She didn’t even want to play, really she didn’t. (That’s why she made the boy cry.)
I was totally set up for failure. Not only had every man who had already gone up against this chess player earlier in the evening faced miserable defeat, but I was told this young man, a Computer Science Engineering Masters student at UCLA, was literally unbeatable. I didn’t even want to play, really I didn’t. Yet somehow, last Thursday night, Daniel Lara’s chess set seemed more appealing than a game of corn hole (woodwork and hand-knit beanbags courtesy of David Bell…or was it Anthony Bodlovic?).
I was still feeling a bit on edge from the performances that happened earlier in the evening at JB Jurve (some of which never seemed to end but rather continue ambiguously in an uncomfortable in-between of performance and reality). Trying to recover from the image of Noah Spindler in pink flared pants and a baby-blue rhinestone hoodie, blasting top-40 songs over a shitty PA system bought specifically for the occasion, a rigged chili-cook-off, and the stress of watching “Chad” deliver a “press conference” after running 30 miles in an overly-ambitious initiative to charm all the gallery owners on the East Side in a mere afternoon, I somehow found myself agreeing to give chess with this young man a try.
The game did not begin well. He had already taken one of my bishops and my knights, and all I had was one of his pawns. As we played, Chess Master X’s friends circled me drunkenly, offering prophecies of failure disguised as words of encouragement (“don’t worry, he beats everyone,” or, “dude, he kicked my ass much faster than he’s kicking yours!”) One or two of them came up and offered me strategies for winning. I recall someone saying somewhat condescendingly, “with this guy all you can do is play offense. He’s too good for you to try to win.” However, I ignored the advice and maintained my focus. Although I hadn’t played a game of chess for years, it was a pleasant distraction from some of the typical artist conversations that I prefer to avoid, such as discussions on the subjects of banality and abjection (I still don’t know what that word really means) and simulacral pacifiers and how obviously easy it is to die hair in the pattern of a rainbow, or how unsexy sex really is, when you start to think about it…
And I suppose the truth is I didn’t expect to win. I was just trying to pay attention to what was happening in front of me, and in an instant the power shifted. In what must have been a moment of overconfidence, my competitor left his queen unguarded, and just like that, I took his most powerful player. For a second I almost felt guilty because he was so upset. Tugging on his hair anxiously, he tried to regain his composure, but from there, it was only three more quick moves until I had him in what I initially thought was just check but, as my poor competitor was forced to point out to me, was actually a full-fledged checkmate. Oops.
My sort-of-accidental victory spread quickly throughout the gallery space and almost instantly all of his friends had gathered around to observe their friend’s defeat, and marvel at “the Asian chick” who seemed like such an unlikely victor. Yet there I was, a winner, and there he was, running off to the bathroom to weep (I kid you not) over his loss. David Bell was so proud he offered to frame the drawing that was produced from my win (hard to explain if you haven’t seen Daniel’s piece, which is programmed to move a pen on a piece of paper each time a piece moves in any direction across the chess board…see photo attached). And David, who never takes photos unless it is of something completely unsentimental like a bathroom floor or a poster of a missing cat, snapped several pictures that night of the game and told me he would keep them as a reminder of my “perseverance.”
To me, I had simply won a game of chess, but David and Noah and the rest of the people who witnessed the game insisted that something truly monumental happened that night – in fact, Daniel Lara himself messaged me just this evening to inquire about this “epic” (his words, not mine) game, and Geoff Tuck apparently was so impressed that he invited me to write this piece about my experience. I find it hilarious that all of these men seem to be so extraordinarily fascinated with the concept of me winning this game. I don’t know…I guess I just really like that I made a boy cry.