The Carnival as Transformative Device

Carnival Transformations - From Virtual to Physical

Physical objects can manifest fantastic qualities when new narrative frameworks are applied to them. Early in the SCOOT projects’ conceptual phase, I decided to create an experience that explicitly combined the disruptive game aretefacts with the authentic artifacts of place in an effort to transfer the mimetics of the game interfaces onto the everyday surfaces. This way, SCOOT remains attached to the site well after the performance is over and the installations are removed from the site. In effect each object and/or surface of the games location become potential ‘sign vehicles’ (Goffman 1959). Further to this, SCOOT requires players to incorporate their own personal mobile phone devices as interfaces of play by using SMS as another source of the narrative. As Goggin (2006) points out, mobile technologies have the potential to bring ‘playful experiences to physical spaces, encouraging users to go out on the streets and bringing new meaning to physical spaces’ while potentially transforming the mobile device ‘into collective/social mediums and ludic devices’.

Narrative Resonance in Place

The ultimate intention of the SCOOT experience is to have a resonant effect on the players who would potentially transfer this effect to other locations revealing the dramatic potential of all sites. In this way, SCOOT does not only provide an alternative view of the narratives of a specific game location, but also provides a semantic system for viewing alternatives in other places in other times, regardless of the presence, or lack thereof, of a SCOOT Event. Thereby transforming the SCOOT participants’ ability to imagine the potential of all places as resources for creative practice. Revealing, that these creative opportunities have simply been hidden by limited perspectives of place that are culturally and often commercially predetermined.
I argue that a person, by mere fact of living, intentionally or incidentally follows, collects and constructs a narrative as they drift through life, and that this ‘life’ is a combination of both private and public narratives that are recalled as memories or presented as stories. But because we rarely live apart from the influence of others, it is not possible for our narrative to be totally independent or impervious to manipulation. In fact, we become part of the narrative of others as they too play a role in our own. Furthermore, others can become the author of our lived-narrative, perceived, interpreted and retold from the perspective of their life and in relation to their narrative. As such, we naturally seek narratives. We seek them in all places and situations. In a museum it is not sufficient to simply display an artifact. We expect a didactic, which becomes a device to ‘emplot’ the object into a historical context so that we can add it to our personal narrative to re-call and re-tell.

“…to change semantic systems means to change the way culture ‘sees’ the world… The moment that the game of entwined interpretations gets under way, the text compels one to reconsider the usual codes and their possibilities. Every text threatens the codes but the same time gives them strength: it reveals unsuspected possibilities in them, and thus changes the attitude of the user toward them… compelled to rethink the whole language, the entire inheritance of what has been said, can be said, and could be or should be said.” (Eco 1979b p274)

These artifacts are transformed by the game into props for consuming and presenting our own narratives. This way the place becomes both a muse and a stage for game appropriation and playful performance. SCOOT demonstrates to the participants that they can play a role in the construction of new stories and the discovery of old ones. Regardless of the problems associated with modern public spaces, we have the potential to re-code our surroundings through a participatory public act that Cobb (1993) describes as ‘the co-elaboration or co-construction of a conjoint story.’ Likewise, in their paper aptly titled ‘The Promise of Play’, Lindtner and Dourish (2011) propose that ‘the meanings of games arise at the meeting point of existing, shared interpretive frameworks, local circumstances and developments that span across different locales’ and further, that ‘meaning arises at the intersections of social and material practice, and the movement of ideas, people and artifacts’. Lindtner and Dourish are referring to the context of digital games played in internet cafés and up-scale entertainment spaces in China. SCOOT applies this to everyday places broadening this potential ‘promise of play’ to the everyday locale of everyday interactions and narrative identity formation.

The Carnival as Narrative Device for Transformation

SCOOT acknowledges the personal memories of the individual participants and mixes it with the collective memories of circus tropes, to skin the abstract surfaces of buildings and objects with alternative codes of subversive intervention and playful modification. SCOOT is one possible narrative interpretation of a space waiting to be a stage for play. The social text and the spatial texts are sometimes experienced separately, but when you become an Agent of SCOOT you become a body for and of interpretation, a living bridge between the historic and the fantastic and between the virtual and the material worlds.
Bourdieu (1998) acknowledged that ‘to master in a practical way the future of the game, is to have a sense of the history of the game.’ By ‘game’, Bourdieu is referring to interactions ‘played out between agents in cultural fields’. In this sense, SCOOT is a game within an existing game. SCOOT is an explicit merger of opposing ‘cultural fields’ in which different ‘games’ intersect and create problems for each field of play; a carnival game of subversion and trickery within museum game of reverence and reflection. In the tradition of Bakhtin, SCOOT mixes the ‘free carnival atmosphere’ with the ‘droll aspect of the world’. SCOOT to provides ‘temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and from the established order; the suspension of all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms and prohibitions’ (Bakhtin 1968). Similarly Davis (2002) describes the circus as ‘occasions for shared laughter, at which participants poked fun at authority figures and celebrated the grotesque body. These special events suspended time and dissolved social hierarchies.’
SCOOT makes use of the ‘carnival as a metaphor-making faculty’ (Stoddart 2000) in a similar way authors and film-makers established the circus as a narrative convention in works such as Dicken’s ‘Hard Times’, Chaplin’s ‘The Circus’, and Fellini’s ‘The Clowns’. A particular example is the instance of the SCOOT ‘BarryBell’ installation. ‘BarryBell’ is a SCOOT character based on historic accounts of Sir Redman Barry, founder of the State Library of Victoria in which it is installed. Although Sir Redman was a very important and respected figure, he was also unpopular in that he was reportedly very aggressive, bossy and sexist (women were apparently restricted to a small room where they could look at books on domestic issues only while wearing gloves to protect the books). So in the parallel world of SCOOT he has been made ‘blue in the face’ and trapped on top of his own podium by the Dodgy Carnies of SCOOT unable to reach his book. The player requires information from Sir Redman Barry to progress in the game. But he will not assist the players until they have helped him reach his book by completing a game similar to a carnival ‘strength game’. Once the book is received, an old telephone rings and Sir Redman reads out the next clue to the players. The physical mechanics of this installation draws from both sideshow alley games and video arcade experiences as illustrated in the images below…