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01 May 2019
By Lee Walton
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Lee Walton Plays the World (On His Phone), Chess Performance in 40 Parts, 2013

Crisp-Ellert Art Museum, St. Augustine, FL




Lee Walton Plays the World (On His Phone), A Chess Performance in 40 Parts, was a solo-exhibition combining a continuously changing sculptural installation and a web-based performance.


For this exhibition, Julie Dickover and I sourced 40 different chess boards from Greensboro, NC and St. Augustine, FL. The boards and pieces were displayed, ready to play, on 40 uniformly-designed wooden tables arranged on a grid.


Using Social Chess, a mobile chess app, I activated 40 games of chess with players from around the world. Each game had a 24-hour clock in which a move must be made within 24-hours to avoid defeat. Over the course of the 4-week exhibition, I played all 40 games simultaneously from my iPhone with the intention to win them all. As an endurance piece, these games required an average of 3‐4 hours of chess each day.


The pieces of each chessboard on display were altered daily to reflect the current positioning of each game on my phone. The exhibition in Florida became a physical representation and play-by-play broadcast of gameplay from my mobile phone and, in most cases, from my couch at home.

This demonstration is in direct reference to chess masters, such as Bobby Fisher and Susan Polgar, who would compete in multiple games simultaneously against a group of players as a demonstration of brilliance. Though I am not a brilliant chess master, I raised the level of importance of each game by creating a public spectacle of my chess demonstration. I manufactured meaning in these games beyond private, insignificant gameplay while injecting the spectacle with humility and humor in my attempt to defeat all 40 players.


This work raised awareness to the ability mobile technologies have to create a false sense of social interaction. The app is called Social Chess, yet ironically, this immersive game required an intentional ignorance of the people around me. This project explored our dependence on our phones for social interaction and poses questions about the power of immersive technologies.


As part of the exhibition, I invited a Dereque Kelley, a US National Chess Master, to give a public lecture on chess theory. Kelley is the author and host of, a tutorial series of chess strategies. Intrigued by his passion, knowledge, and ability to articulate complex chess ideas, I asked Kelley to deliver his lecture as if the audience was not an “art audience, but high-level chess audience” complete with diagrams, charts, and theory. In this way, most of the audience would be experiencing the lecture as an abstract language, similar to the way a chess audience might experience abstract art. 


The art historical precedents for this piece can be found in John Cage's Changing Installation (1991-92) at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, PA and Vito Acconci’s Step Piece (1971), an endurance piece that documented and shared via postcards his daily progress with a group of select recipients.




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