Creative Time and Onassis USA were excited to have presented The Privilege of Escape, Risa Puno’s largest and most ambitious installation to date. Referencing escape rooms—immersive environments where groups solve a series of hands-on puzzles against the clock—this project distilled the complexity of privilege by placing it in context of a thrilling game. Upon arrival, attendees found themselves cast as subjects in a study conducted by a cutting-edge institute. In the experiment, groups raced against the clock to solve a series of interactive, sculptural puzzles designed by the artist that resembled popular board games.
While seemingly familiar, attendees discovered that in this adventure, the rules had changed. As the clock ticked, players had to adapt to the new conditions, unlock clues, and solve their way out of the room. Puno’s aim was to use this disarmingly playful environment to create pathways of exchange and understanding around the topic of social inequity.
The Privilege of Escape is not your average escape room.
Subverting the format of this popular group pastime, Puno constructed an experience that encouraged participants to think about how privilege functions in society – and to what end. The term “privilege” is loaded and confusing for many, often triggering strong emotions that undermine constructive conversations. Inspired by the game of life, where societal rules are often arbitrary, fixed, and unfair, The Privilege of Escape showcased Puno’s ability to introduce complex social issues through play, innovative game design, and puzzle logic.
What is an escape room?
Escape rooms are live-action games where players work together to find clues, complete puzzles, and solve their way out of a room before time runs out. To win, players must let go of assumptions and reorient their perspective in order to understand the prescribed environment. It is, at times, frustrating, exhilarating, stressful, and fun. Puno’s aim was to use the disarming environment to create pathways of exchange and understanding around complex topics, distilling them from their real world applications and placing them within the context of a thrilling game. Her ultimate hope was that the experience would make space for open-minded dialogue, and that participants would develop a fundamental understanding of what privilege is.