Playing someone else’s game

Student’s video installation studies the underworld of Warhammer

Ayaz Kamani, who began playing Warhammer last year, has created media-based art inspired by the game and its underground, basement culture.
Ayaz Kamani, who began playing Warhammer last year, has created media-based art inspired by the game and its underground, basement culture.

The table-top role-playing game, Warhammer 40000, can be won and lost on the value of honour points, earned by killing enemies who were once good but have since become rebellious traiters.

The game—which is played using tiny metal figurines of soldiers and fantasy characters—and the morals and themes that it operates on, are at the centre of Ayaz Kamani’s time-based media installation, Someone Else’s Scene, which opens in the State of Flux room at Modern Fuel on Wednesday.

Though the themes in Kamani’s installations are different, his focus on the gallery space in which the art is viewed comes from the same perspective. Rather than interacting with a sterile gallery space, Kamani said he wants viewers to feel comfortable so they can thoughtfully consider the work.

“Sometimes you want people to figure it out, so that it’s not so obvious. So I make it into a room, and put in a table and a chair and make it smell a little bit like coffee or maybe have a garbage can and some garbage,” he said. “When it’s a video, you want to sit down. It’s all like you’ve got to play with people’s attention spans.”

That emphasis on comfort was in action on the night Kamani showed me a version of the installation. Sitting on his living room couch, shirt unbuttoned, the fine arts student was candid about his feelings while making the video.

Kamani, ArtSci ’08, got his start in the Warhammer community just last year. Though he remembers thinking it was cool when he was a kid, he didn’t get into it until walking past Nexus, a gaming and comic store on Bagot Street, one day and walking out with his first tactical squad of tiny metal figures.

“It’s such an interesting way of passing life,” he said. “It really is a way of life rather then just a hobby.” Once he had learned how to play, Kamani began attending game nights with other Warhammer players in someone’s basement outside of Kingston. The basement setting, he said, added to the feeling that there was something significant about the game and the people who were playing.

“It’s always kept in a basement,” he said. “It kind of adds to the vibe. You’re down there playing strategy. It’s like a glorified World War Two spy movie.”

Entering the Warhammer community with camera in hand, Kamani was welcomed as one of their own. While working on Someone Else’s Scene, he began to question his right to document a community that he doesn’t identify as his own. The video opens with a shot of a sign that reads, “Smile, You’re on Camera.” One gets the feeling that the sign isn’t meant for the viewer so much as it is Kamani’s disclaimer for what follows.

What follows is a black screen with a voiceover. Here Kamani is exploring and trying to understand his own power as an artist.

“I can make people sound stupid,” he said.

The film is a collage of images: Warhammer games in progress; construction work being done; other, unidentifiable images; voice-over interviews and clips of speech by Warhammer enthusiasts and someone speaking about a live action, role-playing game that used to be popular in Kingston.

The video engages quite a bit with the idea of role playing, another form of fantasy and sci-fi alternative entertainment that’s linked with Warhammer. The video is divided into chapters, named for races and characters from the game, each beginning with a shot of a suit of armour that is being further assembled with each chapter.

The last one, “Chapter Ayaz Kamani” shows Kamani in the suit and helmet, walking stiffly and talking to the camera. He goes outside, takes off the helmet and lights a cigarette. He leans back and drags on the cigarette, slowly exhaling, juxtaposing the man with the war device he’s wearing.

“Part of the project was role-playing,” he said. “Like taking the culture home with me and looking in the mirror, and thinking about what I got from it, how I manifested that stuff—all that glorification and fetishizing.”

The armour itself was created by Kamani, who sewed pieces of construction pylons onto hockey pads with steel wire, and then painted the whole thing black. It’s modeled after a race from the game, the Space Marines, who are originally humanoids. Once they put on the suit of armour, however, the suit fuses with their body, creating a war machine.

“The suit just binds with your body,” Kamani said. “That’s what the game’s all about: man, machine, human error.”

Some of that seems to ring familiar in Kamani’s own ears.

“That’s video for you. It’s so frustrating having to deal with a machine,” he said. “That’s the thing with video: it’s always second best.”

Maybe Kamani’s not so far removed from the world of Warhammer as he thinks.

Someone Else’s Scene opens on Wednesday in the State of Flux room at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre. There will be a reception at the gallery on Thursday at 7 p.m.

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