The Festival of Double-Edged Swords

As a setting, the music festival was an idea that had been thrown into the fray very early on, I think even before we started our residency at UCL. A music festival is fun, accessible, and has a lot of the system relationships we want to let an audience explore.

But there were others, too. We have a massive list we made one afternoon and kept adding to. A school, city block, river catchment area, nursing home, ski resort, beach resort (which we used for our mid-residency showing of Bateman’s Vegas), ant colony, and much more. These are all, more or less, examples of complex systems, and many of these turned into small games we made along the way.

In the end, we decided on a festival. A festival has a complex series of relationships, and is a point of convergence for social and environmental systems. It has a clear boundaries – both physical and temporal – that are very useful for translating the system into an interactive performance.

A lot of the benefits have some drawbacks though, and we’ve discovered a few things in the last couple of weeks as we’ve analysed and modelled the festival system.

As I said before, the festival has boundaries. It’s a useful system for us because we don’t need to invent lines to mark out the territory we’re talking about. Everything in the show happens inside the festival’s fences. Simple. Our festival isn’t dependent on, or a contributing factor to, change in another system.

The drawback to this is that we miss out on having any drivers – things outside a system that cause change over time. Long term changes in climate or the economy are good examples of this.

Similarly, our festival lasts three days. That’s pretty perfect for a performance under an hour in length. It has a clear narrative structure, and three days lets us show how events that repeat can change as their circumstances do. In our social sub-systems (things like camping, crowds, foodstalls and concerts) a lot can happen in three days.

But environmental sub-systems have a much larger time scale. Change in these systems (changes in river, soil erosion, change in vegetation) happen over years, decades even. One of the nice things about Bateman’s Vegas was that with a cycle of one season/year, we could depict how change might occur over a longer timespan. In a festival, this is harder.

These are problems that aren’t deal breakers, by any means. I doubt there is any one system that ticks every box we might want to tick, let alone be accessible as well. The music festival is an entertaining system that contains a lot of the science of modelling we’d like to share. But some of the things that make it great for performance also make it less great for a few elements of system modelling. This is something to think about not just for the coming week (when, quite frankly, we’ve got more pressing things to attend to), but for future stages of this project. One possible solution we’re trying out next week is stories that illustrate a festival over a longer period of time.

This is more of a side-note at this point in our process, but one that’s interesting. I guess a question to draw from it is
Should we attempt to introduce important elements of systems modelling if they’re not immediately relevant to our particular system?


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