Larry and Debby Kline artists and provocateurs – installation, performances, and other works

The Game at Hand

The Game at Hand

“This Game traveled from 2004-2008 around the country creating all kinds of responses from anger to humor, at times entertaining and poignant, when two strangers sat down to talk and play.”  - Pasadena / San Gabriel Valley News Journal

“We wanted to give people the feeling of the confusion associated with war.  The most remarkable aspect is that while we documented dozens of games, only one individual intentionally cheated.   Essentially they had to trust their opponent in order to play the game to fruition.  The piece brings together disparate cultures on common ground – the field of war.”  - The North County Times

“Duchamp would have loved this piece!” - David Antin (writer/artist)

“This is some spectacular shit!”  - Chess player (San Francisco) from The Game at Hand video


The game of chess has always been a metaphor for conflict and war. The Game at Hand addresses America’s current global conflicts, and is a poignant commentary on US involvement in both hot and cold wars in the Middle East.  At a distance, this piece appears to be simply a beautifully hand-made chess set.  Closer inspection, however, reveals the futility of this game.  As viewers are encouraged to play, it becomes evident that the game cannot be conducted fairly even with the most conscientious of intentions.  Once engaged, players become quickly confused; the player controlling the US side of the board cannot adequately strategize and the opponent will eventually violate the rules of the game either knowingly or unknowingly.

The most striking feature of this set is the phalanx of burka-clad figures.  Their presence can be  understood in many ways.  The obvious observation is that they appear to be unarmed.  Does this speak of the slaughter of innocents?   Perhaps, however, a cynic might believe these to be combatants in disguise.


How does one determine one’s enemies and how does one determine rank amidst disguises?  Perhaps the burka-clad figure’s lack of individuality speaks of the need to stereotype and dehumanize one’s enemies.  The viewer then becomes aware that the American footsoldiers also lack individuality. The reality of war is that military strategists cannot afford to mourn the loss of individuals.

Replacing one of the traditional bishops on the American side is a figure modeled after Rabbi Sandy Sasso, one of the first ordained female rabbis in Jewish history.  Her presence on the board as a spiritual leader addresses issues of women’s rights and American opportunity.  It is also a reminder that although many religious sects in America now allow the ordination of women, many of these advances have been made only in the past few decades.

player The Game at Hand encourages cultural dialogue and gives permission to openly discuss deeply-rooted fears.  Recently exhibited at the Cross Cultural Center at University of California, San Diego, the work led to many hours of discussion among university students and visitors.  The piece brought together disparate cultures on an unusual but common ground – the playing field of war.

The Klines were awarded a grant from the Gunk Foundation in 2004.  The grant will assist the Klines in travelling this piece to major metropolitan cities across the nation where the public will attempt to play The Game at Hand.  The Game at Hand has been installed and filmed on the campus of Arizona State University during the week of the 2004 Presidential Debates.  The work has also been installed in San Francisco at Market and Fifth Streets, a location famous for street chess matches and was featured at the United States Chess Championships in 2006.  Participants are being videotaped as part of the permanent record of the piece.  The film will be offered for sale at when completed.

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©  Larry and Debby Kline 2002

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