Exquisite Corpse


Carina Erdmann


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‘Dark energy and dark matter are invisible to us. We only know of their existence because of their effect on visible bodies. It presents an interesting question. How to visualize the invisible? Or, to go a step further, how to visualize the, as yet, impossible? The difficulty of imagining something that is as yet outside of our conscious ’system’, beyond not only our understanding, but beyond that which we can ever imagine imagining.’

Excerpt from the script of Prototypes II

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 and increasingly automated scripts 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, to others perpetual apocalypses presents a state of being or threat thereof 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 worldingentails. 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 the 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 the 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 hegemonic 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 Games (RPGs) 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 ‘the 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 a scientific abstraction and distance that recalls the map-making of settler colonial forms of ‘Worlding’9 (Including attempts to ‘bring to light’ the submerged part of the psyche or ‘decode’ the human brain through analysis, that extend the enlightenment project into the inside ‘territory’.), 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 its 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


The tabletop RPG ‘After the Maestro’ by Tom K. Kemp is set within an ‘anthropomorphized anatomy’. It depicts the inner human body as an industrialized city and draws from its existing narrativization that ranges from the body as state, territory, factory, and machine and serves to naturalize sovereign power, war, or the atomization of labor and technology. Tom’s work aims at complicating and subverting such 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 (TTRPGs) 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 sessions, Matt Colquhoun aka Xenogothic is playing a group of young Spermatozoa, effectively impotent characters with a desire for conquest, hanging around in the ‘lower parts’ and 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, personify the Pineal Glandt that starts the game 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.  Alongside most of the practices outlined in this text, also Tom centers the Worldbuilding process in his 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, a place that also historically has been drawn out of and by a process of subjugation and the haunted bodies it produces. (Eg. folktales that demonized the ostracized during the gothic period.13) Another play session run with the crew of ‘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 to 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 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 of consumption have caused to herself as a cancer patient. In the follow-up book16 gearing her 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 and possibly makes them die as ‘losers of a fight’.

In ‘Deep Nation’ a Live Action Role Play (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 Damokle’s sword. In the end, ‘TOMMY’ teamed up with ‘Love’ and convinced the other characters to open up to the potential of uncontrolled cell growth.

Sontag's theories have also been influential to the writing process of the RPG ‘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 portrays 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 and in swallowing the other two, embodies their community. 17

The game design becomes a self-exploratory journey that is presented both as an autobiographical performance piece as well as a Player’s Handbook opening the process to potential players. In many RPGs, the game starts with character creation, allowing the players to personalize their Roles and decide on their desired level of ‘Bleed’ (the spillover between character and player). Here this part plunges right into the bloodstream. 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

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

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From there the character-building steers into categorization. Introduced with the ironic slogan ‘Hypertag yourself. Saturate your life with identity’, it reminds us how instrumentalization and marketing of identities reduce the complexity of the lived experience. 18 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 evokes many ways in which personhood has been further imprisoned through 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 RPGs that have no ‘Game Master’ and center collective creation and negotiation.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.

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. 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, conjuring figures of hermaphrodite snails as well as Karen Barad's 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

In Prototype II: The Institute for the Enrichment of Computer Aided Post Gendered Prototypes (2018) a holographic host introduces the  protagonists to the making and unmaking of their binarized gendered identities. Finally, letting them choose whether they wish to cross through the portal into a genderless multiverse where an 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 you think of your environment? Do you feel different? What do you think of yourself being different from? When you were young did you feel different? How does difference make you feel? How do you think your body and your thoughts communicate or relate to each other? 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 toward 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 I wonder if and how Role Play can 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 though, 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. 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. 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.


Think of a feeling for which you do not have any words (yet). Eplain this feeling to each other. Make up a word for it together.Adapted score from NOVA


Documentation of NOVA 

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. 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 and related negotion around consent have been practiced already for a long time and where safety mechanics such as code words, calibration tools, and debriefing now widely used in progressive LARP contexts were developped 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 here may actually 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

Isabel Lewis states in a letter that she addresses at her audience, 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. It is an attending of one another, 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 with 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

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Introducing the notion of the Dividuum36, Gerald Raunig destabilizes the notion of the ‘in-dividual’ as a given. He reveals the idea of the self as an indivisible unit as a cultural and ideological construction37 and losing the prefix points to the divisible nature of things opening up potential passageways that lay between the individual and the communal. He points to the authorship of books themselves and their relation to other books. We are used to thinking of books as written by individuals, but as Raunig points out they are always built on chains of other books that constitute their body of knowledge rendered visible, as direct quotations and reference noted down in the Footnotes. 
The margins emerge here as place a place of trans-temporal exchange and conversation between different readers as seen in medieval scriptures38 but also as a place of resistance in the tradition of black radical thought and  feminist practices of critical pedagogy.39

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 their performance to the audiences, always responsive and in switching roles. Isabel calls this ‘multi-organismic assemblage’. Another ‘Patchwork’ Body, an Exquisite Corpse.

This game also pieces together a body collectively from body parts that might come from radically different worlds and yet they are connected, through open ends and speculation, enabling their bodies to bleed into each other. It is the writing of a body that defies narrative coherence.40 Desire here is derived from the discrete. If you take anybody seriously, one of the things you learn is not knowing.41


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

Abandonning the obsession of categorization and scientific forms of knowledge production also releases the regiment of the visual as frame of reference and language as means of communication. Áron Birtalan creates Role Plays that emphasis on subjective worlds and character-creation like his non-verbal LARP ‘DIM’ that takes place in a darkened and undefined abstract space where participants meet as Forms and Shadows and communicate mainly through their own unique body language, guided through exercises in attention, breathing and movement. Somatic LARPs like ‘Xenosomatics’ by Susan Ploetz build a vocabulary of skills (hyperobservation, ideokinesis, hyperempathy, interfacing) to fundamentally reinvent and extend the way we use and relate to our own and each other's bodies.

Participants playing an early version of DIM, Secret Fiction Lab, 2017

While this forms of engagement may seem too vague or abstract to actually address the concrete and urgent problems that are at stake, these artists argue that it is exactly this ability to think and act outside the reactive feedback loops of critique, which eventually offers a more effective defense. Contemporary criticism meanwhile often helps to sustain the system that it searches to oppose, entranced in a dance of dependency. In his essay ‘THE CRITICAL ESCAPEartist and LARP designer Áron Birtalan insists that Role Play as 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 a resistance to and ‘critical escape’ from the facist regime. 

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. 


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


Their first public large-scale piece was ‘PLAY RAVE’ in 2017 featuring 400 Live identities constructed from looking at and speaking to four different generations of crews, promoters, DJs, producers, dancers, and cult figures in Zurich that had put on illegal raves in the city-the earliest in the 1980s. In an Interview with !Mediengruppe Bitnik they explain that 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.


Cryptorave#9, Omsk Social Club and !Mediengruppe Bitnik. Fotos: Mike Tsolis 2019


Under the cover the waves’ is an improvised re-enactment of dream accounts shared, staged and filmed by a group of participants that are invited into the collaboration of Trakal and Jack Hogan. They refer to Moten's vision of the undercommons as a sub-existent, subversive hive of relational commitments and activities giving rise to myriad experiences of celebration, support, and resistance evident everywhere to a participating (and thus attentive) accomplice.

This dreaming-together speaks to Trakal’s artistic approach, which foregrounds questions of collectivity and equality from a post-socialist perspective. ‘Oneirotopia’ another of his dream-works, is 4-day workshop using collective worlding techniques to imagine dreams as outlooks of an utopic otherly world, which respectively act as counter-influences to dominant cultures of consumerism and rationality. Jack came to the project interested in sociality and dispossession as engagements that crack open the often overly individuated world of the dreamer. They themselves ‘dream’ of using dream-sharing culture to get around our inner censors, accessing an oceanic imaginary. Dream states open up possibilities by shutting off the controlled part of the brain that wants to produce specific outcomes and manage everything, a form of direct action--acting as if we are already free.  


Under the covers, the waves!, 2021, Athens Biennale

Here it may be also relevant to remember Beradt as an influential figure in modern dream-sharing practices, as the local and geo-political battlefield is now more than ever the human mind. After the Nazis' rise to power the Jewish journalist and writer Charlotte Beradt’s began collecting the dreams42 of her fellow germans until she had to flee the country in 1939. The dreams reveal the totalizing force of the regime permeating the subjects' psyche and yet remain a realm of free expression in which the suppressed feelings of fear and guilt can find expression. Beyond that Berardt’s book points to the potential of dream-sharing as a form of alternate narration of a collective experience and memory and therefore possibly also a way to address collective trauma and healing.

The trajectory sketched in this text proposes an inner reframing as a form of resistance or escape. What binds the works I have presented is the artists desire to create spaces that undermine and erode existing structures of mental oppression. Still the aim of crafting speculative, imaginary worlds as laboratories for thoughts, is in most cases motivated by the urgency and desire to prefigure actual transformations taking form or leaving a more permanent imprint. And here the body recalls us to return and tend to its limitations. It has material needs from a material world.

What I wonder if it may be the fleeting nature of these experiments that conditions their freedom, a caving out of ‘Temporary Autonomous Zones’ in the (sub)terrain of the self through fiction.43 Can freedom like trauma  materialize by inscribing itself into our bodies? And how does this become not continue to be a freedom on the cost of others? How do we avoid carving out our own communitarian rabbitholes?

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 Asencio44, 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 A category of the human mind: the notion of person; the notion of self’ In his lecture from
1938, Marcel Mauss distinguishes between  notion of self and that of a persona, a fixed role or position within a society, akin to masks that an individual may switch within the course of their lives.

37
‘Dividuum: Machinic Capitalism and Molecular Revolution’, 2016, Gerald Raunig

38 Perceptions of Medieval Manuscripts: The Phenomenal Book’, 2021, Elaine Treharne

39
‘On Footnotes’, Lecture (2021), Legacy Russell; ‘Zeroes and Ones’ (1997), Sadie Plant  

40
‘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.

41   Making Kin: An Interview with Donna Haraway, 2019

42 
‘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

43 ‘The Third Reich of Dreams’ is a collection of seventy-five dreams, compiled by journalist Charlotte Beradt and smuggled out of Germany during the 1930s in code. Neither scientific study nor psychoanalytic text it is a collective diary, a witness account hauled out of a nation’s subconscious mind.

44To conspire means to breathe together, Simon Asencio, 2019