Outplaying the Theory

On June 2, 2017, artist OMSK Social Club organized a larp – Live Action Role Play – as the main element of her exhibition “Deep Intimacy” at Gold + Beton in Cologne, Germany.

OMSK Social Club is an artist, writer and theorist based in Berlin. uses larp to investigate the potential of fictionalized human interactions both in IRL (In real Life) and URL (online). Play becomes a multifunctional tool of resistance and escape in both the pop and the political. On the opening night of her recent show, “Deep Intimacy” eight players took over the roles defined in a previously played game between the artist and a fb user called Dvid Jns. The player’s interaction was finely-tuned beginning with a digital conversation over social media in the weeks prior to the opening/game play, effectively immersing themselves into fabricated identities – they’d agreed on by playing and established characters upon the dynamics of the dominate / submissive. The opening night saw 4 couples playing out their roles in intimate, locked in conversations, arms cast over legs, sharing drinks, cigarettes on bleached demin beds, whilst a 28 minute archival recording from the original transcripts played in the gallery. The song served as an entry point into these interplays for the viewers and allowed the intimacy to flow between the couples in a more relaxed atmosphere.

The players from the Cologne episode have submitted answers to a series of questions relating to their experience. These answers are included in the following text they are not in any precise order. Musings by the author are found in Italics. The author himself did not participate to any larp.

Karim Crippa: How was your interaction with your partner really started?

Garrett: Monosyllabic picture posts, digital grunts from a burdened task management mind set, „Why aren’t you replying“ – „Are you still in“. This is me still, this will always be my eternal skin: half distracted, extroverted aloof, overwhelmed but level headed. Didn’t care to believe or disbelieve – just saying.

OMSK Social Club’s use of role play is contemporary and political; she encourages a viewer to explore the digital and lived as one unit. There’s an individual behind a screen; they translate a constructed self into a digital messenger platform; but that synthetic persona is inevitably built, at least partially, with bricks of the “original” self.

So what we might think of this Authenticity suddenly seeming shallow, blurred, and inconclusive; the meaning of Truth as well. In this frame, Authenticity and Truth can in fact not be grasped or understood in the simplistic way we are used to anymore; specifically because these terminologies relate to a person, a character, a construct. It’s both made of flesh and code, and then Code takes over Flesh and Mind and vice versa.

Is this liberating? Infuriating? Confusing? Probably all of it, especially when you’ve been assigned a personality that’s already been used (in a previous larp staged by the artist, for example); a personality that might be very close to a desire you have, not a material desire, but more like a desire to behave in a certain way, a desire to profoundly feel a shift from something solid and tangible to something glitchy and evasive, like a salmon transforming into an eel… digital role play seems to provide a certain distance between what you are and what to pretend to be – but here again, is there actually a difference?

KC: What aspect of your relationship feels the most disturbing?

Pitt: Nothing feels disturbing any more. There was a moment before the performance when I found myself feeling so insecure that he wouldn’t write back for a while. It felt creepy as I knew that this was just a game, that I didn’t even know this person (until then), but still I felt very vulnerable

KC: What aspect of your relationship feels the most pleasant?

Naomi: There was a certain unpredictability in both of our behaviours and this was a really interesting thing to see within myself. To exist as the character was also to exist with a different moral compass and different set of life experiences. My character was more reckless and more forgiving than I am as a person. It was nice to explore these parts of myself. There was a sexual connection between us/our characters, which I ended up finding most pleasant/interesting, there are so many mind games when you are sexually physical with someone who you don’t really know.

Participants skate on very thin ice, they might in fact offer much more vulnerable surface when slipping into their synthetic identity (it’s full of unknown corners, shadowy alcoves, misty dark spaces you need to explore and map) than when showing their “true” self, which is also why at a certain point, there might not be a “true” self anymore: the tickling felt after having shed the reliable armour of truth can seduce beyond expectations. To bend over, to lie down, to push someone. To feel the fury of deception, but mostly the power of goals met, goals so far unclear to both you and your partner probably provided / provides the participants with a feeling of mental and physical density that must ultimately be strangely satisfying.

The blending of a new persona with an old one can create a platform of resistance to the maelstrom of hysteria one is confronted with everyday. If truth in information doesn’t matter anymore, is it possible to overcome this gaping wound in the tissue of reliability by actually pushing it further, on a deeply personal level?

Can we resist lies with more authentic lies? But here it is again, the word “authentic”, clearly misplaced – maybe “intimate” is a more fitting qualifier, as OMSK Social Club had found out indeed.

KC: What aspect of your relationship feels the most pleasant?

Garett: The eyes.

KC: Resistance, escape, introspection: can you pick one of these terminologies and in a couple of sentences, explain how you relate to it in relation to the experience of the larp initiated by OMSK Social club?

Pitt: It’s introspection for me. I guess experiences like this make me more aware of how or what I desire (and how little it has to do with the person itself). It gave me some thoughts about the chatroom as a fictional space and how to use it to my advantage. OMSK Social Club made a worse person out of me (in a good way).

Escaping from the sombre realm – yes, it is sombre, no irony here – of both too much and too little truth, as exemplified in some instances in the artist’s work, feels exhausting; introspection is painful enough, so using shreds of it to weave together something between a cocoon and a vessel must be as tiring as a long swim in cold water. And what’s the reward after such an asserted effort? It’s again something intangible, hard to seize.

Hopefully something like standing on a bridge over a highway but knowing you can’t fall off of it. And then, the thought of actually not being alone in all of this: there’s a partner you’ve exchanged with, you might have fought or laughed, and so memories form a strange flock in your head, chirping and flying like tired sparrows.

The larp was possibly more pleasant for one partner than the other; the reduction to a duality participants didn’t fully control – it was the artist’s decision – must have been as exciting as it must feel foreign to most of us. Pleasure, entertainment, joy, those cannot be goals here. What are they? Maybe the artist knows? Probably, but the participants have trusted her without the need for an ultimate bundle of conclusions.

KC: How do you foresee the development of your relationship with your partner? Will there be something more coming or is it over for you?

Naomi: It’s over for me. I think it continues for her, somehow, like a fantasy. But I’m not interested in continuing it further… it was very unique to this kind of drug-trip experience that only existed within the hours I was in the space.

Without preaching she teased life in and out of the theoretical.