COLLECTIVE      COMMUNAL          DECENTRALIZED       HYBRID       INTERACTIVE      IMMERSIVE      PERVASIVE     SIMULTANEOUS         TRANSVERSAL

              EXQUISITE CORPSE



              Apocalypse narratives are ubiquitous in media and the algorithms of Netflix seem to predict, that the masses are to entertain with ever new or also not so new versions of world endings, populated with the abducted zombies1 or the recasting of the same old hero myth with a female cast that still fails to break with the exclusive logic of its narration. Captivated in the self perpetuating scripts (now even automated hurray) the dying world is navel gazing, entranced with its own fall from grace. While the threat of an uninhabitable planet still manifests to some mostly as uncomfortable sensations of guilt that can be sucked up with the symbolic bamboo straw or repurposed noodle, of course for many people perpetual apocalypses have arrived long ago and many of the techniques and tactics that are traced in this text are owed to their legacy and necessity for ‘otherworlding’. Against the crisis of imagination, also diagnosed as ‘depressive ontology’2 (The impossibility to envision a future that is different than the past), exercises in Collective Worlding may open ourselves to other forms of knowing, reconnect us to our sensual and social bodies and lay foundations for new forms of cohabitation.

              There are many conceptions of what the activity of worlding3
              entails. It encompasses anything from the invention of fantastic cosmologies, utopias or futures you can believe in to the formation of new reality systems and the active construction of viable systemic alternatives4

              While these activities are of fundamentally different nature I will benefit from their descriptive likeness to speak of them sometimes interchangeably so that the fictional may slip into reality in passing and vice versa. The focus however will lie on Worlding as a metaphysical activity and conscious practice that acknowledges difference and considers consequences of softening boundaries between epistemology and ontology.

              A world is a specific frame of reference that defines how we perceive and relate to base reality. Ian Cheng5 describes worlds as artificial and yet living entities that require care. They need us to believe in them to protect us from the overwhelming complexity of raw sensual data.

              These conditions that sustain a world, also naturalize its construction, perpetuating a law-like structure that demands submission of its inhabitants. And while it may trick us by weaving the fabric around us with invisible thread, this tight knit cocoon must unravel eventually as all worlds come to an end. Either because the ‘model’ becomes outdated or because the conditions it produces are unlivable.

              Let us follow Denise Ferreira da Silvaand Federico Campagnain the assumption that ‘Western Modernity’ faces a similar fate. Dissolving the illusion of a ‘common world’, that appears already co-opted by satisfying hegemonial claims for (its) order, let us take the underlying theory of multiple worlds as a point of departure for exercises in Collective Worlding.

              As a training ground for imaginative flexibility, I want to explore how Role Play can foster simultaneous stories and colliding worlds through the creation and negotiation of a shared gamespace. To revise a world means to look at it repeatedly in a new light. Worlding is also the unmaking of the world: it requires us to rethink our relation to the environment and our own role within it. This is where worlding in its metaphysical sense of the word comes in handy. Instead of trying to fix a broken system we can change a world by reconfiguring its frame of reference.

              But how to think of frameworks for an unrealized world?8

              Instead of starting from scratch or zooming in from an scientific abstraction and distance that recalls the map making and of settler colonial forms of ‘Worlding’9, Here I want to show that attempts to ‘bring to light’ the submerged part of the psyche or ‘decode’ the human brain like psychoanalysis, extends the enlightenment project into the inside ‘territory’. Instead I want to introduce artistic strategies of (Un)worlding that produce flexible, relational, opaque, incoherent (inter)subjectivities and above all include the body with all it’s senses into the narration of the self.

              Imagine a small version of yourself balancing on this I.

              Look at yourself. How is your posture? Do you seem stable? Feel relaxed?

              Can you make yourself comfortable?

              Now watch the letter I with intent. Feel its imprint in your own eye.

              Imagine with it the imprint of the small self that rests on it.

              Feel how your projection is slipping of the I and out of sight into the black hole that is your pupil.

              Here you start to take any shape you want to be.

              Create a fiction of yourself. We all do.

              Can you see yourself projected on the inner wall of your eye?

              How do you feel?

              What do you desire?

              Your fear?

              Your trick?

              Your paradox?

              Think of one memory that you try to forget.

              Exercise from Playscript Alter Ego, Olga Terre, 2020

              After the Maestro

              The tabletop RPG ‘After the Maestro’ by Tom K. Kemp is set within an ‘anthropomorphized anatomy’ depicting the inner human body as an industrialized city and draws from it’s existing narrativization ranges from the body as state, territory, factory, machine and serving to naturalize sovereign power, war, atomization of labor and technology. Tom’s work aims at complicating and subverting these oversimplified and scientifically inaccurate models that are projected onto the body.

              Listening to the recording of the play sessions it becomes clear just how inescapable the metaphoric weight of the body seems to be. Metaphors are an integral part of translating abstract concepts and feelings into tangible experiences. Our cognition is embodied.10

              Mental models are physical brain circuits that derive meaning through the nervous system of the body. Neural mappings are created unconsciously through their navigation and interaction with the physical world. These ‘primary metaphors’ are directional, which may explain how the subterranean dungeon offers an intuitive metaphor for the concept of mind that divides the psyche into top and sub.

              In his essay ‘Dungeoneering11, Tom maps out the conceptual architecture and eerie12 quality of the dungeon tracing its legacy in TableTop Role Playing Games (TTRPG) like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) which has been influenced by the war game (Kriegspiel) and is itself influential on early developments of computer programming.

              Incidentally in one of the play session Matt Colquhoun aka Xenogothic is playing Spermatozoa effectively impotent characters with a desire for conquest, hanging around in the „lower parts'' that are compared to aimless disenfranchised teenagers hanging out in their basements. The other two guests Lucy and Sean of the horror philosophy podcast Wyrd Signal, are playing the Pineal Glandt hat starts by putting the body to sleep, and Toxoplasma-gondii, an opportunistic parasite that spreads (mis)information to bring the city in contact with other cities. Tom himself plays the heart of an old harbor city which when drained in an act of revolt reveals the old version of the city that was once built on the belief that intent started in the heart.

              Through multiple play sessions in which Tom engages different groups of invited guests in the ‘Collective Bodybuilding’, he is able to observe how his game mechanics bring to life different forms of anatomical (re)organizations. I am not surprised that the artists engaging with Role play often include or even center the Worldbuilding process in their game design. Rather than trying to bring the players into the artist's subjective fiction, the game offers heuristics and categories that players interpret themselves.

              It makes me think of Shelley Jackson’s ‘Patchwork Girl’ from 1995, a piece of hypertext fiction that invites the reader into a re-creation of a female body freed from its organizing force. The interactive narrative lets the players choose their own story that defines the order in which the body is sewn together not unlike a body is written and created through life rather than a static identity that corresponds to shaping expectations upon it eg. to the reproductive function of the body.

              Creating renders of the speculative bodies he illustrates the different outbirths of ‘emancipatory body-horror’. These assemblages appear to slip into the realm of the undead which also historically has emerged from a process of subjugation and the haunted bodies it produces. (Eg. folktales that demonized the ostracized during the gothic period.13) In the play session run with ‘Buddies Without Organs’ a podcast dedicated to the intriguing figure developed by Deleuze and Guattari, it is then not surprising that eventually the ‘Body without Organs’ is brought to the table. Their pill does not promise a cure.


              Most Cities eventually crumble - what will happen to ours?  ― Quote from Play Script of After the Maestro

              Styleframe for After the Maestro

              With a homeopath as a mother, the idea that our organs are affected by both immediate emotional states as well as transgenerational trauma accompanied me from childhood. Likewise, the impression of the 1996 film Body Troopers, in which a boy travels through the ailing body of his grandfather to dissolve his kidney stone with a reservoir of held back tears and dance with his dead grandmother residing in the heart. The anthropomorphized organs represented vivid illustrations of the communicative pursuits that a holistic approach assigns to them.


              ‘Sick Woman Theory’14 argues that all of our bodies and brains bear the scars of oppression and also insists that most modes of political protest are internalized, embodied and ultimately invisible. Framing dis-order15 as a rupture to a given and evidently sickening system corresponds to the artistic and activist strategy that delineates a movement away from reforming the outside world to a resistance that turns to a reframing of the inner.

              To consider it an effective strategy it must avoid collapsing complexity into a binary of inside and outside nor shall it offer up the body as a battlefield. In her book ‘Disease and Its Metaphors’ from 1989, Susan Sontag describes the harm that metaphors such as consumption have caused to herself as a cancer patient. In the follow-up book16 That gears that analysis towards AIDS, she problematizes the commonly used military and invasion metaphors that frame the disease as a war against the virus which ultimately victimizes the patient even further and eventually makes them die as ‘losers of a fight’.

              In ‘Deep Nation’ a LARP designed by Omsk Social Club in collaboration with a group of artists that created the characters for the game, I played a sentient tumor, shortly after my father had been diagnosed with cancer. ‘TOMMY’, conceived by Naomi Bisley, was charming, power-hungry, and enjoyed a distaste for memory. Despite the obvious strangeness to embody cancer in this way, playing from its completely nonhuman perspective momentarily lifted some weight off its Damokle’s sword. In the end,‘TOMMY’ teamed up with love (another character) and convinced the other characters to open up to the potential of uncontrolled cell growth.

              Draconis Lacrimae

              Sontag's theories have also been influential to the writing process of the Role Play Game ‘Draconis Lacrimae’ a collaboration by Pablo Esbert and Federico Vladimir Strate, which is in part a coming to terms with the HIV virus within their own bodies. In the foreword that is essentially a love letter, Federico brings up the figure of the Virus as narrator of their relationship. Next to it appears The Adventurer that narrates their past, the shared identity  constructed through migration, trauma and settlement. As a figure to extend their couple the transcultural archetype of the dragon is brought in, to swallow the other to, as a figure that narrates community.17
              The game design becomes a self-exploratory journey that is presented both as an autobiographical performance piece but also available as a Player’s Handbook that opens the process to potential players. Like many RPGs the game starts with character creation, here this part becomes a narration about the self. In a process spanning over multiple evenings, carefully crafted exercises invite a deep dive into the multiple layers and tissues of the self: Players introduce themselves as their ancestors, write an ‘Emo Bio’ that narrates their most emotional moments in life, recall personal memories on political or historical events or make a guts striptease.

              GUTS STRIPTEASE: A SPECULATIVE CARTOGRAPHIC BIO-NARRATION

              Stand in front of the mirror. Starting from the top of your head, tell yourself the history of your body: what you like, what you don't, scars, traumas, hang-ups, glorified parts, g-spots… Don’t forget the insides: virus, illnesses, organs and inner sensations. Include how you felt about your body as a kid or a teenager (and how you felt you were perceived) up to the present day.

              While doing this exercise, let yourself be driven by memory and perception but also imagination. What attributes would you like your body to have? What other fictional traits may appear? Let that third eye appear on your chest; or give a voice to your left hand, the one that keeps all your secrets.
              ― Exercise from Handbook of Draconis Lacrimae

              From there the character building steers into categorization. Introduced with the ironic slogan ‘Hypertag yourself. Saturate your life with identity’ how instrumentalization and marketing of identities reduces complexity of the lived experience18 and ultimately enlists us in ‘a war of us against us’. As another way that categories give shape to our self-image the game picks up the archetypes of Dungeons and Dragons. The use of archetypes evoke multiple ways in which personhood has been reduced to essentialist, discriminatory and supposedly universal features.19

              In ‘Draconis Lacrimae’ the transcultural archetype of the Dragon becomes the Dungeon that the players collectively try to escape. It is the structure that they are trapped in but also the figure that narrates their community.‘It’s body as a multiverse, is the self that has been recognized as the others within. The body as container of other bodies, of fictions, fictions such as ghosts, organs and viruses’ 20
              The following parts of the game, players construct the inner anatomy of the dragon and narrate a plot through free play, ‘conflict organs’ and worldbuilding mechanics derived from a more recent breed of RPG design that have no ‘Game Master’ and center the collective creation and negotiation of a shared narration.21

              Spread from After Action Report of Draconis Lacrimae

              How we tell stories also matters in relation to the way we narrate ourselves. Carl Jung defined archetypes as symbols and personality patterns, deriving from shared ‘primordial images’ within our collective unconscious. His process of individuation runs alongside ‘The Hero's Journey’ a story told from the perspective of a single individual who goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home changed or transformed. Joseph Campell derived this ‘Monomyth’ from his structural analysis in comparative literature. First published in 1949 it is still majorly influential on the way contemporary media fabricates role models ‘on demand’ and is also inscribed in the automation processes of narrative scripts. While these formulas doubtlessly function as valuable support also to interactive fiction that relies on relatable prompts, they risk mindless perpetuation for the sake of comfort that keeps us marching behind the hero down the same trodden path.

              Prototypes

              Doireann O'Malley's Prototypes series addresses the way psychoanalysis has enacted traditional role models in relation to gender and offers alternative forms of subjectivity. The films take the viewer into a dream-like otherworld through floating camera movement that follows a group of protagonists on a process of unraveling and rebuilding of self in a world void of binary paradigms. Their work probes the effects of disorientation, ego provoking, destabilization, and hope rather than nihilism or the death drive which had been a tendency within Queer Theory.

              For the filmmaking process of the first two chapters, LARP is employed as an improvisation technique mainly to create a fictional frame for the real protagonists to perform themselves or a version of themselves. They chose different names but drew from their own dreams, memories, and embodied experiences.

              Prototypes I: Quantum Leaps in Trans Semiotics through Psycho-Analytical Snail Serum, 2017 explores new perspectives on trans identity through the lens of post psychoanalytical methodologies, conjure figure of hermaphrodite snails as well as Karen Barads theories that intertwine feminism with physics to challenge the fraud biological determinism used to naturalize gender binaries: ‘[An] electron’s very nature is unnatural, not given, not fixed, but forever transitioning and transforming itself.’22

              Prototype II: The Institute for the Enrichment of Computer Aided Post Gendered Prototypes (2018) protagonists are tought by a holographic host in the making and unmaking of their binarized gendered identities. Finally, they have to choose if they will cross through the portal into a genderless multiverse where alternative version of themselves exists.

              ‘What is your relationship to your body. How do you feel in your body.. What is your relationship to being a body in space... How would you describe your body.. how would you describe your personality.. What do you think of when your think of your environment.? Do you feel different? What do you think of your self being different from. When you were young did you feel different? How dies difference make you feel? How do you think your body and your thoughts communicate or relate to eachother? Is your gender a part of that communication?’
              ― Excerpt from the script of Prototypes II

              Video still of Prototypes II, Doireann O'Malley, 2018

              Imagining scenarios in an emotionally neutral place can change our attitude to that place in reality.23 The more immersed people tend to get into 'becoming' a fictional character, the more they use the same part of the brain to think about the character as they do to think about themselves.24 People make their own brains, Imagine if they knew that and ‘they could construct and entertain a relation with their brain as the image of a world to come’25 Role Play arguably may support the transformation of the brain’s plasticity into mental “freedom.”

              Said potential to ‘decode’ and ‘recode’ our brain comes with different implications. For once, the brain-computer metaphor is reductive, limiting, and harmful when considering the impact it has on our self-understanding and is reinscribed through predictive coding, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and Social engineering.

              QAnon managed to recruit a large group of ‘researchers’ through guided apophenia and game mechanics that railroad players on the pleasurable path laid out with breadcrumbs in the form of small dopamine hits as the unknowing players are made to believe that it is them that ‘discover’ new clues.26

              The participatory nature of games runs the risk of performing an illusion of agency. In some way most art could be seen as a form of manipulation, as it hides its educative intentions and engrained worldview by making the viewer believe that they make their own conclusions while oftentimes crafting a skillful path for thoughts to travel.27

              This is not a call however to give up on the agency altogether. It rather calls to question: How to listen? How to create enabling structures? Here the notion of distance is useful. Both, the distance that lies between the intention of the artist’s work and the attentive focus of its prosumer but also within the player's self. Role Play offers a form of the double consciousness of being immersed and simultaneously observing one's own actions and reactions.

              ___


              In her article ‘Wyrding the self’, Jonaya Kemper reflects on LARP as a tool to release the body from internalized oppression and bias by taking on roles other than those that society may commonly prescribe to it.28 Here Role Play becomes a form of ‘disidentification’29 from assigned social roles. Her writing is a call, especially to those who do not fall into the ‘mythical norm’30 although she contends that both center and margin call to be released from their oppressive relation, though only the marginalized may have enough (will) power to release it.31 The character provides an ‘Alibi’ to explore parts of the self that one would normally hold back as not suiting to the previously assigned narration of self. The idea here is that through conscious action as well as embodied and intuitive reaction in play this narration expands.

              Kemper offers a method of extensive pre-and post-play preparation and reflection in which players identify themes they want to work on and consciously steer for dealing with them in-game. She calls this ‘navigational play’. This process is supported through the collection of ephemera and journaling.

              The possibility to transform the way we relate to ourselves, makes Role Play a commonly used technique in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and related practices. Although artists and LARPers are not medical professionals and do not claim to be, in times and places where medical care is not sufficiently available or affordable these self-organized practices can be seen as providing at least some kind of support. This is addressed directly by Furtherfield’s online LARP ’We were made for this // 2050 Fugitive Planning’ introducing players to ‘the Hologram’, a viral system for peer2peer monitoring and diagnostics based on physical, psychological, and social health. Developed for the Social Solidarity Clinic in Thessaloniki, Greece during the height of the financial crisis it was spread by a group of US artists in reaction to their own underattended public health and projected 30 years into the future in which players envisioned themselves as the most well-supported version of themselves - amongst collapsing human and environmental systems.

              NOVA

              NOVA. Future thoughts on surviving together’ is a futurist LARP written by Ana de Almeida and Alicja Rogalska and directed to queer and feminist initiatives. The game sets out with the sharing of problems and strategies that participants experience in their activist work to then move into a speculative realm that is free of patriarchal oppression and the suffocation it presents. Like in Draconis Lacrimae, Players are building the World together and are given a lot of freedom to customize the narrative according to the themes they want to address. They design fictional characters and identities and choose which parts to reveal or keep as a secret trait. Collectively they create organizations as well as the threat and opportunities that they will face during play, decide on a conflict and define previously unknown and unnamed feelings to address them. Through designing costumes, rituals, and a collective celebration as a final event the players are engaged in embodied forms of community building.

              Documentation of NOVA

              In his essay ‘THE CRITICAL ESCAPE artist and LARP designer Áron Birtalan insists that Role Play as a survival mechanism is not purely fictional as he recalls his upbringing in the ‘Kingdom of Pipecland’, a secret world that existed between 1938 and 1978 in rural Hungary and an attempt to create an ideal society as resistance to and ‘critical escape’ from the fascist regime.

              Level 5

              In regards to DIY therapy Brody Condon’s Role Play Level5 offers a critical stance. It presents an 'experiential essay' on the raise of the self-help industry and the dissemination of psychoanalysis throughout American popularity. It is a simulation of a Werner Erhard self-actualization workshop turned into a participatory game with the support of the LARP designers Bjarke Pedersen and Tobias Wrigstad. Contrived as a self-reflective hall of mirrors it lets players shed multiple layers of self—via an artificial layer of self, the character.

              Personal overlap with the game content and its residue varied with the player's intentions and style of play. Logbook sessions prompted the players to engage in an ongoing private conversation between themselves and the entity they became at three different levels: Character vs. character (character's self-reflection), player vs. character (your reflections on the character), and eventually player vs. player (your own self-reflection). The magical circle in this LARP is deliberately permeable, the fiction flexible to withstand intrusions and a playing field that lets players sway between different levels of immersion.

              "Scan your body for non-verbal signals. Briefly observe them. Activate, then slowly transmute into, one of your located non-verbal expressions. Become your crossed arms, become your organs, become your pain."
              ― Modified exercise from Gestalt Technique used in Zeigarnik Effect, 2015

              The LARP deals with subjectivity transformation processes from a specific period. The early large-group awareness training developed in the 70ies considered the individual responsible for all trauma and its lingering effects. Growing up with a father returning from Vietnam and a mother turning to trafficking and consuming narcotics, Brody stresses their failure to position trauma in relation to the oppressive social structures.


              Documentation Level 5

              Power relations are constitutive of the subject.32 Subjectivation is the person making, the ‘Character Creation’ so to say, it is the social roles we need to enact daily to survive in society. We are created by the gaze of others. This is not only done to us but also actively performed by us.33 Adding this degree of agency opens a path for subversive acts. 

              Once again let us pay a visit to the conflated metaphoric map of the dungeon. The BDSM Dungeon is a place where Role Play has been practiced already for a long time and arguably it is from their longstanding experience in negotiating consent in play that safety mechanics such as code words, calibration tools, and debriefing are now widely used in progressive LARP contexts were refined.

              The critical difference to the power relations that we experience outside of Role Play is that we do not get to consent to them. In BDSM this relies on intimate self-knowledge, the ability to communicate one's desires, and the trust that they will be respected. Being able to play with power can possibly lift some of the pressure that real power structures weigh on our bodies. It is a reminder of the inherently relational and fluid nature of power. Pain may draw this experience into the body but also allow the ‘self’ to transcend it.

              Of course, there are forms of therapy like Psychodrama, Gestalt therapy, or Family Constellation that use Role Play. Gestalt therapy for example lets clients play as a parent, a child, or partner in conflict, inhabiting facets of their subjectivities by adopting others. What binds these approaches is that they are relatively marginalized practices and that they are embodied.

              Trauma too is embodied. The past is perpetuated through a continued secretion of stress hormones that keeps the body captive in ‘flight mode’. As a result, the overstimulated subject loses touch with their body as it learns to distrust its signals. Like one eventually will stop listening to a broken alarm. In the western context, trauma is generally approached head first through a (psycho)analytical approach but this is often not sufficient. To activate the brain’s natural neuroplasticity and rewire disturbed functioning, the embodiment of new experiences plays a crucial role.34

              Erotic Sociability

              Isabel Lewis states in the letter, that healing begins ‘with rehabilitating our human sensorium, bringing into check the power we have given to the idea of objective, all-seeing, all-knowing vision in the modernity project.’

              Her work(shop) ‘Erotic Sociability’ intertwines embodiment exercises with the theories of feminist sociologist Roslyn H. Bologh offering the notion of interhuman sociality as an alternative to the dominant 20th century relational modes of competition, conflict, and coercion.’

              Bologh unfolds a relationality that is based on a mutual acknowledgment of each other and one’s own desires that celebrates difference. She sketches an ongoing movement rather than a fixation, a swaying between subject and object, a weighing of self-interest and care, a play with opacity and exposure that demands vulnerability to show that one is affected by the other.35

              After the collective discussion of Bologhs theory, Isabel draws us into our bodies. Different guided exercises affect a heightening and tuning of the senses. More radically aware and receptive to both non-human entities and each other, we move on. The last part is a dance. Isabel calls it a striptease. But instead of stripping our clothes, we are guided to turn our attention inward, toward the surface of our own skin, and imagine peeling away layers of social constructs and identity. Since the workshop is online we are divided in break out rooms where we are asked to dance for and with each other and perform the double movement between turning us inside out and while letting the outside in.

              The following is meant to be read to another—human or other-than-human, perhaps more-than-human—at a distance of approximately 60 cm.

              Find this position in relation to them in space.

              Hold them in your peripheral vision, gently.

              Attune yourself to their materiality.

              What volume of space do they displace?

              What compression or expansion of your own body would be required to fill that volume?

              Can you sense their weight?

              What is the timbre of their vibration?

              Can you transpose this into audible tones?

              Do you pick up on the smell of them from this distance?

              Without touching, is there a discernment that can be made about their temperature in relation to your own?

              Mind this.
              ― Excerpt of Invocation 1, Isabel Lewis, 2021

              Another recent work of Isabel is ‘Scalable Skeletal Escalator’, an immersive installation and improvised performance that turns the entire building (in this case Kunsthalle Zürich) into a body - made up of other bodies. The holobiont live work takes cues from biologist Dr. Lynn Margulis’ who has emphasized cooperation and symbiosis as driving forces for evolution next to Darwin’s better known (and funded) view of competition. Dancers organically adapt thir performance to the audiences, always responsive and in switching roles. Isabel calls this a ‘multi-organismic assemblage’. Another ‘Patchwork’ Body, an Exquistie Corpse. This game also pieces together a body collectively from bodyparts that might come from radically different worlds and yet they are connected, through open ends and speculation, enabling their bodies that bleed into each other. It is the writing of a body that defies narrative coherence.36 Desire here is derived from the discrete. If you take anybody seriously, one of the things you learn is not knowing.37

              In reflecting on the structural impact of hypertext Jackson wrote: ‘Everything is there at once and equally weighted. It is a body whose brain is dispersed throughout the cells, fraught with potential, fragile with indecision, or rather strong in foregoing decisions, the way a vine will bend but a tree can fall down.


              Dokumentation of Scalable Skeletal Escalator, Isabel Lewis, Kunsthalle Zürich, 2021

              S.M.I2.L.E.

              ‘Re-appropriating life allows the human mind to be disrupted and brought into a state of the uncanny enabling it to hack its common nodes of perception and taught identity. For example, the uncanny could be likened to the leach and the blood it feasts on to unconscious excess. We don’t die from the leech sucking our blood, but we do enter another mode of existence, we become a life force for another being. This state is both actively restricting and co-habiting with the leach. We could call this the moment of Meta-living with another being, in the case of Larp, your character.’ 38

              Omsk Social Club who describe themselves as a ‘futuristically political’ (i.e., unrealistic) immersive action group are known for devising a mutated form of LARP called ‘Real Game Play’ as a training camp for other modes of being. Rave culture has influenced their work possibly even more than Role Play traditions. As a rendering of the body useless for capitalist work, a space of collective euphoria, illusion and losing of one(s) self to find another.

              The work S.M.I2.L.E. is a 4-hour it is basically the enactment of a fictional cult(ure) that has formed in 2025 and is said to be a result of the effects of electronic media on our nervous system. While individual goals are diverse, the group is bound by a common enjoyment of non-linear experimentation with chemical highs, trancing, and journeying. Sounds like a party.

              The game begins with some paperwork. Players receive background info about the fiction and the format in general. Attached is also a waiver that has to be submitted before play. Safety first. So the pre-game workshop goes over the meta-techniques like consent and safety mechanisms. It also serves to precise a common story about the cult/ure, ideologies, customs and rituals, and relationships.

              It is common for players to play the same character in multiple games. This can be pure pragmatism but also because there are still things to ‘figure’ out. For ‘S.M.I2.L.E.’, I played a character that had found me as a commission. It was a request to develop a multiple-day LARP as an interactive scenery for an exhibition based on the story of Anja: a young artist who started a museum that became a cult and eventually faced ultimate tragedy.

              Behind the entrance door participants have to leave one of their senses. I decide to lose sight, so my first impression is pieced together from the remaining senses and imagination: Rattling chains connecting sculptural forms, the ceiling and fellow players,  air thick with incense, deaf people calling for assistance. The conversations are mostly practical in nature and Anja settles into a calm before the storm. When finally my vision is released, the foggy feeling remains. The space is saturated with reddish light and haze. The costumes perfectly matched. It's like being in a commercial (We are also wearing sneakers sponsored by Adidas) There is a camera filming everything. The first conversations with other players help me to develop Anjas backstory. I am curious to learn more about the others. Some worlds collide and we have to apply narrative trickery to find common ground. The game and accompanying soundtrack gradually pick up speed as announcements guide the group of players through different levels of consciousness and the corresponding rituals decided beforehand. Meditating, massaging, finally a rave that lasts several hours and gains more and more speed. There is not much talking, the music is too loud and danceable.

              In the end, we sit in a circle and share our experiences. Everyone is still dazed and animated. Many players talk about difficulties to stay fully in character. But in a game made to bleed, I suppose that is anyways besides the point.


              Dokumentation S.M.I2.L.E,Volksbühne Berlin, 2019

              Task: An audit of what is real

              Quickly write down everything you observe about your Self until you are exhausted, it does not have to make sense as this world rarely does.

              Then do an audit of what is real, cross out anything that no longer feels relevant.
              ― Taken from The Wet Altar Omsk Social Club

              What binds the works I have presented is the artists expressed a desire to create spaces that undermine and erode existing structures of mental oppression. Some of the artists may strive for more permanent solutions. But I wonder if it is not the fleeting nature of these experiments that conditions their freedom. A caving out Temporary Autonomous Zones in (sub)terrain of the self through fiction.39 Nevertheless, our bodies will remember them.

              It makes me think of a meme:



              The Rave is also a place where bodies conspire. To conspire means to breathe together. This statement was made by Simon Asencio, who heard it from Eleanor Ivory Weber, who saw it on an Andy Warhol poster. We are made up of other bodies. ‘Conspire’ then also means ‘to let each other breathe.’

              1
              ‘The Transatlantic Zombie: Slavery, Rebellion, and Living Death’, Sarah Juliet Lauro, 2015, explains how the zombie entered US consciousness through the American occupation of Haiti, the site of an eighteenth-century slave rebellion that became a war for independence, thus making the figuration of living death inseparable from its resonances with both slavery and rebellion and marks its rebranding as another form of absorption, cultural conquest and erasure.

              2 ‘Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures’, Mark Fisher, 2014.

              3 In his talk “The End of the World(s)” (2020) Federico Campagna stresses that there is no world. There is only the activity of ‘making world’, which he describes as aesthetic and axiomatic.

              4 ‘Building Dignified Worlds’, Gerta Roelvink, 2016 examines how contemporary collectives are designing alternative economies.

              5
              In his essay “Emissary’s Guide to Worlding” (2018) Ian Cheng outlines a path for making Worlds that can cross the threshold of imagination into aliveness.

              6 ‘An End to "this" World’Denise Ferreira da Silva interviewed by Susanne Leeb and Kerstin Stakemeier, Texte zu Kunst, 2019


              7
              ‘Prophetic Culture Recreation For Adolescents by Federico Campagna’, Federico Campagna, 2021, Bloomsbury Publishing

              8 ‘The End of a World and its Pedagogies’, Patricia Reed, 2021, Making & Breaking

              9‘The Rani of Sirmur: An Essay in Reading the Archives’, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, 1985 introduces the term Worlding into Postcolonial Studies

              10 ‘Metaphors We Live By’, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, 1980

              11
              ’Dungeoneering, Tom K.Kemp, Schemas of Uncertainty, 2019

              12 ‘The Weird and the Eerie’, Mark Fisher, 2016

              13 Mouthless-part-i-and-part-ii’ Dorota Gawęda and Eglė Kulbokaitė, artsoftheworkingclass.org

              14 ‘Sick Woman Theory’, Johanna Hedva, 2016

              15dis-order.info, Yael Wicki

              16 ‘AIDS and Its Metaphors’ by Susan Sonntag, 1989

              17 Draconis Lacrimae: Escape From The Guts of The Dragon
              Federico Vladimir Strate Pezdirc & Pablo Esbert Lilienfeld, 2021


              18 ‘Identity can often be vital in dealing with a situation of oppression, but it would be a mistake to use it to avoid dealing with complexity. Life cannot be saturated with identity’. The Handbook quotes Judith Butler in conversation with Beatriz Preciado, 2008

              19 Deliberatly it also retains their markers such as (fantasy) class and race that are inherited from RPG’s legacy as a war game and it’s abstraction and discrimination of (not-fantasy) bodies to problematize it in-game. Also borrowed from traditional role play  mechanics every character is reduced to 5 abilities that are define action points both by chance (a dice roll) and by their class.This is an adjustment to traditional D&D that also performs stat changes based on race which is addressed by projects like Class Modifier Module for DnD 5e.

              20 apass.be/profile/portfolio-federico-vladimir-strate-pezdirc/

              21 ‘Polaris’, Francois Menneteau, Philippe Tessier, and Raphael Bombayl, first published in 1997 and ‘Microscope’ by Ben Robbins from 2011

              22 Karen Barad, “Transmaterialities: Trans*/ Matter/Realities and Queer Political Imaginings”, 2015

              23 ‘Forming attitudes via neural activity supporting affective episodic simulations’, Nature Communications, 2019

              24 ‘Identification with fictional characters is associated with greater self–other neural overlap’, Oxford University Press, 2021

              25 ‘What should we do with our brains’, Catherine Malabou, 2008 (partially quoting Marx)

              26  ‘A Game Designer's Analysis Of QAnon’ Reed Berkowitz, Medium, 2020

              27 ‘One Number Is Worth One Word’ Luis Camnitzer, eflux podcast, 2020

              28 ‘Wyrding the Self’ Jonaya Kemper, 2018

              29 ‘Disidentifications. Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics’, José Esteban Muñoz, 1999

              30 a concept Kemper borrows from Audre Lorde’s, ‘Age, Race, Class and Sex’, 2015

              31 Here Kemper quotes Freire in ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, 1968/2014

              32 ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’, Michel Foucault, 1975

              33 ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory, Judith Butler, 1988

              34 ‘The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma’ , Bessel A. van der Kolk, 2014

              35 ‘Love or Greatness: Max Weber and Masculine Thinking--a Feminist Inquiry’, Roslyn Wallach Bologh,1990

              36 ‘Giving an Account of Oneself’ Judith Butler, 2005. Butler compliments Foucault’s views on how self-narration is entangled with power relations disputing the pursuit for narrative coherence in favor of vulnerability, precariousness, and relationality.

              37 Making Kin: An Interview with Donna Haraway, 2019

              38 OMSK Social Club presents “Deep Intimacy”, 2016

              39
              ‘Provided we can escape from the museums we carry around inside us, provided we can stop selling ourselves tickets to the galleries in our own skulls, we can begin to contemplate an art which re-creates the goal of the sorcerer: changing the structure of reality by the manipulation of living symbols ... Art tells gorgeous lies that come true.’ -T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone’ Hakim Bey, 1991

              40 To conspire means to breathe together, Simon Asencio, 2019