Nick Tandavanitj on Kidnap

These are rough notes from talking with Nick Tandavanitj about their 1998 piece Kidnap. As I’ve found from talking with all three of them, Kidnap was a seminal work for Blast Theory. It marks a major conceptual, and also importantly, production departure from previous works and helped set them on their current road.

  • Their starting point for previous work was that it revolved around, and would feel like, going out for the night, i.e. in the theme, the narrative and that it is completely participatory. (fell like or fit into other liminoid activities)
  • The piece is about the rise of the internet
  • It is based in real life. Not a performance, not an installation, not virtual, not imaginary.
  • It was a truly pervasive art work. (not in the technological sense, but in the true sense of the word)
  • It involved conceptual participation (an idea that seems to resonate with the talk of other pervasive game designers, a pyramid of engagement, from the final two, to semi-finalists, through those who entered the competition and out to a wider audience through the media)
  • To ensure this they spent a lot of time, effort and money on a PR company
  • Very much a progression from Atomic and Safehouse
  • A lot of care and attention was paid to details, such as the sign up forms, the marketing and the kidnap blipvert (the details of the process were carefully considered, this seems to come through from the installations Atomic and Safehouse)
  • The piece was very much about surveillance. The final 10 semi-finalists were tailed for 2 days and sent a spy film like surveillance photo. The kidnap was filmed and the entire experience was streamed live for the two days.
  • The final two participants reasons for taking part were radically different. They had significantly different life narratives and expectations of how this experience would fit in to their own lives.
  • Debra was Australian and new to the UK. She wanted to meet people and just hang out with everyone to make friends.
  • Russel was bored with his life and wanted excitement. To him this would be a mythic spy/crime/film experience.
  • The kidnaped were locked in a box for 2 days. Lots of boredom and silence. Stretches of boredom wedged between two moments of high excitement with the odd bit of excitement and interactivity inbetween. (sounds similar to Turner’s use of Dewey and Dilthey in Anthropology of Experience)
  • Finishes up with a press conference at the ICA (An interesting reintroduction into the structures of society, the way those who have been through extreme liminal experiences come back as heroes and their status has been elevated.)

Nick reckons there was no camaraderie, no communitas, between the kidnap victims. Though this has been heavily debated since, perhaps although they didn’t discuss deep and meaningful topics they may have still developed a bond. Apparently they also kept in touch for some time afterwards. In the video documentation there is a very poignant image of them both in hoods holding hands, but memories are hazy and that might have been faked for the cameras on the way to the press conference.

Kidnap Blipvert from Blast Theory on Vimeo.

Communitas – Blast Theory day 11

The last piece of the puzzle, but the thing to really convince me about this ritual process and anti-structure schema, is communitas. During my ethnography and interviews of the last year the single, stand out, common feature seemed to be the social aesthetics. The most pleasurable aspect for players was to actually play with real people and the descriptions of this fits well with communitas, one of Turner’s key additions to the ritual process.

Communitas, that feeling of togetherness that occurs during liminal and liminoid activities. That feeling of oneness during music festivals, hen nights or civil war. It’s that drunken “I love you man” statement. It is also probably the sense of oneness that helps convince someone to join in the looting when everyone else is doing it.

[It is a] “Moment in and out of time,” and in and out of secular social structure, which reveals, however fleetingly, some recognition (in symbol if not always in language) of a generalized social bond that has ceased to be and has simultaneously yet to be fragmented into a multiplicity of structural ties.

According to him there are two models for human relations. The everyday, structured, hierarchical, differentiated social systems with status, identity, evaluation, politics. But also the social characteristics which emerges in liminal space, with barely rudimentary structure, participants undifferentiated, identities broken down and a communion of equal individuals. Turner adopts the term communitas rather than community to differentiate this new ritual state. Beyond the structures of society are not just the Hobbesian war of all against all, but also spontaneous communitas, before roles and regulation crops up. It is also very similar to Hakim Bey‘s Temporary Autonomous Zones, or what as Turner is quick to point out, “hippie happenings.”

This description of communitas attracted me because it matched well with the sense of enjoyment that people report from playing street games. The kinds of responses I had revolved around the enjoyment of working in a team, the directness of human contact/interaction and the sense of loss at the dissipation of a game, and the dissipation of the shared experience. No other pleasure seemed as important or as common as this sense of communitas.

Blast Theory residency day 2

For this residency project I’ll be using the work of Victor Turner. There are three broad, interrelated and interconnected aspects of his theory of Ritual and Liminality that I’m interested in.

  1. The Ritual Process: The three part, pre-liminal, liminal, post-liminal, cycle of ritual experience
  2. Communitas: The feeling of togetherness and solidarity during a ritual activity
  3. Liminal vs Liminoid: The relationship between necessary rituals in pre-industrial societies and elective liminal-like activities in industrialised society

These are ordered as the chronologically appeared, but have to be taken together as a way to analyse pervasive games. The three part ritual process itself originates with the french, formalist ethnographer and folklorist Arnold Van Gennep. Turner doesn’t really go out of his way to differentiate his use of the three part process from Van Gennep, and seems to use it straight out of Rites of Passage (1909). In one of his earlier books, The Ritual Process (1969), Turner describes his concept of Communitas, based on his observations of the Ndembu and analysis of other ethnographers work. Over a decade later, in From Ritual To Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play (1982), he describes the liminal/liminoid distinction as he becomes more interested in performance studies and the developed world.