transcended their one-liner conceit through sheer force of imagination.

GameAugur pulls off a related trick using the culture of fantasy sports, which over the years has evolved from niche hobby to billion-dollar industry, perhaps cumulating in the recent internet-based development known as “daily fantasy,” in which participants can play short-term contests that are closer to what laymen might register as straight-up gambling. The two main daily fantasy websites—FanDuel and Draft Kings—have been under constant legal scrutiny, and recently announced a merger.

Although GameAuger is for now focused on picks, Shenk said that he wanted to expand next season. “Right now it’s only me and I have more work than I can handle,” he said. As we look toward the Super Bowl, I asked him in a text message if he had any thoughts on the outcome. “I know who will win Super Bowl LI,” he told me, before adding, in a new text, “Subscribers only.”

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