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Club Real #1

What about LARP at Sonsbeek2008?

23 May 2008: At this first Club Real evening, artist Brody Condon and game designer Bjarke Pederson gave a preview on the big LARP (Live-Action Role Playing) event they thought up for Sonsbeek2008.
By placing the LARP culture in an art manifestation, Condon and Pederson will add a new reality to Sonsbeek2008. The park and the artworks become the scenery of a game with own rules and ceremonies performed by a big group of LARP’ers, directed by Condon and Pederson.

Magical powers and retro computers
It all started when Brody Condon (USA, 1974) was a young boy, fascinated by computers and games. His first work consisted of programming a huge TI-99 computer, which was too big to lug out of the closet. Therefore he used to sit in his closet all day, importing complex codes into this machine. When it unexpectedly shut off in some unfortunate cases, he lost days and days of work.

Outside of the closet young Brody created pen and paper role-plays with his friends. Drawing figures that had magical power and would engage in historical battles, based on Dungeons & Dragons and the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. It is when these two pastimes met, that the foundation for his artistic work was formed.

Gaming for art’s sake
Condon’s work is notable for its influence on the re-purposing of existing games or game structures to create sculpture, performance and video installation.
At a time when no paradigms were set how to use computer games, Condon started to experiment: How do you sketch with those materials? How do you take different figures out of the game and use them? How do you take out what is important?
Now he ‘performs’ on-screen by directing a game character through a game setting, adjusting scenarios or manipulating the context of the game. He films these performances, which are then shown in galleries and museums around the globe.

Larp innovationsLarp innovations

The game structures Condon is interested in do not tie him to the computer though. His experiences with role-play from his youth lead him to work with a huge medieval re-enactment group. Adult men re-enacting battle fields using (sometimes plastic) swords and wearing armour. He took them off the open grass fields and placed them in the artificial surroundings of an art gallery, battling each other for two hours in six death matches.

Two years ago Brody Condon again brought medieval costume back to the gallery. This time with professional dancers dressed up as medieval action figures, performing dying scenes from computer games in slow motion, both imitating and inducing out-of-body experiences.

Bjarke Pederson at Platform21.JPGBjarke Pederson at Platform21.JPG

For Sonsbeek2008, a big outdoor exhibition in the Sonsbeekpark in Arnhem, later this summer, Brody is taking his work with role-playing to a next level. In between the sculptures in the park, a LARP community will live for a few weekends. Live-Action Role Playing entails that players live through roles and relate through each other in a fictional world where other people, like visitors of the exhibition, are not part of.
Creating the scenarios for the game, Condon controls the actions, feelings and relations amongst the community. He does this together with Danish LARP organiser and player Bjarke Pederson.

Escaping into a world where digital photography is forbidden
Game designer Bjarke Pederson has a lot of personal experience with the fantastical world of LARP, which is very popular in his native country, Denmark, and the other Nordic countries.

According to Pederson role-playing is all about taking on a character and being totally someone else for a while, therefore some also call it interactive literature. This can be a short character or one many pages long that takes months to prepare. It is from this character that you act and interact with what is happening around you. The organisers write scenarios and scripts and often the storyline is a surprise to those who are acting it out. When in this fictional world, players are not themselves and the world around them is not the world outsiders see.

This can be a historic world, a fantasy landscape or the future. But plays focussing on social realism are popular too: a 70s commune let youngsters experience how their parents lived and a Beverly Hills 90210 role-play offers the opportunity to be the coolest high school student, as if in the TV series. These worlds offer a way of escapism, but, according to Pederson, playing can also be educational and can contribute to self-development or personal relationships. It is not reality, though every action comes with consequence.

After some shots from before ‘the revolution’: amateurishly build mock up cities, plastic camps and weapons made from objects that can be found in and around the house, Pederson explains that what makes the Nordic LARPing scene so different from those everywhere else around the world, is that here a role-playing theory has come about over the past ten years. During huge conferences new rules and types of plays are initiated, for instance stating that anything that is not originally from the time that is played out, cannot be used in the LARP.
As proof he shows grainy black and white shots taken during a role-play in a Soviet submarine, taken with a camera that was used in that time by a photographer wearing authentic Soviet costume. This is one of the few places where digital photography is not appreciated.

With more than 10.000 players in Denmark alone, LARP is the third most popular recreational pastime after tennis and basketball in the country. With six plays per month it is not only for adults, there is a big children’s LARP scene as well. The subculture rejuvenates in other ways as well: it is not afraid of implementing some modern life applications.

Where in some cases throwing flour at someone and shouting code words showcases magical powers, nowadays blue-tooth has been introduced as well. The other way around, LARP influences can also be seen in the modern world Pederson explains. While LARPing TV series are immensely popular in Scandinavia, accessible to us is the SIMS, the strategic life-simulation computer game, in which you can determine the lives of a group of people of your choice. It seems that when not in the North, we have to go back to our computer to live our fantasies.

Get into character
This summer does offer you the opportunity to get into character: the role-playing events at Sonsbeek2008by Brody Condon and Bjarke Pederson are still open for more participants. A huge transparent tower in the middle of the park forms the home base, where mobile phones, modern life and exhibition visitors do not exist...

sonsbeek sculpture - Othoniel.jpgsonsbeek sculpture - Othoniel.jpg

Condon and Pederson together created the script, the rules, the costumes and attributes for the Sonsbeek2008 event. Set in a distant future where civilization as we know it has almost been lost, the event begins as five bands meet at the forest of Sonsbeek to go through a rite of passage. A series of tasks must be accomplished for the groups to survive, while ritualistically appeasing mysterious immortal forces embedded in large sculptures throughout the park and not upsetting the wandering spirits of the forest. And as a visitor you can only watch and guess at the laws these LARP’ers live by.

Information and sign up at

sonsbeek sculpture - Othoniel.jpgsonsbeek sculpture - Othoniel.jpg