Originally I had thought I was coming here to fill in a technical piece of my PhD puzzle, how Blast Theory achieve their award winning experiences through technology. However the lasting impression I get is not that this is achieved the use of technology, but instead that they do this through detailed production processes and a real attention and absolute care paid to the nuts and bolts of the experience.
Rather than being experts in whizzy technology (though they do have a deep understanding of how to use it) their skills like in the planning of the process of experiences. It is fascinating to hear all the three artists discuss the intricate, step by step details of the various works (often dating back 10 years) and it is very telling that they all remember the step by step details with high degree. To achieve this sort of recall points to them having spent a lot of time finessing these processes. This goes all the way back to kidnap, and for example getting entry forms just right.
Most of the attention Blast Theory gets for their work is focussed on the glitzy main event, the GPS game, virtual world, or the technology. However it is the attention that they pay to how a participant enters and leaves that experience that really distinguishes their pieces. And it is here that they show that they can achieve liminal experiences by ushering people carefully across the threshold and into their works. The beginnings and ends, which usually have nothing to do with high tech, are the mechanisms that assist this liminality.
Another interesting point about their processes is that although they say they “want to make you do things you’ve never done before” they are not trying to make you do actions you haven’t tried before. The things they want to get you to do are made up of fairly mundane, everyday physical actions, and these, pieced together and executed in a different context are what bring about the experiences. Other liminal experiences also have this same relationship: pilgrimages are just extended commuting; rituals involve lots of small, easily repeatable symbolic actions; festivals often involve simple things such as processions, or easily replicable dances. The individual actions can be mundane, but take on different symbolic meaning in the context of the participant’s liminal state.
Victor Turner’s description of the Isoma ritual that he writes about in The Ritual Process feels very similar. The whole ritual is complex, and the doctors involved are the only ones that appreciate the whole, but the other participants take part by digging holes, slaughtering chickens or singing simple songs.
Having just read another review of the – i’m still gutted I didn’t go this year – game 2.8 hours later, it is interesting to see the reviewer describe some of the same carefully considered details emerging to build that liminal game space.