Chapter III.

Stepping Into The Circle

  Participants playing ' SEE' , a Transformation Game by Áron Birtalan - 2017, Frascati Theater, Amsterdam, NL   - photo by Julia Willms

Participants playing 'SEE', a Transformation Game by Áron Birtalan - 2017, Frascati Theater, Amsterdam, NL
- photo by Julia Willms


In the past four years, the path of my own practice as a maker has led me back to the Kingdom of Pipecland and its legacy. Not from a vantage point of historical reflection, but through an organically unfolding communion that happened between the nature of my works and the nature of these camps. Or to put it in other words, they started to resemble each other more and more.

I came to the Master’s programme with an intent to explore Liminal Rituals or Rites of Passage. These Rituals work by creating what is in anthropology called a Magic Circle: A special moment in place and time, where the conventional social structures, roles, and behaviors are temporarily suspended, and new ones are introduced. This temporary suspension allows the participants of the ritual to transcend their everyday reality in favor of a new one. The function of a Liminal Ritual is to facilitate such an experience – to help participants cross over from one world to another. With its help, one is allowed to tap into ways of perception, thinking, action and interaction that would otherwise not happen in a mundane environment. This is the transformative power of Liminal Ritual: because once leaving the Magic Circle, the participants themselves carry their experiences with them.

In our world, Liminal Rituals serve as mediators in social situations, both sacred and secular. From hen parties to weddings and funerals, from national and religious holidays to household traditions, rituals help to materialize the immaterial. They signify moments of transition and transformation, reinforce identity and shape the choreography of everyday life

  Young girls playing circle-games - source: - 1960s, Hungary

Young girls playing circle-games - source: - 1960s, Hungary

Initially, the nature of my fascination towards Liminal Rituals was unclear to me. I just knew I was drawn to them, wanted to experience them, and most importantly create them myself.

What I knew for sure though that it was definitely not fuelled by religious pursuits (I was not interested in engaging in a spiritual practice). Nor was I interested in putting on the analytical hat of an anthropologist, or a theologian. Regardless how much I love the history and language of rituals throughout time, I felt like engaging in discourses found in academic theory would ultimately distance me from what is at hand. It would position me outside of the Magic Circle, allowing me to point at it, describe it, represent it, but in the end, would bar me from being in it. Lastly, I did not want to think of my process as an extension of already pre-existing artistic disciplines, avoiding falling into the trap of ritualized-art, or gamified-art. More on this in the chapter From Participatory to Collaborative.

Exam 1 (excerpt) - Preparation Ritual for Understanding Hypertrophy - 2015, The Hague, NL

password: master


I have decided to go under and create Rituals and Ritual-like experiences, as a way to understand them. I used myself as a lab-rat for this process, allowing knowledge to come to me via first-hand encounters. Embodying my practice was my way to absolve the distance between me and my material, that other, more academic or reflexive forms of knowledge production would perpetuate.
Because of this, I choose to temporarily exclude myself from consuming external theoretical sources (be that through reading, watching films, going to talk, etc.) and rely on my and (later on my participants) experiences as my main pool of learning. The result of this kind of empirical knowledge production is no a finite set of answers, but a reconditioned state of being. The same way Ritual reconditions their participants, I wanted to alter myself through undergoing events of transformation.
An important pretext in this process was to work with no explicit religious context, in order to distance me from falling into the socio-historical perspectives outlined previously.

I started this process in the autumn of 2015, and went from working with my own body through endurance sports and meditation practices to designing games for others, and finally to facilitate social situations and encounters. For the ones interested, detailed reviews on this 20-month process can be found here:
Part 1 - Understanding Hypertrophy
Part 2 - On Games - from Closed to Open-Ended structures
Part 3 - Five Reflections on Intention, Invitation, Situation, ______, and Revolution

The process eventually resulted in the stripping down of Rituals from their socio-political and theatrical façade to reveal what’s underneath it.
And what I found was this:


The Magic Circle, nothing else. A temporary suspension of the everyday.

At this moment it became clear that my fascination with Rituals was coming from my experiences as a child in the Kingdoms I grew up in. These experiences proved to be highly formative in my development both in my personal life and in my path as a maker. In role-playing (in transforming into a fictional citizen of a fictional Kingdom) I found that I could dare to do things I might not dare to do otherwise, interact and engage with others in a more profound and intimate way and be a part of a community that connected via an ephemeral thread of experiences, thoughts and memories that was ours, and no-one else's. These connections were the ones that drove me into pursuing my practice as a maker.
Within the Magic Circle, my fascinations found their shared backbone.

What also became clear is that as opposed to most Rituals – which are reproduced almost mechanically each time, not allowing any change to interfere – I was interested in a Magic Circle that is less strict, open-ended. A Magic Circle that poses a structure different from the everyday, while allowing changes to take place within itself. This was the difference between most Rituals I have encountered and my background as a role-player. The act of playing is generally based on chance and the emergence of unforeseen and unexpected situations, making in somewhat opposed to the rigid repetition of Ritual practices.
The tension between these two forces thus became the heart of my creative practice.

Because of this, I wanted to find a name that represents my practice both as an independent entity and as a continuation of the Pipecland lineage. This is when the term Transformation Game was born.