What inspired you to create a ghost hunt in a shopping mall?
Shopping malls epitomise the top of the supply chain. These mammoth, glorious, mega-palaces of consumption are filled to the brim with stuff, objects, products, goods, material artefacts for sale. They make me think about the fact that every single item there has, in the making of it, been touched by the bare hands of someone in impoverished conditions, somewhere, very far away.
The Japanese concept of Tsukumogami has also been an important inspiration to us: Tsukumogami (付喪 神) is the name given to a spirit which can be found in all objects. It’s a Shinto belief that everything has a spirit, and I was interested in unlocking these ‘ghosts’ that betoken the hidden stories of the supply chain.
The other element of this work was born out of ‘playing under the radar’, like a kind of subversive radio station. I grew up with pirate radio and want to explore how radio is yet another example of how ‘public space’ is being eradicated and shrunk to a minimum because today’s airwaves are prime real estate. When I was listening to music on pirate radio stations coming out from tower blocks near me, I had no idea it was illegal until the authorities brought in strict laws and tough penalties for broadcasting without a licence. Then a lot of the stations were closed down.
Ultimately, we wanted to prompt responses to questions about society, consumerism and loneliness. To make a game that would be played out against the ordinary backdrop of a shopping mall but in which the familiar would turn hauntingly strange.
What are you most excited for about the world premiere of Radio Ghost?
I am excited that as we come back to being IRL, Radio Ghost provides a great vehicle for public space gaming that feels relevant to now – this post-normal moment.
I am excited to see malls taken over by this completely innocent and harmless-looking experience that turns players into Ghost Hunters who kick capitalism’s ass. I am excited by the idea of people feeling moved enough to demand their right to know. I’ll be happy to know people felt it was worth coming out for.
What’s the piece’s relationship to capitalism and sustainability?
We are facing the slow collapse of all systems that capitalism depends on, and we are in the greatest age of denial the world has ever seen. My challenge was to make something that spoke through the denial – or even what sociologist Evia Zerubavel calls the ‘meta-denial’, as in, ‘no-one’s talking about the fact that no-one’s talking about the facts’. I tried to make something that attempted to do one thing – wake people up to the fact that we can lobby for the right the know what is in the stuff we consume, where it came from, who was hurt along the way, how it contributed to climate change, what the working conditions were for the people that made this thing for me to trifle-with-and-throw-away-when-I-tire-of-it.
However, I did not want to blame people and I definitely didn’t want to blame ordinary people who are struggling to make ends meet and will buy a T-shirt for £1 from Primark because they do not have the same options as someone who has the time and funds to shop sustainably. Because I grew up like that – in a single parent family from a council estate- so taking a swipe at people already struggling is not for me. But more often than not, the ugly origin stories of cheap goods eclipse the fact that bad practice is actually in EVERYTHING – including stuff that we think is more sustainable to buy.
But the question remains – what do we do with the knowledge of the suffering of others? A simple thing that the game suggests is that all we are asking for is informed consumer decision-making – the right to know. Corporations must be legally bound to be transparent about ALL the facts of the products they are selling us – not just how great they’ll make us smell or how thin we’ll become or how justified we’ll feel in having bought it.
What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of Radio Ghost?
As we start to plan for Radio Ghost to be available in the App/Google stores, I also want to have some time to continue to explore some of the areas of the game I still haven’t had a chance to deepen, such as the reactive/augmented sound layer of the experience, and improvements in the location-based technology available to enhance the experience between the three players in each team. It is hard to balance the commitment to make the game playable in ‘any mall, anywhere’, whilst at the same time increasing the amount of reliance on mobile/wi-fi coverage.
I also want to find a way to eventually include a signposting for players post-game that includes instructions on how to lobby, or what to do next. Maybe this will include working with human rights partners to lobby corporations for more transparency? Partner with activist organisations creating alternatives?
ZU-UK have a great history of collaboration, what do you enjoy about working with LIFT?
LIFT’s history is inseparable from the development of international theatre in the past 4 decades and from theatre-makers’ growing understanding that meaningful performative experiences don’t need to happen in silence, with reverence, in hallowed, intimidating spaces. Formal innovation is a huge and politically important part of a continual re-thinking of what performance is and who it is by/with/for. I have always admired LIFT for championing experimentation and formats that don’t fit into existing categories. One of the most influential pieces I ever saw was with LIFT back in 98? 99? A south American opera where they cooked food on stage and that piece defined the path I would take forever. I am grateful to be creating work at the forefront of the field, experimenting with what theatre can be.
It has been fulfilling working with a festival that sees art and performance as a means of bringing people together to try out and try on new ways of relating to others, our society and our environments.
This is an interview with ZU-UK’s Artistic Director, Persis Jadé Maravala, with additional contributions from ZU-UK’s Associate Researcher Kesia Guillery and Executive Director Jorge Lopes Ramos.
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