Mackenzie’s unknown 13th Floor

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A Flickr screencap of a Minecraft set up that is not nearly as cool and artful as the ones you’ll see in the Ender Gallery. Minecraft via Flickr

Digital gallery features multiple exhibits of art made in Minecraft

As COVID has affected our daily lives, it has also obviously affected the way we view art. Going to art galleries is much more difficult and, consequently, art galleries have been forced to adjust. Online events and exhibits have allowed people to view art from home safely.

Regina’s own Mackenzie Art Gallery has an online exhibit called the 13th Floor, which is “located somewhere in between physical and virtual presence” according to the gallery’s website. It is full of possibilities, combining the experience of being at a gallery with the potential of online creation. The 13th Floor has eight exhibits currently available to view on their website. Some are simply images curated uniquely with the online space, while others are reflections or extensions of pieces at the Mackenzie Art Gallery – what fascinated me the most was the Ender Gallery.

The Ender Gallery exists within the game of Minecraft, a game that was released in 2011 and has been steadily growing in popularity since. It’s become the best-selling video game of all time.

The Mackenzie Art Gallery allowed anyone from the public to apply for an artist residency within the Ender Gallery, and if accepted, an artist would have their Minecraft project featured for two months. The Mackenzie was specifically looking for exhibits to explore “Indigenous sovereignty, storytelling, simulation, colonialism, alternative economies, materiality, fandom, and digital ontologies.”

The Ender Gallery has included the exhibit How to be an artist in Minecraft by Huidi Xiang, documenting the process of creating in real life through Minecraft. It was used to show the labour that goes into being an artist through the medium of Minecraft. It has included “Odanak – At the Village” by Simon M. Benedict. Benedict’s work in the gallery was about how non-Indigenous depicted Indigenous people in media.

The Ender Gallery also includes a project by Cat Haines entitled (g)Ender Gallery, which uses a combination of different mediums to explore gender. All of this was done solely in Minecraft. The latest exhibit of the Ender Gallery, A Minecraft Ride Towards World Border by Travess Smalley, will be closing on January 15. Smalley’s work took the textures pre-existing within Minecraft and replaced them with text. This replacement allows the land of Minecraft to become poetry. The closing event of A Minecraft Ride Towards World Border will be live streamed, so you don’t need to own a copy of Minecraft to enjoy it. Each exhibit has had its own opening event, except How to be an artist in Minecraft, and they are all available on the Ender Gallery website.

While the Ender Gallery is an overall unique experience and it allows artists to explore new mediums and ideas through Minecraft, I found a few issues with it, starting with the Mackenzie Art Gallery’s website. You’re unable to right-click to open the link in a new tab. I found this incredibly frustrating while I was trying to navigate the 13th Floor. Instead of opening up the exhibit in a new tab so I could easily access another exhibit afterwards, I remained on the same tab. While it will show at the top of the site the path you took to reach the page you are on, those buttons are unclickable. It tricked me several times. I thought I could click the button to go back. I couldn’t.

Only some of the 13th Floor exhibits have easy ways to back out. The Multiple Lives of Drawings has a small M with a back arrow in the top left signifying that’s how to move back, but even then, it didn’t work all the time. The Ender Gallery pages had no such button. The Ender Gallery website itself that the Mackenzie Art Gallery links to is difficult to read. All the text is the same font as Minecraft, which is thematic, but the blocky text is close together and I struggled to read it. Moreover, it’s not on a solid background, it’s on a low opacity black backing with clouds behind that, poking through the backing. The white clouds with the white close-together text made reading the information about the exhibits difficult. 

Overall, the Ender Gallery is a really interesting idea, and using Minecraft, a very popular game especially during COVID, brings a new medium that’s quite appealing to a younger audience. I recommend the 13th Floor, found at mackenzie.art/experience/13th-floor, as a good way to experience quality art with artist insights while staying safe at home.

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