Chapter X.

No Island is an Island

  The house that,   between 1938 and 1978, gave home to the Kingdom Pipecland  - 1957, Bánk, Hungary

The house that, between 1938 and 1978, gave home to the Kingdom Pipecland  - 1957, Bánk, Hungary


Pipecland was not an island in its vision. Its roots can be found in turn-of-century Utopian Socialist, woodcraft, and Back-to-the-land agrarian movements, as well as Eastern-European arrival the arrival of ideas from thinkers such as Rudolf Steiner of Maria Montessori. This was also the time (the early-XX. century that is) of alternative and illegal Jewish Youth movements, to whom which Eszter Leveleki was a contemporary of. Pipecland was also famous for being a safe haven for children from Jewish, Marxist and intellectual families - a stigma to some outsiders, which is present to this day when talking about the camp and its legacy. Upon careful examination, one can notice resemblances between the traditions found in Hasidic Judaism, and in Pipecland, including the usage of language and conversation as a tool of magic, as well as the strong hierarchies between age-groups and genders (though in Pipecland's case both these traditions were appropriated in a much more playful manner).

In its ideology to establish an autonomous, retrograde utopia, Pipecland holds kinship with the Native American Hobbyist communities of Western Europe, The Children’s Republic Gaudiopolos in Hungary, the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift in the UK, and to a certain extent the Californian communes of the XX. century, like the Nature Boys or the Merry Pranksters, amongst others.

In the 1970s Dungeons & Dragons arrived (another product of 60s California), and role-playing quickly developed itself into its own subculture, with live-action role-playing (or LARP) as one of its outlets. Though LARP has gone through many changes since then, including its progressive edge infiltrating the art-world in the past decade (most notably via the Nordic LARP scene), most discourses in the LARP community seem to be only focused inwards, keeping conversations within the walls of the subculture. LARP could potentially be the best example of a culture constantly creating Ludic Societies, however, due to the conflicting political and social background of its main initiators, it remains not much more than a past-time for Western youth.

I came to the practice Transformation Games through my background both as an artist and as a role-player. Even though there are other makers working on the verge of these two disciplines, they are usually framed within what is known as the Live-Action Role-Playing (LARP) subculture.

  Participants playing  Just a Little Lovin' , a Nordic LARP by Tor Kjetil Edland, exploring lives of people in alternative sexual and spiritual subcultures during the AIDS crisis of 1982-1984 in New York - 2015, Denmark - photo by Petter Karlsson

Participants playing Just a Little Lovin', a Nordic LARP by Tor Kjetil Edland, exploring lives of people in alternative sexual and spiritual subcultures during the AIDS crisis of 1982-1984 in New York - 2015, Denmark - photo by Petter Karlsson

The difference between Transformation Games and LARP are twofold: Firstly, Transformation Games proposes treating the practice as something stemming from the inherent human desire to establish (political) autonomy through play, and its many forms throughout history (more on this later). LARP, on the other hand, traces its origins back to the fantasy and sci-fi subculture of the 70s and 80s, which, despite having its roots in the Californian hippie movements, is still being treated more as a form of entertainment, rather than an artistic/political creative practice.

That is not to say LARP, especially Nordic LARP lacks political content completely. However, this content is mostly reflexive and reactionary, using LARP as a tool of emancipation, as understood through the politics of neoliberal activism. Examples of such LARPs can be Just a Little Lovin' (dealing with the history LGBT and AIDS), Level 5 (dealing with the Self-Actualisation movement of the 70s), Mad About the Boy (a Dystopian all-female LARP resembling 2006's film Children of Men) and Kapo (set in a prison camp in Denmark).

Most progressive LARP initiatives are born out of lefty university subcultures in Scandinavia and the US, with a discourse echoing a quite conservative post-Marxist protest-rhetoric, rather than proposing a Third Path. A Path that is not a counter-culture (not hell-bent on being against), but an other-culture, akin to the one Ludic Societies are capable creating. 

Nordic-style LARP has been around for nearly twenty years, and its heydays seem to have passed, as its initial founders grew older and new, more business-oriented creatives entered the subculture - running high-budget Harry Potter reenactments in Polish castles (Poland being chosen for its cheap real-estate market). However, due to the recent interest from the art-world and the activity of some veterans, one can find valuable reflections and writings when reading into some of the newer writings as well as Nordic LARPs foundational manifestos from the late-90s. For reference, I'd recommend this book (as a general overview), the writings of Gabriel Widing (for intersections between LARP and the art-world) and the blog of Adam James (who currently does a Ph.D. in LARP as a Practice-based Research). The title of this chapter, 'No Island is an Island' is taken from Danish artist Nina Runa Essendrop's LARP of the same name.

  Participants of   Secret Fiction Lab creating social relations, using simple exercises ( video here ) - 2017, The Hague, NL

Participants of Secret Fiction Lab creating social relations, using simple exercises (video here) - 2017, The Hague, NL

What further separates LARP and Transformation Games, is that the latter does not depend on the notion and element of ‘role’, provided there is a substitute for its function – an alibi for interaction, in ways that would not happen otherwise. Through role-playing, one is socially allowed to step out of their everyday behavior and adapt or create new ones (the homeless person can lie down on the street, the alien can read other people’s minds, and so on…). This is done through the safety that such activities are purely fictional. However, since on the experiential level there is no difference between fiction and reality (or to put it in the Cartesian divide: the body does not know the difference), whatever happens to the ‘fictional’ character, also happens to the ‘real’ person playing the character. This effect has been vastly explored in performing arts (StanislavskiForum Theatre, and method acting), in alternative therapy (Family Constellations and Gestalt Therapy) and in social psychology (the experiments at Stanford and of Stanley Milgram), so I won’t go into much detail here. In my practice, role-playing is often substituted with other playful tools: exercises in imagination and attention, guided meditations, small games in movement, speech, and so on - all serving the purpose to recondition the participant and thus set forth a domino effect that transforms the everyday. 
This practice points back to the spiritual tradition of incantations, spells, and prayers. I treat the text (used in scripts and guiding) and all exercises in Transformation Games as language-to-be-performed, in order to initiate ruptures in reality, which in consequence becomes altered and transformed.