Academic journal article The Journal of Social Theory in Art Education (Online)

Casino Capers: Exploring the Aesthetics of Superfluidity

Academic journal article The Journal of Social Theory in Art Education (Online)

Casino Capers: Exploring the Aesthetics of Superfluidity

Article excerpt

with Bianne Castillo, Michael Delahunt, Laurie Eldridge, Martin Koreck

Casinos are fast becoming sites for display of new Native American (NA) Arts. In such a context, casinos re-represent themselves and their communities through various visual forms and thus change their meanings. In her study of Wisconsin casinos, Stuhr (2004) challenged art educators to consider these visual culture displays as they accommodate new markets. Art in the casino phenomenon is worth investigating and how art educators can explore and/or make sense of this phenomenon is important. Casinos are using artworks as spectacles of pleasure.

According to a casino gambling survey conducted by Harrah's Entertainment, approximately 40 million Americans played slot machines in 2003 (Rivlin, 2004). People are attracted to the glitz and the chance of winning money. Such things are phenomenal. highly sensual and impressive, and there lies the attraction. The gambling experience dates back at least to the casting of lots in the Bible. Experience always has an aesthetic component. An aesthetic experience resides not so much in a thing's appearance, as in its life-like substitutes. "In an age in which desire is inculcated even in those who have nothing to buy, the metropolis [casino] becomes the place where the superfluity of objects is converted into a value in and of itself" (Mbembe, 2004, p. 405). So what aesthetic qualities draw people to the casino?

What is a Casino?

A casino is a private establishment that provides an environment for playing games of chance, wherein successful players win money. These point-scoring games usually involve card games, a combination of matching or adding cards exposed on the table with cards in their hands. A casino however offers much more nowadays. It offers an environment in which people can converse, eat, drink coffee/alcohol, play, swim, and enjoy entertainment. Many casinos in Las Vegas, for example, also include giftshops, supermarkets, fashion boutiques, art galleries, and nightclubs. The establishment aims at the visual, gustatory, aural, and taste senses. In all, the environment appeals to all of the senses. With the 1988 passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the intervening decades have seen the rapid proliferation of regulated casino gambling and state-run lotteries in the United States. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act mandated that state governments enter into good-faith negotiations with Indian tribes seeking to operate casinos and high-stakes bingo games. Worried about municipal revenues, states allowed for the expansion of gambling in non- Indian jurisdictions including the so-called interstate games (like Powerball), with multimillion-dollar jackpots (Rizzo, 2004). Such policies thrive on the aesthetics of superfluidity that which is excessive.

Aesthetics of Superfluidity

Aesthetics is a field that incorporates many art theories: expressive, representational, formalistic, and functional, to name a few. In many ways, aesthetics deals with the sensory and emotional experience of "making special" (Dissanayake, 1988). The idea of superfluity is borrowed from Mbembe (2004), who discusses aesthetics in analyzing/interpreting the new architecture in the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. He associates superfluity "with luxury, rarity, and vanity, futility and caprice, conspicuous spectacle, and even phantasm" (p. 378). He discusses the exploitation of a mass of human material in the city. In South Africa, gold was the superfluous raw material and symbol of wealth. The rush for gold, an amazing paradox, was not as significant initially as the pursuit of coal, iron, or rubber (Arendt, 1966). Today, in other casino cultures, the rush is for "the rush itself".the blast of thrills and escapism that the atmosphere provides.

Phenomenological Gambit

This paper is a phenomenological inquiry, the study of an experience and its layered meanings (Van Manen, 1984). It is an "attempt to somehow capture a phenomenon of life in a linguistic description that is both holistic and analytical, evocative and precise, unique and universal, powerful and sensitive" (Van Manen, 1990, p. …

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