Collaborative practice in virtual environments

Kelly Ewing x Alistair MacKinnon in Minecraft: An introduction

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and during isolation and lockdown, I have temporarily returned to live in my parent’s house in Northern Ireland, and my partner and fellow MAFA, Alistair MacKinnon, remains living in his parent’s house in London, England. Throughout this period, we have both found ourselves struggling with feelings of loneliness and detachment from each other, our peers, the MAFA environment and general ‘normal’ life.

During lockdown, we have both been very keen to maintain our own individual practices alongside a collaborative practice. Due to not being physically close, we were really eager to find some type of virtual environment where we could continue our collaborative work; to create together, remain in critical dialog with each other, and continue to actively create art and think critically about art-making.

Both of us enjoying online games, we decided that an online gaming environment would be the best space for us to work together virtually, due to the familiar and casual environment games provide and to explore the potential in creating digital art in non traditional contexts.

After some deliberation, we chose the ever-popular sandbox game, Minecraft. Over the course of the isolation we have been playing Minecraft together everyday, as a way to build ‘something’ creatively together and explore a virtual space. Minecraft is a sandbox game, meaning it has no predetermined storyline or end goal to the game, other than the fact that you can pretty much do or make whatever you like, however you like. At the moment we spend a lot of time on Minecraft, it’s a really fun way to have a continuous creative practice without intensive critical thinking, more-so based on fun and collaboration.

Screenshot of myself and Alistair’s avatars in Minecraft.

We like to use Minecraft primarily to build, collaborate and explore. We approach it as essentially a large, never ending, limitless virtual studio environment, in which we can create anything inside of. Recently, we have been using the space to build an excessively large mansion, covered in ugly pixelated flowers and red tinted glass. We actively collaborate on the build of the building, and argue on the specifics of colour, shape and size of the house, its furnishings, the outdoor flower and plant arrangement and how tall we want our twin indoor waterfalls to be.

Screenshot of our home in our current Minecraft world.

Screenshot of the inside of our current home in Minecraft.

Screenshot of the inside of our current home in Minecraft.

Alistair is particularly talented at actually building, having a strangely astute eye for symmetry and order. I mostly give feedback and help forage for materials for the building, and design the interior. In the beginning, i was wary of spending too much time in this type of online environment, fearing I would get too sucked in and be distracted from my normal practice and everyday life, but after playing and really enjoying the creative freedom of the game, I find myself approaching Minecraft as a virtual studio in all meaning of the word. It’s somewhere we can test ideas, experiment with materials, colours and design, play with and manipulate physics and discuss creating.

I’m not sure what the outcome of this type of project will be, but at the moment we are both just enjoying the pure fun and creative freedom of working together in this way. Above all else, its a fun way to spend time together, albeit virtually, as we usually share ideas and concepts for work we are currently creating in real life- it is a testing place, a collaborative space and a sounding board for ideas, concepts and debates. Perhaps at the end of the quarantine we will culminate this period of making in some kind of a finished ‘thing’ but maybe not. I think it will continue to grow and morph as we move through the pandemic and beyond.

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