25 Andy Malone


Born Detroit, 1972 / Bachelor of  Architecture, University of Detroit / Lives in Royal Oak, Michigan

On the game board shelf in Andrew Malone’s living room, stuck in between Castle Blast and Where in Space is Carmen Sandiego?, is a nondescript wooden box containing a game of his own creation, called X+ (Ex-Cross). Players line up two-sided wooden game pieces, each embedded with the eponymous X on one side and + on the other, along the back row of a modified checkerboard. In three-movement turns, players navigate the board, trying to capture each other along diagonals for X and orthogonal for +. Each piece can, at any time in a turn, flip to alter its capacity to move. Malone used this game as an opportunity to discuss with his daughter, Julia, the opposing philosophies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and those of Malcolm X. As Malone sees it, each of these civil rights leaders was locked into a singular kind of movement, but ultimately an individual has better options when able to think flexibly.

This microcosmic example contains all the hallmarks of Malone’s artistic practice: intricately hand-crafted woodworks, kinetic movement, analog technologies, didactic games with open-ended outcomes, a thoughtful practice of viewer engagement, and deft sugar-coating to serious subjects. His work is poised between generations, using games and engineering as an outlet for an artistic practice that was both inherited from and inhibited by his father’s career as a painter, but also a tool for communication and learning with his own children. Increasingly, science recognizes the importance of games as method of developing and reinforcing neural plasticity, and Malone is endlessly engaged in a practice of leveraging their ability to change thinking, in himself and others. His current piece, Quatern (working title), acts as an attempt to disrupt Malone’s self-reported tendency for “analysis paralysis,” by having players take turns simultaneously, the action forced along by a motorized mechanism. It sits on the workbench in his home-studio—a garage replete with hanging wooden gears and clockworks stashed in the rafters, salvaged from old projects and recycled into new ones.

Malone’s pieces are all meant to be handled and played with—he does not consider his works complete until someone engages with them. Sometimes people play nicely, yielding collaborative results, such as with his Exquisite Corpse Machine (prototype 2), which enables viewers to create drawings that overlap with the work of others at the edges. Sometimes, people are not as respectful of Malone’s delicate clockworks, but he appears to accept with relatively magnanimity the occasional collateral damage of placing art in the public sphere. When the mutoscopes created for Hamtramck’s Porous Borders Festival were trashed by vandals, he re-gathered the scattered stop-motion cards to create a new, fever-dream-like narrative. In some regards, Malone sees this “collaboration” as an improvement on his own vision—though it was clearly traumatic for him to see the images a beloved neighborhood elder named Tekla disrespected.

Reconciling trauma and destruction is a primary function for several of Malone’s most powerful works. Blight Melody couches the poignancy of vacancy in Malone’s childhood Detroit neighborhood in the wistful mechanism of a music box (another lost vestige from a time of analog technologies). When engaged by the viewer, the music box plays a tinkling melody to underscore the realization that the punch-holes in the paper, which trigger the notes, represent vacant lots where homes once stood. This innocent trapping makes the dawning reality hit that much harder. Revelations of this nature are unavoidable in the context of 1967 Detroit Rebellion Chess Set, a master work which took three years to complete. Each of 32 standard chess pieces is rendered as a wooden mechanical figurine, representing the pawns and major players in this historic event, that has come to exemplify the race and class struggle in Detroit. As with much of Malone’s work, the masterful rendering and playful surfaces of this piece often lead a viewer to engage in the game before understanding its didactic content; it is this quality of hidden learning that is his profound gift, even compared to his other obvious gifts of craft, engineering, and cartooning.

Sure, Andy Malone is just playing. But his endgame is devastating.

Rosie Sharp, July 2015