I will go to the Calle Libre festival in Vienna to present Nyxxx’ Tactical Meditations August 9-12th.
I decided to talk under the title “Another body is possible / There is no body B.” This title paraphrases two slogans from the globalisation movement. I guess I set out to think about how these movements has influenced live action roleplaying.
The first one of these phrases – ”Another world is possible”, is connected to the late 90:ths and early millennial anti-capitalist, social movements that haunted the international meetings of financial capitalism – the World bank, World economic forum, European Union, G8 et c.
The second one ”There is no planet B” is connected to the climate justice movement and has been a mobilizing rhetoric in relation to the climate meetings such as COP 15 in Copenhagen, COP21 in Paris et c.
My speculative thesis is that we can understand or explore the role of the body through the imaginary structures of these political movements. And I will talk specifically about the role of the body within the context of Nordic live action role-playing, also known as larp.
The relationship to these social movements influenced the formation and development of Nordic larp. Larp was embedded in the counter-culture of late 90:ths. Many of the writers and organizers of larp were involved in anarchist and feminist organizations and initiatives, but also in occult circles.
So what did it mean that ”Another world is (or was?) possible”? I propose to go back to 1999 to answer that question. Someone has claimed that it was our generations 1968 and to me that makes sense. It was the year when The Battle of Seattle happened – a massive protest against the World trade organization. The feeling that capitalism had won on walk over against any other kind of political system was challenged. There was actually conflict again over where to go next. Everybody did not agree that free market global capitalism was the shit. And now post-2008 financial crisis it is pretty clear that the critique of these institutions was quite accurate.
In the cultural field of ’99 the movie The Matrix came out and proposed a radical constructivist view on reality. Reality was seen as a collective illusion, controlled by artificial intelligence, but this system could be challenged. In Denmark von Trier did The Idiots, in which a group of anti-bourgeois adults move into a house to seek their “inner idiot”, and thereby get over their social inhibitions. They basically form a larp where they act as if they were developmentally disabled, then they take their new selves to the public sphere to see what happens. These are two very different movies, but together they touch on some kind of zeitgeist. There are other movies that could be mentioned here, such as Cameron’s Strange days, Cronenberg’s eXistenZ and Fincher’s Fight Club.
At the same time, in the Nordic countries, the experimental larp scene had just formed. And by experimental I mean that it didn’t follow the genre conventions of fantasy literature. So if the cry of the global left was ”Another world is possible”. The response from larpers was – Yes! And we can show you how it is done. We can construct new worlds, new realities, new social modes of being. It was not that important exactly what these new worlds consisted of. It was the fact that they could be created. This mode was, in the radical larp scene, formulated as ”War on Reality”, making escapism into a kind of tool for resistance.
It might have to do with that I was 15 years of old at the time but I really had the sense that we could travel into other, parallel realities. This fantasy about creating other worlds defined the aesthetics of Nordic larp. And in order to create that other space we sought autonomy. Not autonomy in the Kantian sense really but in a social, spatial, timely sense. A sociological way of understanding this was that we created strong ”magic circles” or liminal spaces – social state of exception where the alienation of everyday life was challenged.
At this time there were actually fears among ”the grown-ups”, teachers, good Christians, et cetera that role-playing would work in the sense that you could role-play yourself into another state of being and not be able to find your way back. That would have been pretty cool. What we found out I guess is that role-playing works a lot more like a rubber band. You have to stretch it out to become someone you are not, but as soon as you release or relax you will be back to your normal self and not much seems to have changed. There are counter-examples of this though. Transformation can happen.
The body was not so much at stake during this time. It was just seen as the ticket or vehicle to bring us to the other worlds. I think we had this idea that we could take ourselves out of ”the system”, the matrix, and thus be liberated. We just had to break apart from this social world. We didn’t realize that well how much crap we brought along with us into the fantasy spaces. Both in social and mental terms. We also didn’t realize the tactical or political potentiality in the fact that we brought our bodies back to real life.
Things changed though. For me personally it happened because I started to dance contact improvisation. And as soon as I started that practice I realized that some of the most profoundly transformative experiences I had in larps were connected to the body. By then, in 2006, I wrote an article together with Tova Gerge titled ”The Character, the Player and Their Shared Body.” This idea of a shared body might seem obvious to anyone, but at that time it felt like a revelation: it is actually our real, social body that we put into play, that we put at risk, that we charge with fantasies or desires tied to fictional frameworks. Here is an example from that article on how it could work:
”Mellan himmel och hav [Between heaven and sea] deconstructed sexuality and gender during several preparatory workshops. Individual expression was consciously disguised behind turbans and wide clothing. Hands and arms were recoded into erogenous zones; sexually neutral parts of the body became the only allowed tools for intimate interaction. The players were trained to look at what all people had in common and to find a beauty in every single person through concentrating on bodily aspects less occupied by media images then tits and ass. When a hand touches another hand it does not matter how it looks; when gazes meet, faces blur.
The participants were suddenly thrown into situations where they had physical contact with people they would normally, for one reason or another, never touch. As a consequence, very many of the participants were smitten with a poly-sexual analysis of human relations—and they took it into practise, because they had experienced that these ideas functioned. A big number of break-ups, amorous adventures, and attempts to establish new norms followed among the players.”
So if there is no alternate, second body then it can also be no alternate reality. Actually, another world is impossible, there is no other world, no other planet. There is only one, material reality and we have to take care of ourselves and each other across the borders that magic circles make up.
The strategies of autonomy and separation in larp has partly been replaced by other ideals. The Nordic larp community has started to affirm the fact that there is constant leakage or bleed as some would call it, between the fantasies of roleplaying and everyday life. So instead of asking ourselves: how can we get out of this world, we started asking ourselves how things can travel from the realms of fantasy into reality.
This image of reality resembles the idea that There is no planet B. We are stuck in that sense. At this point I think my talk could go in many directions and it will also do that. I have many questions around this subject. It also makes me wonder about the relation between larp and somatic practices, but also artistic practices. I will throw out a few different ideas and problems in relation to this.
Last autumn I was in Berlin for the Body IQ festival at the Somatic academy. One of the main topics of this week-end was ”How do we experience the formation and dissolution of a social body?” but they also posed the question ”How do our survival fears and external pressures, such as war, climate change, immigration, and economy, impact the development of collectives?” This is questions that are very relevant to take back into larp context. One of the teachers, Thomas Kampe, said something along the lines of that: ”It would make no sense to me to give you exercises that only work in the studio but not in everyday life”.
So in that, more or less therapeutic context there were ambitions that I would describe as anti-autonomous. Aesthetic ideals forming that are exactly about the continuity between real life and obscure practice. For example – do not change into training clothes! Don’t make yourself more comfortable than you are in your regular life. Just do the practice with the conditions that you have and that you are used to.
This new orientation in larp towards the body also contest a rather long lasting liaison to theatre and film as point of reference for the benefit of performance art, choreography and dance. I find that very exciting. If we compare a practice like contact improvisation with larp we find a lot of similarities: shared space, social agreements, collective improvisation, personal expression and some kind of immersion. But there are also massive differences. Dance happens in the body, role-playing has a lot of the time happened in the face, talking heads. The dance is silent, role-playing verbal, but maybe more importantly: dance focus on the moment while role-playing has been very occupied with the continuity of story. In contact improvisation there is a constant play between discontinuity and continuity. In larp I generally get the feeling that discontinuity is a threat. Everyone get together to fight the entropy that happens when different story lines develop simultaneously in different parts of the larp. In contact improvisation, or in a larp informed by dance or somatics we don’t need to struggle with that. The workings of theatre: dramaturgy, escalation of conflict, tropes and representation can be replaced with other aesthetic possibilities: presence, intensities, flow, scores and so on.
Another question: If there is no body b, if we are always here in this very world with ourselves – how does change happen? Is there any social, physical or psychological effects to be gained from larping? How can it sometimes be so hard to change? Both in terms of changing oneself, changing who we are, but also in terms of political change.
What could be liberating with larp from a somatic point of view is that it doesn’t have to deal with therapeutic challenges. We don’t necessarily need to heal anything or be healthy. In that sense larp is clearly rooted in the aesthetic domain. We can make larps that utilize the body and somatic practices for artistic purposes. Scenarios that makes life not more bearable but more complicated or challenging. On the other hand, maybe we also want to heal? Maybe we need it? If history always has been a history of trauma then the storytelling of larp has followed the same logic.
This is a challenge. It seems that it is so easy to get hurt, but it takes so much effort to heal. I met some philosophers recently that talked about toast. It is so easy to make toast out of bread, but it is so hard to make a fresh bread out of toast. How can this thought be applied to political change? And I think about this question two-ways: Can we make collective acts that is impossible reverse? And also, can we undo the traumas, the stories, the history that has constituted our bodies?
PROTOCOLS #2 & #3 extra_sensory
A THREEFOLD PUBLIC LECTURE
❢❢ SUNDAY APRIL 30, 2017
‶Maybe perceiving would be a better word,” he said. “There’s much more involved than sight. It knows everything that can be learned about you from your genes. And by now, it knows your medical history and a great deal about the way you think. It has taken part in testing you.″
– ‘Dawn’, Octavia Butler
Minibar would like to invite you to an afternoon of presentations in relation to topics outlined in Susan Ploetz’ larp The Guild. Following an open call the larp will be a closed event taking place during 9 hours on Saturday. On Sunday discussion will be opened up publicly and extended from via presentations from Susan Ploetz, Gabriel Widing, and Patricia Reed (Skype).
❢❢ 2.15: SUSAN PLOETZ – Imaginary phenomenologies, movement as cognition and speculative body-beings
❢❢ 3.00: PATRICIA REED (from Skype) – Mobile Alienation
❢❢ 3.45: GABRIEL WIDING – Another body is possible / There is no body B
This is a short talk on a black box larp that I gave at Larpwriter Summer School in Lithuania. The text is more precise than the video…
I will present a scenario played at the festival Black Box Copenhagen in 2014. The project was initiated by Nina Runa Essendrop and Marie Holm-Andersen under the poetic but generic title Inside myself, outside myself. This larp is not presented because it had a fancy location or visual appeal, quite the opposite. It was just people in a black box. So I have no pictures from the larp.
Nina and Marie gathered a dozen of larp writers and performance artists to create a new and playable scenario for the black box festival audience among who most were larpers, but some were not. There were many challenges in this venture, like how to come up with ideas, share them and weed out stuff? The biggest problem might have been this: how to conceive a scenario to a random number of participants, making them ready to play it and letting them play it, within a 2 hour time frame.
A general rule of participation design is that the audience, the participants, must know the rules and the premiss of the scenario in order to engage with it. Otherwise you run the risk that they default to passive observers. I’ve seen it happen a lot of times. Now, there are obviously other approaches. Some of them apparent in computer game design. When you start playing Super Mario there is no explanation for where to go and how survive. You learn the rules of the game by playing it and exploring the boundaries and the possibilities of interacting with the game is a part of the enjoyment and possibly also a key part of the aesthetic experience.
One participant in Inside myself, outside myself, Simon James Pettitt, later wrote in a game report that he had expected an introduction or a workshop starting things off, but there were none. So how did it start? Well when the participants entered the black box the designers, now performers, were spread out in the room frozen in different sculptural positions. The participants roamed around in the room and looked at the ”sculptures”.
I think there are two things to learn from the design of the scenario. The first thing being the game design concept ”call for action” the second thing would be the idea of emergence – how patterns, movements, situations can emerge from some simple rules.
To simplify we set up 3 acts for the scenario. In the first act the sculptures functioned as ”calls for action”. Every sculpture worked as a kind of puzzle. The participants soon realized that the sculptures could come alive, become animated, if you approached it in the right way. So for example my position was kneeling, holding an invisible object in front of me. I could only be activated if someone put their shoe between my hands. Then I would untie the shoe and take it off. This was the only thing I could do in act 1. So eventually all the sculptures were unlocked by the participants and some of the simple tasks they carried out created chain reactions, so all the shoes ended up in a proper line and so on. The mixing desk communication style fader was definitely physical rather than verbal.
I don’t know if a less game oriented audience would have unlocked the sculptures. They might have. I think only play testing can answer such uncertainties.
The second and third act of the scenario worked through emergence. Emergence is something that happens when a collective of actors or objects follow a small set of rules from which a complicated or unforeseen situation or pattern appears. In the second act the sculptures turned into something closer to machines or robots and they could learn from the participants by copying their actions, what they said, how they behaved. That created some bizarre feedback loops where everything that happened echoed around the room. In the third act the intelligence of the machines were updated a second time and they could start to teach the participants what they knew. These small guidelines generated a lot of interaction and produced some kind of aesthetic consistency although the scenario turned out generally chaotic. Simon describes it as a ”strange living machine” in his game report.
Hopefully this case study of Inside myself, outside myself can give some hints on what is possible to do with small means on a short notice. To sum it up the scenario used calls for action as a means to teach an unknowing, uninformed audience about how to engage with the scenario. It continued to create interaction by simple rules – such as ”you can repeat what you see or hear”. Different situations emerged from these rules.
My collective Nyxxx has created a new piece which is currently on tour. The 9 shows in Stockholm were sold-out. And it was exciting to meat the young and engaged audience. The work is more open and improvisatory than our previous avatar shows and we guide the audience through a series of exercises, meditating on present techno-subsumed life conditions.
INVITATION TO TACTICAL MEDITATIONS
Swarms, droning and collective contemplation by and for cyborgs in crisis.
You turn your back to the world and step into a sounding space. You look around. Someone comes up to you with a proposal. You accept. The withdrawal accelerates. You connect to different games, systems and bodies. You explore and produce new tactics. You are droning. You join the swarm. You disconnect. You rest your way into an action. You install a political paradigm. There is a shift of paradigm. You identify, reinforce and modify your strategies for survival. They are now no longer about survival, but about surpassing what you are trying to cope with. You look back at the world from the other side of the black mirror. You touch the screen.
The room opens at 18.00, but you come when you want to and leave when you’re ready.
The performing arts collective Nyxxx makes works that the audience experience by participating. The collective has previously visited Turteatern & Inkonst with Avatarvaro (2012) and Human Agency (2014).
Premiere 11 February 2016 18.00 at Turteatern, Kärrtorp, Stockholm.
Plays 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27 February 18.00-21.00 at Turteatern.
6, 7, 8, 9 April 18.00-21.00 at Inkonst.
15, 16, 17 April 18.00-21.00 at Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi.
Nyxxx is Elize Arvefjord, Tova Gerge, Ebba Petrén, Kerstin Weimers, Albin Werle, Gabriel Widing.
TM was produced with support from the Swedish Arts Grants Committee, Swedish Arts Council and Turteatern.
Transcription of a talk given at Knudepunkt 2015, February 14th.
Immersion is the excrement of action
I have been asked to do this talk on the subject of bodies in live action role-playing, which I’m very happy about since the body has turned centre stage in larp development and design. I have previously together with Tova Gerge, tried to examine and understand the body in live role-playing from a very simple but for many years overlooked fact – the character and the player share body. I think that is true also for table-top or freeform role-playing games, where roleplay happens through the voices of bodies. When we invocate a character, when we adjust our tone, when we invite an alien fictitious voice to appear in the cavities of our body. This is still the premiss for what I have to say today. I think Ane Marie Andesson will develop on that fact later during this session.
I titled this talk Immersion is the excrement of action, but I have over the last week realised that there are no immersionists around any more so I may be pushing at open doors. Also Martin Ericsson covered parts of this already yesterday. Anyhow what I meant by that title is that our bodies and actions has a major part to play in role-playing. I do think we are starting to understand larp pretty well from a social and psychological perspective. But maybe we are lacking a bit from the perspective of the body and maybe we have over-used psychological concepts to understand what we are doing and exaggerated our mental and cognitive capacities. One example of that would be immersion. We often describe role-playing as an activity where we immerse into a world where we are somebody else. And I don’t doubt that immersion actually exists. But I don’t think that it happens through an active psychological effort but rather as a bi-product of our bodily activities.
It’s not the case that we first immerse into our character and through immersion decide how to act within the fictitious world. It usually work the opposite way around – we act with our bodies as our characters, and immersion happens to us. Such an understanding would work along the lines of 17th century philosopher Pascal – First you go to church and you kneel in front of the cross, then you start believing in God. According to the same logic you can start believing in your character when you act it.
Live Action Play
This reasoning made me, as a thought experiment, to put a preliminary parenthesis around the R in our beloved but clunky abbreviation LARP, LA(R)P. (This is what any obscure leninist party, so why not) What if role-playing is not the core activity in our culture, our medium, or at least, if we pretended that it was not. If we think about what we do as Live Action Play.
In larp discourse we have lended a lot of concepts from psychology but also from theatre. But thinking larp from a bodily non-role point of view could enable us to venture in two other “opposite” but also related fields – somatics (dealing with the body as experienced from within) and dance or choreography. We have used theatre concepts to elevate what we do from a subgenre of tabletop role-playing to a cultural and artistic medium, which I think is fine, but we payed a price to make this liaison with theatre which is more clear to me now than ever before.
Stories guiding play
Theatre works according to dramaturgy, escalation of conflict, tropes and representation. These more or less conscious forms, ideals, ideologies of drama enable our improvisation. The better we know how drama happens, the better role-play. This is the idea behind fate-play, etc. I have been a proponent of such a meta-conscious, theatre-oriented player. Looking behind, planning ahead. Anyone who has followed my thought on larp have noticed that. When I started to write about larp i wanted to explore the aspect of collective storytelling. The idea was that the story was the only framework that could enable, encompass, hold such a diverse activity as larping.
It’s a valid line of thought but also very limiting. From a player point of view I have many times been in the situation where I’ve played in a scenario and known what I should do to make a good story, a good scene that underlines the overarching theme of the scenario – but something has held me back. I think I’ve developed a kind of resistance to subjecting to certain kinds of narrative, reproducing the tropes and dramatic conflicts that we have internalized from Hollywood drama, Harry Potter, Battlestar Galactica, you name it.
But also in the case of politically conscious scenarios everything change once I start thinking them through the body. The aesthetic qualities of the larps change. For example, a scenario about a prison camp, or any other kind of camp, is usually framed as an exploration or critical inquiry of a power system and so on – but all I can think is – why does our bodies enjoy institutional violence so much that we enact it over and over again? It is, at least as much bodily enjoyment as mental critical inquiry involved so a question we might need in the future is Why are we organising our bodies to perform these systems?
Starting from the body
So if we don’t tune in to the pace of the story to get the action going what do we have left to hold on to? We can of course still have the rules, the agreements, the framing, the social state of exception – what in dance theory is called a score. But pacing and rhythm does not have to follow dramatic or narrative principles, they might as well flow like music or dance and repetition might be just as valid as development. We can also, and here I might sound like a hippie, listen to the pacing of our own bodies, adjust improvisation to the rhythm of our breath, waves of hormones or the beat of the heart.
And speaking of hippie – I would like to remind you that two great participatory cultures that originated from the American hippie era and later spread to the Nordic countries 1. role-playing games and 2. dance improvisation. And to me it’s fascinating when they are coming together.
So from a scenario-writing point of view, or an artistic point of view, I would be happy to make more space for scenarios where the primary goal is not to represent psychological and social conflicts between people who we are not.
But I don’t even think what I’m saying here is new. I think these kinds of scenarios where the role is secondary or even non-existing, happens all the time. I just want to underline that it happens, we already to it. We just have to acknowledge it and develop it and not marginalize it because the holy R of LARP is fading.
One way of developing our form would be to peak at the dance field. Now improvised dance has a lot in common with roleplaying, it happens in shared spaces, with certain social agreements and collective improvisation. But it has different aesthetic premisses.
First of all dance is generally non-verbal, in contrast to role-playing, which has been more influenced by the talking-heads of theatre and tv. This does not mean that there is no possibility to use the voice in dance, but maybe one would use it for other purposes.
Presence and abstraction
Another key to “dance” through a larp would be to focus on the present moment, rather than the future and the past of the story. This means a scenario can be discontinuous and that the responsibility of the player is not about creating historical or narrative consistency, nor to create fertile ground for drama in the future, but to be there and listen to what is actually going on at that point in time in between the bodies at hand.
And I think it’s great that artists within the field of dance and choreography are starting to show up on slides here on main stage. Brody Condon mentioned the works of Lygia Clark, Anna Halprin and Tino Sehgal and I just want to underline that he is right in that we, as larpers, could have great benefits of exploring their work, their scores, rituals, workshops and art works.
Another tendency in dance is that it is abstract. And what do we mean by abstract? Well in art theory abstract art is considered to be object in their own right. An abstract painting does not need a symbolic relationship to anything in the human liveable world. It often seeks to create it’s own universe, with a more or less coherent alien logic. That is not just a story universe, but something which we are unable to attach meaning to according to the logic of our standard social reality.
So if one think “oh, that’s a bad painting, I can’t see what it represents”, then it’s hard to appreciate abstract art. The same goes for dance. When we see contemporary dancers move on stage we can not approach it with the question of “What are they trying to tell? What is the hidden, encrypted story? What are they representing?” because then we’ll not understand that what we see in front of us is, in itself what is important – the activity, the mobilisation of and relationships between bodies that are there.
Being or becoming?
Thus, dance is not a culture of representation, it is not a culture of being in a character, being this or being that, it is a practice of becoming – becoming flesh, becoming machine, becoming animal, becoming other, becoming alien, becoming avatar or god, becoming minor or cellular.
I think this kind of expanded or alternate thinking on larp has benefited a lot from access to the black boxes that Martin Nielsen talked about yesterday. Just the fact that we start thinking from a dark void, rather than from a physical setting (be it a forest or a castle) has done something to how we create scenarios. And while we populate the black boxes and bring them to life, we should somewhere keep in mind that these spaces were created for the non-hierarchical, physical, improvised and bodily performance culture of the 60ths. They paved the way for what we can do today.
To conclude, I just want to say, that there are, still, a thousand new scenarios that remains to be created, where we can come together to live, act and play.
Visiting London I took the oppurtunity to go to Punchdrunk’s epic show The Drowned Man which encompass some 20.000 sqm on 4 floors, 30 actors, a bar, et c. I will not summarise the whole experience here, there is plenty of reviews to read online. What I want to do is to share some thoughts on the interaction design.
Following the definitions of Participatory Arts (Deltagarkultur 2008, yet to be published in english), I would consider The Drowned Man an all-encompassing spectatory arts show. It’s neither interactive, in the sense of that one can alter the story line, nor participatory, in that it doesn’t encourage interaction between audience members. Let me quote:
The all-encompassing Gesamtkunstwerk, on the other hand, aims to create a total experience where everything that can be sensed is dictated by the artwork. All undesirable stimuli are firmly expelled. The all-encompassing work is no doubt by necessity multi-disciplinary, or at least multi-medial, but also requires a spatial dimension to manifest. The stimuli encapsulate the receiver in order to generate a “total environment of the senses” – the world of the Gesamtkunstwerk.
That pretty much nails the aesthetics of The Drowned Man and it’s all fine to do such a show. But if one was interested in making some interactive or participatory design based on the it, how could one do it?
First of all: Most of the rules that are presented as we enter the magic circle have the purpose to disable interaction between audience members as well as between audience and performers. First of all the masks, which covers the whole face and secondly the rule not to speak. Thirdly, they asked you to leave your company and explore the space alone. I can see why you want to do that, following the definition of a Gesamtkunstwerk above. If the audience were present and social they could ruin the mystical mood at the set. So, how to stay within the aesthetics, but still enable interaction.
What I would propse is a simple hand-sign system containing 3 different meanings, that would be presented to the audience from start. This would definetly need some playtesting, but here goes:
- Pointing. The meaning being to index something interesting that you want to show somebody else. After all, the scenography and prop design was amazing, and the story came through by finding props and reading letters than by watching the performers.
- Showing your palm. The meaning would be – take my hand, let’s go together. Let’s go for an adventure together. This could make up for the fact that you are alone and anonymous through most of the show.
- Stop. I don’t want to be part of whatever you are trying to do right now. Whether it’s a performer or audience member approaching you it’s safe to now how to say no. This would also make people more courageous.
I could think of plenty of other approaches that one could mix up with these basic interaction patterns. Another thing I thought of was that the performed scenes basicly can be divided in three different categories: sexy-dance, fighting-dance and ritual dance. Especially in the more ritualistic parts it would be easy to give the audience a more active part. There are also club-dance dance-scenes where it makes no sense to leave the audience out.
Furthermore one could add more game design to the story, but that’s a bit to complicated to cover in a short blog post.
I’m happy to share this short scenario with you. It was written by me and Ebba Petrén at PAF last summer. You can play it with two people or in front of a smaller audience. The participants should not listen to the track on beforehand.
• 2 voluntary participants.
• A pair of headphones with the Mp3-file.
• A table
• 2 chairs
• 2 windows that can be opened, it’s nice but not necessary if there is a view.
Take it off
To begin, one of the two players starts the mp3-track and put the headphones on. The other player start by observing the avatar. Both players starts standing up. When you put on the headphones you are the avatar, follow the instructions and take no other initiatives. When you don’t wear headphones you try to communicate with the avatar by responding to it as if you are having a chat with that person for the first time.
The avatar asks something demanding, something the human finds hard and personal to answer. The avatar says “You will have the opporutnity to be an avatar. And I will become human. When I raise my hand you can take my headphones and become the avatar”. It raises the hand. The new avatar comes out, “the avatar of a human spirit”, and opens a window saluting the fresh air. Next avatar is “the avatar of the real” trying to jump out of the window. Human has to stop it. More avatars follow, with other agendas.
“It’s like having a child or a pet in your room when you’re trying to work. You have to take notice and care for it. And it will for sure use its voice to communicate!”
We’ve presented this scenario at PAF Performing arts forum in St Erme, 2012, at the 14th Symposium of the International Brecht Society in Porto Alegre, 2013 and at Scenkonstbiennalen in Jönköping, 2013. We are looking forward to hear where it will be played next and how you experience it!
Video from a session at a room in Master Express Grande Hotel, Porto Alegre, May 2013. On screen: Ester Claesson and John Hanse. Spoiler warning!
This is a rewrite of a blogpost published in swedish before. I made it for Inpex 2012 edition of the infamous silver bible aka. The Swedish Dance History vol. 4. It’s situated in the very end of the book btw.
What happens to our capacities to look and see when our senses are dominated by an image world? Who can we become? Video glasses are just about to hit consumer markets (although still pricy and bulky). Who knows if it will be used in everyday life, but anyhow it could definitely be a tool for artistic development. So let’s talk about the possibilities of enfolding visual immersion.
James Cameron, famous for for blockbusters such as Titanic and Avatar and a lot of crap had some interesting ideas too. To his merits one could mention the script for the Terminator movies as well as the commercial failure Strange Days (1996). It’s not a good movie, but it should concern us.
My guess is that Strange Days was written in the backwash of the LA riots in 1992, which followed a well known dramaturgy (frequently replayed during the uprisings in Europe as well as the Arab world in recent years). Four white cops beat up a black guy. They are all declared innocent by a white jury. An “amateur photographer” (so retro I know) captured the whole thing, which made the reality of the situation very obvious. The anger that erupted led to a wave of revolt, looting and general mayhem. 53 persons where killed during the riots, many of them shot by police and military forces. (Oh, memory is short.)
The LA riots in many ways foregoes the protest movements that grew during the nineties, such as the globalization movement. When state violence is visualized in such an inevitable way revolt will follow. The images are verification of a common experience of suppression, that can be shared through the imagery. Cameron probably had some presumptions because he set Strange Days in the future. More precisely the fateful night of new years eve 1999, at the dawn of a new millennia (#1 anti-climax of our lives). LA, which is also the stage of the movie, is depicted in a carnevalesque state of emergency.
“This is not like TV only better”
At the center of the action is a new media technology circulating on the black market. The tech makes it possible to record short clips (think Youtube), containing all the sensory experiences that a person have when the recording happens. By mounting a helmet that sends sensory stimuli directly into ones brain anyone can relive or re-experience the same event from within.
The clip that sparks the plot contains a recording of a police assault as discussed above. Another clip was shot during a robbery and ends when the robber in a hitchcockian manner falls from a roof – the difference being that this time we follow the subjective gaze all the way down – POV.
I thought Strange Days was more or less forgotten, but when I checked for it in my book shelfs it shows up here and there. Bolter and Grusin describes the fictional media technology pretty well in Remediation:
“This is not like TV only better,” says Lenny Nero in the futuristic film StrangeDays. “This is life. It’s a piece of somebody’s life. Pure and uncut, straight from the cerebral cortex. You’re there. You’re doing it, seeing it, hearing it . . . feeling it.” Lenny is touting to a potential customer a technological wonder called “the wire.” When the user places the device over her head, its sensors make contact with the perceptual centers in her brain. In its recording mode, the wire captures the sense-perceptions of the wearer; in its playback mode, it delivers these recorded perceptions to the wearer. If the ultimate purpose of media is indeed to transfer sense experiences from one person to another, the wire threatens to make all media obsolete. Lenny mentions television, but the same critique would seem to apply to books, paintings, photographs, film, and so on. The wire bypasses all forms of mediation and transmits directly from one consciousness to another.
The media thus conceals itself, experience seems instant, what Bolter and Grusin call immediacy. Immediacy is described in relation to an opposing mode: hypermediacy, where the medium presents its own mediumship, such as when the camera is revealed as a camera by blur or image distortion. Oddly enough, hypermedia seems to be an equally successful strategy to create credible and compelling images, but that’s a parenthesis in this context.
Abuse turned inside-out
The sensory clips in Strange Days are raw, uncut and often violent or erotic. They are recorded on cassettes susceptibly MiniDisc-looking. There’s a really disgusting scene that is hard to rid off your mind. A man put a recording device on himself and a playback device on a woman, then he ties and rapes her. She looks at her body from the outside and how he approaches it. She can also feel how he is enjoying the abuse. Thus, she becomes co-driver in the body of the raper, and is forced to enjoy the situation through him. This makes the abuse even worse.
This gap, to see yourself from the outside, to be a body that has disconnected from the consciousness is of course a daunting and exciting condition that obviously meet certain trends in media development, but in Strange Days it is taken to its extreme. My hacker friend Leo told me about how the shady group Hack Canada experimented with relatively simple techniques experimented to re-stage the setup.
Telepresence and wetware hacking
HC have a section where they describe various attempts to hack the brain, one of them is TelePresence Bi-Autoerotic Intercourse:
Remember that scene in the movie Strange Days where the killer used some bizarre futuristic neural recorder technology to transmit what he saw and felt to his victim as he raped and killed her? So from her perspective it was like she was raping and killing herself, and getting-off on the act. Well, there won’t be any rape or killing here, but I realized I had all the gear kicking around to do something similar to this. Using a Virtual Reality Head Mounted Display and a miniature video camera, a person can see themself having sex from their partners’ perspective. Telepresence Bi-Autoerotic Intercourse… phuck yourself.
In the above setup, one can visually experience how it is to fuck with oneself while physically staying in ones own body. The hacker crew underlines that the kick is all about moving the consciousness out of ones own body.
Foremost, the sensation of telepresence when viewed through an HMD is quite mind-blowing. It’s as if you have left your body. The disembodied feeling is further complicated upon seeing oneself from another person’s perspective. When the camera wearer holds their arms out and starts coming at you, and touching you, ones mind really takes a twist. The other persons arms seem like your own, and suddenly you feel very vulnerable and trapped, it’s like assaulting yourself and you can do nothing about it. Very disorienting. Don’t get me wrong, it is great fun and great entertainment.
The setup can also be doubled, so that both parties see the situation from each other’s perspective:
Anyway, back to the sexual experience. Holding the Camera and viewing from a variety of disembodied third person perspectives is very stimulating and unique. Many intriguing variations are possible and it makes for good foreplay since regular forms of foreplay are restricted by the bulkiness of the HMD. Now, as far as how stimulating you will find all of this depends largely on your intellectual openess and your level of priggishness.
There are not many artists who have started working in this direction yet. An exception I found was Me and the Machine by Sam Pearson and Clara García Fraile. They made a nine-minute film as seen through video glasses and simultaneously “portrayed” sensory by a dancer. How well it works is hard to see from the documentation. Perhaps the gap between the viewer’s movements and camera movements are too big to fool the brain, but our mind is generally good in making sense out of diverse input.
Well, we can only find out by starting to experiment with it. In short: Turn on, tune in, drop out.
I put together a short experimental scenario for my workshop at this year’s annual nordic larp (live role-playing) conference Knutepunkt, which I’m happy to share. It’s easy to brief and could probably be played in 15 minutes.
Rules / tips
- Each participant get a set of 9 cards (One sheet makes one character, and yes they are ordered).
- Every card state a line to be read out loud or a simple action to be performed.
- When one is through the 9 cards, one starts over.
- There is no hurry. Listen and try to be aware of the space.
- The scenario should preferably be played in a big open space, blackbox or similar.
- I there are more than 14 players you can just double the characters. If there are less than 5 you can take 18 cards each.
Downloadable characters (and cut it in 9 separate cards/sheet)
The idea is to put emphasis on composition, space and timing in the improvisation, rather than coming up with smart things to say. Role-playing tends to be very facial-verbal. This set-up promotes other qualities. The role-playing community is by now pretty sophisticated in narrative methodology so I think it’s time to start experimenting a bit more with post-dramatic scenarios.
Some of the lines in this scenario is stolen or rewritten phrases from french emo-author Blanchot’s sort-of-kind-of-novel The Infinite Conversation. I also put a key line from The Coming Insurrection.