Wednesday, 16 April 2008

The morning shows little promise: a backlit, luminous grey sky towers overhead. So, to the day’s tasks –

Last night I played chess with Alec and here I document the victory. Winning matters more to I than he, but the taking part is the real aspect. Sitting in Dead Man’s Corner, drinking elderflower cordial and lukewarm coffee, inquiring every ten minutes as to the progression in each others projects, both romantic and professional.

It was Duchamp, wasn’t it, that gave up his art, his projects, for chess? Perhaps not true, but I remember it so. Did Duchamp not talk of chess being the highest form of art because it is – in the most basic form - a visual representation of human thought, but also because it, as does life, contains rules, symbolism, sign structures, competitiveness, relationships…? Is it not also true that it cannot be commercialised like art?

Endless celebrity avant-garde games were played by Duchamp, no doubt just sitting in the bar, laughing at John Cage and Man Ray as they fell into his traps. Alec and I are amateurs, which makes our game fraught with semi-disastrous mistakes. Yesterday, with a flourish, I lost my two most dominant pieces and spent the next twenty minutes parrying, eventually recuperating and seizing upon a counter-attack to force a long drawn out slaughter of his remaining, isolated pieces. Still my endgame must be improved.

Our traits are glaringly obvious; Alec hates to lose his queen, progresses too much and too quickly, does not raise support when I am on the backfoot. My faults involve predictable openings, poor defensive structures and occasional glaring lapses in concentration. There are, of course, more but he may be reading.

Despite the amateurish way we fling ourselves round the board, these are hours well spent, hours spent in near silence, calculating. The post-game analysis is just as much fun. After we finish, I eagerly recall turning points and missed opportunities, while Alec – victor or not – seeks to get away and avoid the dissection. Eventually, we both make off into the closing night mindful of the next days obligations and a restful sleep.

The chess pieces are the block alphabet which shapes thoughts; and these thoughts, although making a visual design on the chess-board, express their beauty abstractly, like a poem... I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists. (R.Mutt)