we’ve just returned from bloemfontein, south africa, where we made transformer, with vrystaat kunstefees and students from the university of the free state.
one of the performers wrote this article about her experience of performing in and playing transformer.
thanks to marica for allowing us to publish her work and sharing her thoughts.
Post-transformer – A Transforming Experience!
by Marica Laing
Just a few months ago I was still unfamiliar with the pvi collective group, but experiencing the lab work and the actual performance of the concepts we worked on in the lab, was one of the greatest learning experiences in my early career as an artist.
The great thing about art is that it has no limits and pvi collective proved this to be true once more when they challenged us to think outside the box and use art and play as a way to transform the environment and the people around us. It challenged us to work together with the group of people attending the lab and think creatively together to create a massive board game in which we will transform ourselves, the players and the environment in which it will be played.
transformer was set to be played in the central part of Bloemfontein in Hertzog Square, a place which is a safe haven for many homeless citizens and which was in dire need of some positive transformation. After having multiple brainstorm sessions and trying out various concepts we created a board game which challenged the players to look objectively at their country, themselves and their fellow citizens. It also encouraged creativity and challenged players to transform the space around them into a positive one.
Playing transformer was an amazing experience. I’ve never been someone who is good with people, especially strangers and therefore it really challenged me to step out of my comfort zone. Once the first player arrived it turned out not to be so hard after all! First of all, getting to know a stranger is an exciting experience rather than the frightful one I had expected it to be. The first player I encountered was very shy at first but as soon as we started playing transformer we both got more comfortable with each other and pretty soon, through discussing the various topics in the game, we started understanding each other a lot better and even got to know a bit about each other.
The experience I would always remember is the one where I landed on the Random Block. This part of the game required that you give a certain amount of money to someone who needs it, or keep it to yourself, it was your choice. I went to Kelli to fetch the envelope with the money and asked my opponent whether she could help me identify someone in the square who needed the money inside. We spent some time looking around the square and then she pointed me to a man who was sitting not too far away from us. We went over to him and being close enough I could see that he didn’t even have shoes on his feet. This broke my heart but the best part was that I had something to give to help him out. We greeted him and I asked him how he was and we had a short chat and then I handed him the envelope with the money and said to him,” No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted,” as the game requested. It felt amazing to just give for a change to someone who really needed it and I hope that I can keep on doing this.
There was also a part of the game where you and your opponent had to drink a cup of tea and discuss what makes it hard to get up in the morning. This was a wonderful exercise because the conversation started off on this topic and then it grew into something else: we were having a discussion about our lives and I got to learn about Bongiwe’s life and the community she lives in, how she helps the children with homework after school. She explained how many parents couldn’t help their children with homework because they themselves didn’t ever receive an education. It was wonderful to hear about this one woman doing her bit to make her community a better place and opened my eyes to another one of the many challenges we as a country face but that there were also people who were trying to be the change they want to see in their community. Bongiwe’s story will stay with me as a reminder that we should all try to do our bit, we can all make a difference, no matter how small.
Another game consisted of a challenge where your opponent filled two buckets with rocks according to the weight of the burden in their life. The other player then had to hold the buckets on either side of their body and ask for help when it gets too heavy. Bongiwe’s burden was a heavy one and I was astounded how this woman looked so strong, so carefree and happy and yet carried something so heavy with her. Even though I didn’t know what it was we connected over this unknown burden and it was like I got to know her a bit better on a personal level, which was a very special moment.
Another player, Anna, was from London and she opened my eyes to the fact that we all face the same problems around the world. In the game called Eating an Elephant, one had to identify the problems in your country and then suggest a solution to it. I was astounded when she identified problems in the UK that were the exact same problems we were facing in South Africa. The solutions she identified were also ones we can implement in our own country.
With Anna I bonded over her dreams and hopes. The game also challenged this: to write down your dreams and hopes for the future. There was something special to hearing someone you didn’t even know telling you their hopes and dreams and finding out that you share some of them.
Anna was my last player and as we played the last game, which was fishing in the pond with Alum crystals to turn the water from murky to bright, I was really sad that the game was over and even sadder that I had to say goodbye. It was the same way with every player. I found it hard to say goodbye. It was like making new friends and I didn’t want to say goodbye so soon but it was amazing to know that we both learned something from each other and initiated change together.
When the game was over, Hertzog square was indeed transformed. The statue of JBM Hertzog was hugged with orange helium balloons, each with a word on it which will help transform the square. The trees were covered in tags on which hopes and dreams of all the participants were written as well as the solutions to the problems faced in our country. The pond was starting to look clearer and this once drab space was suddenly transformed into a cheerful and welcoming one. As I looked at the change around me I felt very happy and content. transformer had achieved its goal. To me the visible transformation in Hertzog Square was a visual representation of the transformation that had taken place in the players and ourselves. Even though we were not that large a group of people, we had transformed some lives that day, we had made people think, we made them ask the important questions and we left them thinking and reflecting and that’s what it’s all about: changing the world one person, and one game at a time.