While most of us can’t say that our claim to fame is beating Steve Wozniak at something, Rutherford Chang ’02 has achieved this distinction. As a Guardian article last month reported, he’s the second best Tetris player in the world – four places ahead of Wozniak with a high score of 614,094.
But Chang doesn’t play Tetris for mere procrastinating pleasure; as a visual and performance artist, he views the strategy of Tetris as mirroring the corporate workplace where repetition and competition dominate (as he told The Guardian): “Every 10 lines you complete, you advance one level and the pieces fall faster,” he says. “Eventually they fall so fast that you can’t keep up and you die… You can’t ever beat the game. It’s about squeezing in as much perfection as possible in this limited time before your inevitable death.”
If his Tetris skills and creative capitalist critique weren’t enough, Chang made news back in 2013 as the primary collector of first pressings of The Beatles’s The White Album. His installation “We Buy White Albums” displayed 100 of the staggering 1,394 copies he now owns. I decided I’d have to investigate Chang’s awesomeness further so I hit him up for a quick chat about Tetris, The White Album, and his art. Hit the jump for our interview on all things Rutherford.
Wesleying: Why do you think Tetris was the best game to use as a metaphor to explain the specialized competition inherent in capitalism?
Rutherford Chang: It seems that careers these days are built by performing and perfecting specialized tasks again and again. Focusing entirely on the microcosm of Game Boy Tetris, an archaically simple yet infinite universe that we are all familiar with as way of passing time, distills the reality and absurdity of this concept of achievement.
W: When did you first play Game Boy Tetris? Were you always so good at it?
RC: I got a Game Boy when it came out in 1989, but I don’t remember my scores from back then. I started recording my games in 2013 and continue to live stream all my performances on Twitch. An archive of every recorded game is available at gameboytetris.com. If you want to be notified when I am live streaming, follow me on Twitch or Twitter.
W: You’re also very interested in your art with rearranging or arranging things to find maybe their true or hidden meaning. Do you think that the subjects you work on, the newspaper article piece for example, are chaotic in their natural state?
RC: All cultural products have histories and layers of meaning. Sometime by breaking down or transforming familiar language, we can see more than expected.
W: What’s your favorite Beatles album for real though?
RC: I suppose owning 1,394 copies of “The White Album” qualifies it to be my favorite Beatles album, though I don’t really consider myself a Beatles freak, in the traditional sense, but rather interested in the phenomenon of Beatles. I’m still expanding my White Album collection and you can follow my progress on Instagram.
W: Why do you like tackling the “impossible task” as you put it? What drives these pursuits?
RC: Putting together non-sensical collections or attempting futile tasks are just ways to look at our surroundings is new ways. I guess someone has to do it.