Switch Chess, 2019 - Present (Eduardo Navas)

Switch Chess is a performative work of art based on chance to be played on an actual chessboard with game pieces. The game is designed so that players go back and forth randomly between positions not for the goal to win, but to understand why another person may make certain decisions based on unique circumstances, which in part they do not control.

Any two people can play the game. All that is needed is a Chess set along with a coin, which is to be flipped after each full move to decide whether to keep or to switch player positions. The instructions on how to play are very simple, and appear below.

This performative work of art is discussed in "RS (Remix Studies) + DH (Digital Humanities):Critical Reflections on Chance and Strategy for Empathy," published in The Routledge Handbook of Remix Studies and Digital Humanities

Play Switch Chess between two players based on chance by flipping a coin:

1.Flip the coin to decide who will initially play white or black.
▪ One of the players calls heads or tails when the coin is tossed.
▪ The player who wins the call decides to play white or black for the first move.

2. After each full move (one white, one black), players flip the coin again.
▪ Heads results in a switch—players reverse their positions.
▪ Tails results in no switches—players maintain their current positions.

3. Repeat 2: Players continue to flip the coin after each full move until the game is over.

Edited excerpts from the book chapter:

I grew up playing chess. I do not consider myself very good and have not played professionally, but the game continues to be a recurrent activity in my life. As an artist, Chess is a game that connects me to Marcel Duchamp, who was also an avid Chess player. Duchamp saw a lot of creative potential in the game. One of Chess’s compelling features is its basic binary formula: black or white wins; but advanced players, and certainly artistic figures such as Duchamp found aesthetic value in the moves and combinations that emerge during the game. This project dawned on me one day during the toxic reality—one that combines a biological (COVID-19) and an ideological (Racism/ethnocentrism) Pandemic—in which I wrote this chapter. I wondered if the game of Chess could be hacked so that the interest in winning would be displaced. My goal was for players not to be invested in winning from a personal position but rather to encourage them to consider multiple positions that could lead to a win by either the black or white game pieces. The idea behind this is simple: to be placed in a situation in which you must think not based on your pre-existing situation (who you are), but on the situation that you encounter unexpectedly, and have contributed to with your previous actions. Players must make the best decision for their current position in order to plan for an optimal outcome, that at the end of the game may not be for personal gain, but for that of a collective (in this case two people), both players. [...]

My overall assessment from a player’s point of view is that individuals who engage with Switch Chess need to come to terms with their preconceptions of “winning.” If the goal is not to win, what is in it for them? This question can be answered in at least two ways, depending on how Switch Chess is approached. The game could be of use for learning Chess, or it could be played as a work of art that asks people to reflect on one’s position at any one time; or, ideally, both. [...]