Survival Games

Jody MacDonald

September 5 to 22

Vancouver artist Jody MacDonald explores social hierarchy by referencing survival games. Combining collage and drawing, this series of mixed media works on paper dissects the dynamics of social hierarchy through playful reconstructions of identity.


Survival Games 15

Artist Statement
When I was twelve years old my Grade 7 class went on a field trip to a large wooded property located outside of town to play ‘The Survival Game’.  Prior to going on the trip each student was to draw a token out of a hat.  The tokens signified different animals; the animal token we chose would determine our position in the hierarchy of nature.  The goal of the game was to try and survive the longest out in the ‘wild’.  You would ‘die’ if one of your classmates – as an animal that was your natural predator – tagged you.  The last animal standing would be the winner.

As the rules of the game were explained to the class, I fantasized being a deer, a wolf, or an eagle; something majestic…high up in the chain of command with few predators.

I drew ‘field mouse’.  My available strategies for survival were: 1) run, or, 2) hide.   It quickly became obvious that the last animal standing would be one positioned at the top of the food chain.  Those of us that chance determined to be subordinate didn’t have a prayer of survival.  As a youngster, this ‘game’ just seemed unfair.  It wasn’t until I grew older that I began to see how The Survival Game might also clearly define the parameters of social hierarchy in a human capitalist society.

For several years I have thought about the game in the context of human social existence – its regulations and fixed outcome in particular – and wondered if the rules could be improved so that no matter what token was drawn players would have equal access to alternate strategies of survival.   Survival Games illustrates a reconceiving of game rules where, during play, fixed identities begin to morph.

Costume (rabbit ears, antlers, vests, hats, rifles, blinds) equals capital and those participants with amassed wealth have a better chance of ‘survival’ (aka resisting domination) than those who do not.  Undesirable possessions (targets) demarcate those who are prey; targeted players are the most likely to be dominated and stripped of their status by others.  The new rules of the game, however, offer opportunities to acquire and shed possessions, making them less, or more, vulnerable.

All players – even hunters – have the potential to be fluidly dominant or submissive, safe or at risk.  All players – even ‘field mice’ (or in this case, rabbits) have the potential to win the game.

Ultimately, the reimagined game reveals absurdity in a social system that relies on the observance of social signifiers and posturing.


MacDonald attended the bealart program in London, ON (1986-89) where she majored in textiles and printmaking.  Continuing her studies in Vancouver, BC she focused on drawing, sculpture, performance, and installation, graduating with a diploma in Studio (ECIAD 1996), and a BFA in Visual Arts (ECU 2011).  MacDonald’s work is characterized by dark humour, multiples, and an obsessive attention to detail.