In a small artist run space in Berlin, grown people throw yellow foam balls at one another and create sculptures from crates while wearing bananas on their heads. This event, an open-ended game called Paradise Now where human beings are pawns following a list of abstract instructions for points, is the creation of Baltimore-based artist and publisher Kimi Hanauer.
This is the third iteration of the game, which first appeared three years ago at Penthouse Gallery, a space Hanauer was running in Baltimore. “When it started it was super open, and people didn’t know what to do. There was a rolling podium and five unlocked players who were actually performers,” she explains to The Creators Project.
In its current iteration, Paradise Now runs something like this: there are two players, player one and player two. Participants can choose whichever side they’d like to be on, and there can be an infinite number of people on either side. Participants follow a scoring system which is written on the wall and outlined in the game manual, but this can be added to and creatively interpreted. Players have 60 minutes to score points, and keep tabs accordingly. With audio artists creating a soundtrack in the background, chaos ensues.
As large groups of people on either side follow the same instructions without enforcement or supervision, interpretations of these rules speak volumes. Hanauer says watching how people use Paradise Now as a platform to express themselves, whether aggressively or sensitively, is what makes the project such an interesting and beautiful thing.
“It was about trying to reveal the different conditions in how we navigate spaces, this is a more intense version of it because you’re being told you’re allowed to do all this stuff. You can see moments, you can see people who feel more entitled to things, different ways of navigating the space and different levels of sensitivity, even though everybody is following the same score in the same game,” she explains.
The game’s title, Paradise Now, was inspired by a movie of the same name, which follows two Palestinian soon-to-be suicide bombers’ lives. The film humanizes these characters, who otherwise would be viewed as heroes or villains, by highlighting the benign aspects of their lives: Girlfriends, breakups, dinner plans, technical difficulties. The things we all experience, no matter whose side we’re on. This movie and the lore around it summarizes the intent behind Hanauer’s game.
The film, written and directed by Nazareth-born filmmaker Hany Abbu-Assad, was actually shot in Nablus just off the West Bank. Hanauer cites an interview Abbu-Assad did with The Telegraph on this detail as one of the game’s inspirations. While shooting the film, the location manager was abducted, there was gunfire, missiles were frequently released on the area, and tanks roamed the film site. Abu-Assad concludes the stress he put on himself, his crew, and his family was not worth it. “It's not worth endangering your life for a movie," he says.
Hanauer, born in Tel-Aviv herself, thinks this speaks to a larger, more desperate attitude she feels hangs over the art community there. “There’s this artist narrative, the whole dumb thing of people being like ‘My art is everything. I’d die for my art,’ all this bullshit. And here’s this situation with this movie where the filmmaker is like ‘Fuck this, I almost died.’ How can that narrative exist when there’s all this crazy shit going on?”
Paradise Now, the game where grown people write on walls and throw foam fruit at one another, is less for art than it is for humanity. Much like the movie namesake, it focuses on the person-to-person interactions in a chaotic world, not the winners and losers. Strangers build sculptures, place banana skin crowns on the heads of their lovers, and write notes in the corner. Says Hanauer, “I think galleries are kind of stupid sometimes and not so fun, why not play a game instead and fuck around? If I were to describe what this is, it would be seriously fucking around.”