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Routledge Advances in Art and Visual Studies

1 Ethics and Images of Pain 7 Spiritual Art and Art Education

Edited by Asbjørn Grønstad & Janis Lander
Henrik Gustafsson
8 Art in the Asia-Pacific
2 Meanings of Abstract Art Intimate Publics
Between Nature and Theory Edited by Larissa Hjorth,
Edited by Paul Crowther and Natalie King, and
Isabel Wünsche Mami Kataoka

3 Genealogy and Ontology of 9 Performing Beauty in

the Western Image and its Participatory Art and Culture
Digital Future Falk Heinrich
John Lechte
10 The Uses of Art in
4 Representations of Pain in Art Public Space
and Visual Culture Edited by Julia Lossau and
Edited by Maria Pia Di Bella Quentin Stevens
and James Elkins
11 On Not Looking
5 Manga’s Cultural Crossroads The Paradox of Contemporary
Edited by Jaqueline Berndt and Visual Culture
Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer Edited by Frances Guerin

6 Mobility and Fantasy in 12 Play and Participation in

Visual Culture Contemporary Arts Practices
Edited by Lewis Johnson Tim Stott
Play and Participation in
Contemporary Arts Practices

Tim Stott
First published 2015
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ISBN: 978-1-138-85028-6 (hbk)

ISBN: 978-1-315-72478-2 (ebk)

Typeset in Sabon
by codeMantra
To my mother and father

List of Illustrations ix
Preface xi

Introduction 1

1 Precursors to Ludic Participation 16

2 What Form Does Ludic Participation Take? 37

3 Ludic Participation as World Art 58

4 Play Events and Recursive Forms 75

5 Playgrounds I: Topologies of Form 95

6 Playgrounds II: Governance and Arts of Contingency 116

Conclusion 133

Glossary of Terms 137

Bibliography 143
Index 155
List of Illustrations

2.1a and 2.1b Carsten Höller, Frisbee House (2000). Lycra,

fibre glass, Dacron, aluminium, Frisbees, nylon, screws,
208 × 725 × 725 cm, Exhibition view “HausSchau,”
Hamburger Delchtorhallen, Hamburg. Photograph:
Andrea Stappert. Courtesy of the artist. 49
3.1 Gabriel Orozco, Oval Billiard Table (1996). Wooden
billiard table, cue stand, cues, three balls, and metal wire,
dimensions variable. Empty Club exhibition, 50 St James’s
Street, London, commissioned and produced by Artangel.
Photograph: Stephen White. Courtesy of Artangel. 61
4.1 Maurizio Cattelan, Stadium (1991). Wood, glass, iron,
and plastic. 100 cm × 650 cm × 120 cm. Installation
view, AnniNovanta, Galleria Comunale d’arte moderna,
Bologna, Musei Comunali, Rimini, Italy, 28 March –
8 September 1991. Photograph: Fausto Fabbri. Courtesy
of Maurizio Cattelan archive. 81
4.2 Maurizio Cattelan, Cesena 47 – A.C. Forniture Sud 12 (1991).
Black-and-white photographic print, 120 cm × 190 cm.
Courtesy of Maurizio Cattelan archive. 82
5.1 Gustavo Artigas, Rules for the Game (part one, 2000).
Frontón (handball) court, Colonia Libertad, Tijuana,
Mexico. Courtesy of the artist. 96
5.2a and 5.2b John Bock, Klütterkammer (2004). Installation
views, Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London,
24 September – 7 November 2004. Dimensions
variable. Courtesy of the artist and ICA. 97
5.3 Gustavo Artigas, Rules for the Game (part two, 2000).
Lázaro Cárdenas High School, Tijuana, Mexico, 13 October
2000. Dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist. 103
5.4 John Bock, Meech-Vortrag (Meech Lecture), Institute of
Contemporary Arts, London, 24 September 2004.
Courtesy of the artist and ICA. 105
x List of Illustrations
6.1 Sophie Warren and Jonathan Mosley, Proposition No. 16
(2006). Courtesy of the artists. 117
6.2 Jonathan Mosley and Sophie Warren, Platform (2006).
Dimensions variable. Photograph: Sophie Warren and
Jonathan Mosley. Courtesy of the artists. 122
6.3 Robert Morris, Bodyspacemotionthings (1971). Tate
Gallery, London. Courtesy of Tate Images. 126
6.4 Robert Morris, Bodyspacemotionthings (2009). Tate
Modern, London, 22 May – 14 June 2009. Installation
view. Courtesy of Tate Images. 128

Research for this book began, no doubt as books often do, with a mixture
of fascination and disappointment. My growing fascination with play as a
highly complex social activity, which could be seen to entertain close and
intricate relations with artistic production, was disappointed to encounter
some of the critical claims that were made for the increasing number of par-
ticipatory works of art that used play and games in some way. This pre-
sented an opportunity to contribute to an understanding of the so-called
“ludification” of culture and the more widespread gamification of everyday
life that had been identified by scholars and practitioners outside of the
domain of contemporary art. If, and it is a large “if,” the twenty-first century
is or should be the century of play, as some have asserted, then the opportu-
nities for play in contemporary art had to be examined and evaluated in a
sophisticated manner. Such an analysis, it seemed to me, was ill-served by the
straightforward advocacy of play as a gain in freedom or agency for players.
It was argued that the facilitation of participation through play was a gener-
ous and egalitarian move on the part of artists and arts institutions alike. One
suspected, however, that the transformation into play of the engagement with
art, in conjunction with any number of other previously unplayful or rarely
playful social activities, was simply a change to a different organisational
mode. In the face both of a demand for some degree of extended participa-
tion in public institutions and of artistic practices that continued to open up
the social field to inquiry, this mode appeared to be highly productive.
It struck me that the openness and togetherness that was promised in
participatory play only seemed to tell half the story, so to speak, of what
occurs in play. If, indeed, there was some kind of intimacy to be found in
play, either with other players or with the stuff of the world, then it was a
particularly, and perhaps necessarily impersonal one. Similarly, if there was
an openness to play, then it was, paradoxically enough, dependent upon the
closure of play from everything else. To say the least, it seemed that the cur-
rent convergence of play and art had to be scrutinised anew.
This is where the book began. In response, I chose to analyse works of
ludic participation as organisationally complex and systematic artefacts, in
order, perhaps, to develop a more sceptical fascination with such works. The
methodologies that allowed me to do this, systems theory and second-order
xii Preface
cybernetics, at first sight appear at odds with the ideals of participation.
Both, even as they enable a detailed analysis of social organisation and inter-
action in play, pointedly refuse what Richard Sennett called the “tyranny of
intimacy,” where the emotive experience, the fun and togetherness of partici-
pants are the measure of social truth.1 What is more, they offered a different
and somewhat unusual vocabulary of play and participation, one already used
in studies of gaming culture, but rarely in the study of play and games in art.
A systems approach seemed expansive,“a turn outwards,” as Mitchell Whitelaw
described it, to investigate broader cultural intersections and correlations.2
Such methodologies might allow analysis of how works of ludic participa-
tion organised and governed the contingency and indeterminacy that follows
inevitably from gathering unknown others together in the work of artistic
production and display. If it did so, then it might move beyond a criticism
that seemed decidedly against sustained critical analysis of such contingen-
cies and indeterminacies. In his laudable advocacy of critical discernment and
evaluation, Jerry Saltz asks the critic not to look at art “in narrow, academic
or ‘objective’ ways, but [to engage] uncertainty and contingency, [suspend]
disbelief, and [try] to create a place for doubt, unpredictability, curiosity and
openness.”3 In response to this request, a method of criticism derived from
systems thinking might attend closely and through disciplined analysis and
judgement to how “doubt, unpredictability, curiosity and openness” are organ-
ised variously by works of art. Such questions had already been addressed by
a systems aesthetics widespread in new media and electronic art since the early
1960s, and newly emergent from the 1990s onward, but had received only
sporadic treatment in the analysis of contemporary participatory art.
What follows, then, is an attempt to develop what I call a formal criti-
cism of ludic participation. This latter offers an opportunity to rethink the
current significance of the changeable relation between play and art. We
require a method of criticism that can least of all describe its organisational
complexity and systematicity. There are a number of questions to be asked
of such a criticism. What explanatory or evaluative capacity does it possess?
In what ways do its descriptions of ludic participation guide our apprecia-
tion of these works? Can this criticism account for the various modalities of
ludic participation, its diverse and particular forms, the ways in which, for
example, it organises play events and playgrounds? I will respond to these
questions throughout the book. The reader may judge whether or not these
responses are adequate, and whether or not the questions themselves, and
the project of formal criticism from which they derive, are valid.
Before that, I present a couple of qualifications. I have chosen to analyse
single works in detail rather offer a survey of ludic participation. Although
the works chosen function as exemplars of certain problems of participation,
organised complexity, and governance, and have been chosen on that basis,
they stand neither for all works of art that require participation nor for all that
include play and games. Nor does a formal criticism of these works provide gen-
eral principles according to which all participatory works might be described
Preface xiii
and evaluated. The methodological tools of systems theory and second-order
cybernetics are used here as a heuristic, which allows me to address a number
of problems with regard to how ludic participation is organised in certain cases.
My ambition is not to bring every example under a totalising theory, but to aim
for coherence and consistency in the criticism of ludic participation. Working
through single works in detail tests the consistency and the descriptive robust-
ness of a formal criticism. After all, any method of criticism worth its salt must
be able to attend to the singular and, at times, contradictory qualities of a work
of art. It must be able to show us enough of those qualities for us to move con-
fidently from description to evaluation, knowing full well that enough is not
everything. This is especially important when aiming to translate methodologies
from other fields of knowledge into art criticism. Systems theory, for example,
seems not to provide any clear criteria for the evaluative judgement of works
of art, one of the basic requirements of criticism. Or more precisely, it offers
only a functional account of a work of art. It becomes a matter more of how a
particular work of art is reproduced in ongoing communications, in conversa-
tions, press releases, transactions, commentaries, blogs, tweets, footnotes, and
so forth, than whether or not it is any good. Admittedly, this lack of criteria has
been a problem for some time within the field of art criticism itself, so there
seems to be no loss in this latest translation. More positively, however, in the
absence of such criteria, is this still criticism worthy of the name? As noted, it is
not enough to base evaluation upon the mere evidence of play, as though play is
a value in and of itself. Perhaps, we can evaluate ludic participation on the basis
of its systemic insights, but again, just what this might involve in actual critical
analysis remains to be seen.
A critical method also must face the basic but difficult and unresolved
ekphrastic work of paraphrase, substitution, and translation when faced
with a complex work of art, in such a way as to allow for reciprocity in the
work of analysis and to allow itself to be remade in response to qualities
peculiar to the object of analysis. As Thomas Crow argues, it is a mistake to
deny a work of art any “independent claim or comeback against the mode
of explanation made of it.”4 This is especially important, once again, when
making use of a theoretical framework, social systems theory, which, at least
for one of its principal theorists, Niklas Luhmann, seeks to explain all social
phenomena in its terms. Certainly, in his most extensive work on art, the
book Art as a Social System, Luhmann’s discussion of actual works of art is
cursory, to say the least. Any use of systems theory in the work of criticism
must address this shortfall. If it can achieve this, then Play and Participation
in Contemporary Arts Practices might begin to outline the critical advan-
tages of a sceptical fascination with contemporary ludic participation.

* * *

I should like to express my gratitude to the many colleagues and friends

who have assisted in the research for this book and in the preparation of
xiv Preface
the book itself. A special thanks to Francis Halsall and Steven Connor, also
to Mary Ann Bolger, Noel Fitzpatrick, Niamh Ann Kelly, Glenn Loughran,
Martin McCabe, and Mick Wilson, but there are many others whose con-
versations and insights have given some sense of relevance and timeliness to
this book. I hope that whatever insights the book may contain will, in turn,
prompt further conversation.
I also thank Natalie Foster, Felisa Salvago-Keyes, and Andrew Weckenmann
at Routledge for their enthusiasm and for their guidance through the pub-
lication process. Thank you also to the School of Creative Arts at Dublin
Institute of Technology for their funding and support in the final stages of
the project, and to Gustavo Artigas, John Bock, Maurizio Cattelan, Carsten
Höller, Jonathan Mosley, Sophie Warren, Alex Borkowski at Artangel, Naomi
Crowther at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and David Thompson at
Tate for sourcing and for giving permission to reproduce images of the works
Lastly, thank you to Alice, for her love.


1. The phrase is from Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1974), 338, quoted in Dietrich Schwanitz, ‘Systems
Theory and the Difference between Communication and Consciousness: An
Introduction to a Problem and Its Context,’ MLN 111, no. 3 (April 1996): 500.
2. Mitchell Whitelaw, ‘1968/1998: Rethinking a Systems Aesthetic,’ ANAT
Newsletter 33 (May 1998).
3. Jerry Saltz, ‘Writing Wrongs,’ Frieze 95 (October 2005): 36.
4. Thomas Crow, The Intelligence of Art (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North
Carolina Press, 1999), 5.

I feel that we ought to know more about the way complex orders are

Prominent within current debates in art criticism is the turn in “post-studio”

arts practice toward the organisation of participants previously unknown
to each other, or what artist Thomas Hirschorn has called a “non-exclusive
audience.”2 There is general agreement in the critical literature that since the
1960s an increasing number of works of art have invited unknown others to
participate in a way hitherto impossible or illegitimate or both, and that in the
past decade or so, a participatory mode has come to dominate artistic produc-
tion and exhibition. Arguably, this turn constitutes the most significant devel-
opment in current artistic practice, reorganising the correlation of art object,
artist and audience, and thus requiring a revision of how works of art are to
be analysed and evaluated. As Claire Bishop writes, the artist is now a col-
laborator in the production of situations rather than the sole producer of dis-
crete objects, the work of art is an open process rather than a finite, portable
commodity, and those who were previously viewers are now participants.3
Of the various ways to organise participation, play and games have been
favoured by many artists to the extent that we might now talk broadly of
the “ludic museum.”4 This is, perhaps, because play is understood to be
a voluntary, intense, and exploratory activity that cedes agency from art-
ist to participant. Play appears to offer an optimal means of participation.
As a consequence, although it might be conventional to describe artistic
production and interpretation as play or playful in a loosely metaphorical
sense in order to name some type of exploratory or leisurely engagement
with materials or ideas, there are now many other works that use play and
games in a more directed manner as a means to organise participation and
that ask participants to actively engage with or even complete the work of
art through their play. This occurs in a variety of ways, such as through the
presentation of modified games or play objects, or by establishing the space
of exhibition as a playground of some sort. It is this ludic participation that
I study here, taking it to exemplify many of the problems of description and
evaluation currently raised, but not always addressed, in the critical debate
about participatory art more generally.
2 Introduction
Core texts in this debate have tended to analyse participatory art in
view of its potential for emancipatory or oppositional social relations, and
so either focus on the construction of dialogue and collaboration, such as
with Grant Kester’s Conversation Pieces: Community and Conversation
in Modern Art and The One and the Many: Contemporary Collaborative
Art in the Global Context, or evaluate current work in light of the history
of the avant-garde and its ambitions for political transformation, such as
with Claire Bishop’s Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of
Spectatorship, to which I referred above.5 As Bishop herself admits, how-
ever, there is a methodological problem in the criticism of participatory art,
because the object of analysis is now primarily social rather than visual. As
a result, “Participatory art demands that we find new ways of analysing art
that are no longer linked solely to visuality, even though form remains a
crucial vessel for communicating meaning.”6 She observes that participa-
tory art is both a social and symbolic phenomenon, “both embedded in the
world and at one remove from it.”7 Kester likewise studies the shift “from
an aesthetic discourse centred primarily on questions of visual signification
to one concerned with the generative experience of collective interaction,”
although he is critical of many contemporary works of art that appear to
be participatory or interactive for an unwillingness on the part of the art-
ists involved to abandon what has become the safely detached position
either of one who critiques representational codes or of one who choreo-
graphs social exchange for the consumption of an audience who, in the final
instance, cannot be trusted to organise themselves.8 Certainly, with this criti-
cism Kester identifies the condition of many works of ludic participation,
which use play and games to choreograph more or less open forms of
sociability within secured institutional spaces, and which depend upon the
organisational characteristics of play itself to do much of the work of artistic
production. Yet rather than view such choreography as a loss, these social
forms remain meaningful for those who voluntarily participate in them,
however, this might occur. What is more, ludic participation, both integrated
in and apart from the world, might offer a means both for the construction
of sociability and for the observation and modelling of the same.
I begin from the methodological problem identified by both Kester and
Bishop, whatever their differences, in the criticism of participatory works of
art. Leaving to one side the debate about whether and, if so, how such works
might continue an avant-garde practice, Play and Participation addresses
the methodological problem for criticism as it studies how sociability might
be organised through ludic participation. It will show that if we bring ludic
participation under a systems-theoretical and cybernetic description, we can
analyse the social and symbolic form of works of ludic participation under
a consistent description and show that the deployment of play indicates
a development of some importance in how works of art create complex
order. Perhaps we require, as Arman Avanessian suggests, an understand-
ing of form, which would, “like almost nothing else, [make] it possible to
Introduction 3
consolidate objects of investigation that otherwise would be very difficult
to treat together.”9 The complex order that follows from such forms is,
quite evidently, social, rather than, say, pictorial, which changes the ways
in which we might analyse the complexity of works of ludic participation.
Social systems theory can assist criticism in this regard, firstly, because its
basic question is “How is organised social complexity possible?”10 This,
too, is the question that criticism seems compelled to ask when faced with
works of ludic participation. Secondly, for social systems theory, the social
is constituted through forms of communication, which, unlike the dialogical
exchange studied by Kester, are neither necessarily conversational nor ori-
ented toward agreement. A player might participate openly and fully with-
out engaging in conversation, and play might organise in such a way as to
formalise opposed or contradictory positions. What is more, within play,
objects, boundaries, and other such constraints most often have a communi-
cative and, therefore, social function, which makes them equally important
as dialogue between players. These, too, must be accounted for by a suitable
critical description. Even if ludic participation, for the most part, pursues
neither social engagement nor activism, and only seeks to choreograph socia-
bility, this remains a significant accomplishment that might demonstrate to
us how, at present, organised social complexity occurs in play and how play
might have an organising function within society. The analytical methods of
social systems theory and what is known as second-order cybernetics, which
I explain below, allow us to examine what often goes unexamined in current
accounts of participatory art, namely, the complex, systematic organisation
of the works themselves and how these works also correlate with social
systems of communication, exhibition, and governance.
Analysis of ludic participation is not, of course, an isolated endeavour.
It follows many previous attempts to think play and art together, which we
can divide into two traditions, humanist and posthumanist. In Chapter 1,
I look at these two traditions in more detail, taking examples from precursors
to current ludic participation. The contrast of humanist with posthuman-
ist accounts of play and art, schematic though it is, will allow us to iden-
tify the position that a formal criticism takes toward its object of study. In
making use of social systems theory and second-order cybernetics, formal
criticism continues the posthumanism of the second tradition. As noted, this
involves a shift of attention away from the agency of players to how the
organisational complexity of play occurs. Especially important is that this
organisation is, from the start, a social achievement, and that works of ludic
participation allow this achievement to be observed in the making.
If we develop a method of criticism that analyses the systematicity of
ludic participation, then we might correct the largely unquestioned critical
identification of indeterminacy and anti-systematicity as a laudable quality
for a work of art to possess. No doubt this identification results from the
association with the subversive ludic strategies of the historical avant-garde
and from the assimilation of poststructuralist theories by the art world and
4 Introduction
the academy over the past thirty years or so. As Grant Kester remarks, the
assimilation of such theoretical paradigms, committed though they are to
difference and process, has encouraged, paradoxically,

a remarkably programmatic approach to criticism. The critic func-

tions as a kind of policeman of becoming, seeking out and exposing
moments of stasis, fixity, or coherence in any given project or work (or
reflexively lauding instances of ambiguity or dislocation).11

Against this model of critique, this so-called “intellectual baroque,” Kester

argues for critical attention to durational, engaged, and constructive artistic
projects.12 Although I do not share Kester’s critical commitment to these
arts practices, he astutely observes that critical appeals to indeterminacy,
ambiguity and dislocation have become canonical and, for the most part,
unquestioned. My concern is that, although in the past such appeals might
have been necessary against the instrumental, deterministic, and universal-
ising tendencies of modern system-building, opposition to systems so con-
ceived is out of step with current knowledge of the way in which systems
organise complexity. Carey Wolfe, for example, has argued that it would be
a category mistake to claim that systems theory either envisages or demands
the reduction of difference and complexity. Instead, “[systems theory] only
describes how difference and complexity have to be handled by systems that
hope to continue their autopoiesis,” that is, that hope to reproduce them-
selves.13 Elsewhere, Wolfe writes,

It is difficult … to see how second-order cybernetics could justly be

described as in principle a theoretical instrument of globalised “tech-
nocratic management” when it foregrounds the very contingency,
complexity, and unpredictability that such programmes of techno-
cratic control would want to repress, ignore, or deny.14

It might be that the assertion of complexity against cybernetic systematicity

does more to sustain a certain economy of explanation, one committed to
the assertion of difference, indeterminacy, and dislocation as an end in itself,
than to describe the thing, that is, a system or systematic organisation, that
it opposes.15 If we look beyond this opposition, then we will be better able
to compare how different systems organise complexity and to understand
also that this organisation does not at all or does not exclusively aim at uni-
versal application or quantification. If we still require an artistic corrective
to a strictly purposive understanding of systems, then it might be that art
aids in observing and modelling systematicity and not in denying or avoid-
ing it, as Gregory Bateson argued in 1967. Consciousness unaided by art,
Bateson writes, acquires knowledge of the world but does not possess wis-
dom or an appreciation of “the systemic nature of mind.” Art might correct
this purposive, and thereby limited, consciousness by directing it toward a
Introduction 5
more holistic, “wiser” view of the systematic integration of the “circuits of
contingency” upon which life depends.16 We do not have to follow Bateson
in his belief in an ecology of mind to hold that works of ludic participation
might have some corrective function in showing how complex social orders
emerge and develop.17
To choose indeterminacy over system, complexity over organisation, or
openness over closure, is both to misunderstand how complex systems oper-
ate in the world and to diminish any role for art in observing those systems.
If indeed there is a “perceived privileging of incertitude” and a “pronounced
not knowing” in recent art, as critic Martin Herbert has written, and that
includes works of ludic participation, then the task is to understand how
this is organised and to more precisely describe incertitude and indetermi-
nacy.18 With regard to ludic participation, it is no longer adequate for criti-
cism to work with the polarity between a humanist openness that describes
the freedom of play, on the one hand, and an anti-humanist closure that
describes the constraints of a system, on the other hand. The study of com-
plex systems, as we shall see, allow us to think together, rather than in oppo-
sition, contingency and complexity, on the one hand, and systems, on the
other, and even to think that these are, in fact, inseparable, and should be
understood as a couple, as Edgar Morin demanded over forty years ago.19
We might find that complexity is systematic and closure – the operational
closure of play, which keeps players at one remove from the world – is the
condition of openness and unpredictable results. Play’s openness, and
the freedom of players in play, derives from the operation of constraints.
The task, therefore, is to understand how exactly the organisation of free-
dom in play is achieved.

* * *

I have suggested that ludic participation produces and organises complexity,

especially social complexity. Complexity, in its broadest sense, is the
property of a system that behaves in a way that is neither simple, which
is to say, predictable, nor chaotic. A simple system is one whose elements
are fixed in a predictable pattern of interaction. A chaotic system is one
that exhibits no pattern at all, and whose elements are randomly corre-
lated. Complexity, by contrast, describes a system of elements that are
mutually organised and exhibit patterns of interaction, but whose behav-
iour cannot be determined. This leads to another definition of complexity
as the observation of simultaneous but unpredictable variables that
“cannot be treated discretely.”20 Complexity does not result simply from
a large number of variables, as the interaction of only two agents can be
complex. It is more that these variables, irrespective of their quantity, are
mutually dependent, not discrete, and interact in nonsimple ways, meaning
that in order to determine the behaviour of a single element, one would
have to calculate the behaviour of all of those other element with which
6 Introduction
it interacts. For this reason, Francis Heylighen refers to the Latin root
complexus, which he takes to mean “entangled, entwined, embracing.”21
An observer of such entanglement faces uncertainty, not least because
that observer is also entangled. As William Rasch explains, complexity
describes the uncertainty of an observer faced with the contingency of
observation, that is, with the possibility that observation could be other-
wise due to the unpredictability of what is under analysis, the necessarily
limited models by means of which an observer can seek to understand it,
and the knowledge that those models themselves have to be taken into
account as elements adding complexity.22 Second-order cybernetics, then,
includes the contingency of observation in its descriptions of systems, and
for this reason Dirk Baecker calls it “the cybernetics of observing, and not
just observed, systems.”23
As we shall see, a participant faces both the complexity of his or her
contingent observations and the complexity of multiple, simultaneous vari-
ables which must be dealt with in play. We might say, with Rasch, that the
elements in play are complex insofar as an observer is unable “to define
completely these elements’ connections and interactions.”24 As noted above,
certain works of art demonstrate exemplary means by which to produce and
to handle complexity when they solicit participation and formalise relations
between participants through play. If it is the case that a player experiences
play “when it is impossible for the actor [the player] to differentiate proj-
ects available by voluntary fiat from assessed situational possibilities,”25 then it
would appear that a primary function of the much-discussed “magic circle”
that secures the space of play, first described in Johann Huizinga’s seminal
text Homo Ludens, is to maintain an environment of, so to speak, play-
able complexity, wherein situational possibilities do not exceed those proj-
ects available to a player by voluntary fiat.26 Where such excess does occur,
where the situation is too complex, the player is more likely to experience
confusion and anxiety than play.
Complexity remains playable by means of its systematic organisation.
Broadly speaking, a system is a set of dynamic, formalised relations between
elements that form an integrated whole, or what the biologist Ludwig Von
Bertalanffy, one of the founders of modern systems thinking and research,
described as a complex of “elements standing in interaction.”27 These ele-
ments can be organic or synthetic, human or nonhuman. The criterion
for inclusion in the system is the capacity for interaction, which is not, of
course, a human, or even animal, privilege. A theory of systems studies this
complex of elements in interaction as a complex unity, rather than as a set of
discrete elementary units.28 Such a description could apply to a diversity of
objects of study, which led Von Bertalanffy to propose a “general science
of ‘wholeness,’” a general systems theory to study isomorphisms between
open and complex systems in order to show general coherence across disci-
plines and domains of practice.29 This general systems theory would cohere
with cybernetics and would be, by necessity, interdisciplinary, including the
Introduction 7
otherwise disparate fields of biology, robotics, information theory, sociol-
ogy, economics, and psychology. As such, for Von Bertalanffy, it heralded “a
new worldview of considerable impact.”30
Systems theory retains this diverse and interdisciplinary character and
has come to influence the practice and study of cultural production. Most
notable was the emergence of a “systems aesthetics” in the early 1960s,
especially in the work of Hans Haacke, Robert Smithson, Roy Ascott, and
Jack Burnham. As Haacke wrote in an untitled statement of 1969, published
for the catalogue to the 1970 exhibition Conceptual Art and Conceptual
Aspects at the New York Cultural Center,

The working premise is to think in terms of systems; the production

of systems, the interference with and the exposure of existing systems.
Such an approach is concerned with the operational structure of organ-
isation, in which the transfer of information, energy and/or material
occurs. Systems can be physical, biological or social; they can be man-
made, naturally existing, or a combination of any of the above.31

This aesthetics was consistent with the move away from medium-specific
paradigms of art production and evaluation, toward models of seriality,
recursion, and process, and indicated, as Haacke claims, a shift in under-
standing the work of art from a discrete and autonomous object to an inte-
grated and dynamic complex of elements acting in relation to one another
and in relation to an environment. These elements might be semiotic, visual,
graphic, discursive, mechanical, or emotional, and the systems established
might be biological, physical, or social. It is as a system that the work of art
can begin to interact with other complex systems, whether social, economic,
climatic, or otherwise. In 1968, the artist and critic Jack Burnham went so
far as to claim that, “We are now in transition from an object-oriented to a
systems-oriented culture. Here change emanates, not from things, but from
the way things are done.” Hence, his prediction that: “a Systems Esthetic
will become the dominant approach to a maze of socio-technical condi-
tions rooted only in the present.”32
Pamela Lee has shown that the rhetoric of systems thinking “informs and
certainly facilitates a new understanding of many of the artistic practice of
the 1960s,” especially those concerned with temporality and process.33 A
systems aesthetic did not come to dominate as Burnham predicted, at least
in the 1970s and 1980s, yet there has emerged since the late 1990s an exten-
sive critical literature on the subject, relating mostly but not exclusively
to the study of electronic arts, telematics, computer art, and new media
art.34 However, outside of these fields systems thinking is still rarely applied
or identified, despite its interdisciplinary foundations. Our question then
becomes “What insights might be offered by such systems thinking that will
guide analysis of ludic participation and its precursors?” First of all, it is
necessary to clarify just what systems thinking involves.
8 Introduction
As suggested by Burnham, with the study of a system, structure, or the
order of parts, and function, or the order of processes (“the way things
are done”), are the same thing.35 Or, as Lee writes, it is question “not [of]
ontology – what things are, but [of] ontogenesis – how things become.”36
This is an insight that both general systems theory and cybernetics share,
and it means that in the attempt to understand the principles of organisa-
tion of a complex system it is necessary to study how a system functions
rather than study its constituent parts, in the understanding that these lat-
ter are mutually entangled. What is more, since Von Bertalanffy, there has
been a turn toward the study of open systems, which is to say, systems that
are interdependent with an environment. This departs from the classical
conception of systems as wholes that conserve a closed organisation and
which tend towards a state of equilibrium. Von Bertalanffy contends that
the second law of thermodynamics, according to which all closed systems
tend toward maximum entropy, does not fully explain organic systems.
These latter do not decay but are instead negentropic, having an orderliness
that delays entropy and which they achieve precisely by remaining open to
their respective environments.37 As Norbert Wiener wrote, “There are local
enclaves whose direction seems opposed to that of the universe at large
and in which there is a limited and temporary tendency for organisation to
increase.”38 This is not only true of organic systems. Edgar Morin explains
the behaviour of open systems with both organic and inorganic examples.

The stability of the candle flame, the stability of the internal environ-
ment of a cell or organism, are not at all connected to such an equilib-
rium [of a closed system]. There is, on the contrary, disequilibrium in
the energetic flux that feeds them. Without this flux, there would be an
organisational malfunction, leading quickly to decline.39

The question then becomes how it is that an open system operates such that,
in disequilibrial interaction with its environment, it is able, in the words of
Niklas Luhmann, “to build up order and to maintain negentropy.”40 How
is it that an open system does not simply degrade? To put this differently,
how is it that an open system organises its own complexity in distinction to
the complexity of its more complex environment? This is the “fundamental
problem” that a general systems theory sets out to address, a problem made
all the more puzzling because of the improbability of a system’s organisa-
tion.41 It is much more probable that a system degrade toward disorder.
Many systems theorists have addressed this question of organisational com-
plexity in light of what has become known as second-order cybernetics.
An important modification to note here is that in information theory as it
derives from Wiener’s contemporary, Claude Shannon, entropy is identified
with information, not opposed to it. The improbable is higher in informa-
tion than the probable, which makes the former essential to increasingly
complex organisation.42
Introduction 9
I will not go into details here, but it is important to point out how
second-order cybernetics advances our understanding of what is a system.
Cybernetics in general studies how complex systems use information, mod-
elling, and controlling operations to govern a system toward a particular
goal, despite obstacles and disturbances. The difference between first-order
and second-order cybernetics is that for the former, a system is something
given, to be observed objectively and passively. For the latter, by contrast,
an observer necessarily interacts with the system observed. This means
that a complex system includes both the observer of that system and the
model that observer has of the system itself, as well as the models of other
observers of that same system.43 In other words, a complex system includes
observations of its own observations, or second-order observations. As
Luhmann writes, “The second order observation observes only how others
observe.”44 Understood in this way, a system is complex in the sense out-
lined above, insofar as it constantly faces the observation of its contingency
(such as discrepancies or disagreements between observers of a system, or
the necessarily reductive models made of the state of a system) and must
in some way include those observations in the ongoing organisation of the
system. This has consequences for how the construction of a system is to
be understood. An observer is now taken to have a structuring function in
the observed system. Lee writes,

The system is necessarily bracketed by the acknowledgement of an

observer’s construction of the system itself, as well as the observer’s
self-construction (or even acknowledgement) as an observer.45

First-order cybernetics analysed linear and predictable systems, or what

Heinz von Foerster, one of the key figures of second-order cybernetics,
called “trivial machines,” which maintain equilibrium, or homeostasis,
through negative feedback. Perhaps the most familiar example of a homeo-
static system is that of a thermostat, which regulates temperature within
a closed system. The behaviour of such a system can be predicted on the
basis of a determinate relation between input and output.46 By contrast,
second-order cybernetics “stresses the recursive complexities of observa-
tion, mediation, and communication” with regard to nonlinear and emergent
systems, that is, systems that do not show such a determinate relation.47
Emergence usually describes some qualitative change that is irreducible
or incompressible either to initial conditions or simple, local interactions,
so that what results from such a change is unpredictable and nonaddi-
tive. Examples of emergence range from the murmurations of flocking star-
lings, to the patterns of cellular automata, to language shifts, all of which
show how global organisation arises by local, rule-based interactions in the
absence of a common will.48 Particularly important to the study of ludic
participation is that social emergence can occur due to the local communi-
cative interaction and nonlinear relation of agents.
10 Introduction
To describe something as nonlinear is to state that there is no direct pro-
portionality between cause and effect, or input and output. Small changes
have disproportionate effects and new patterns that arise are more than sim-
ply different combinations of their earlier constituents.49 This means that
Esto no pasa con la
narrativa dado que la the starting state of a system discloses nothing about its future states, and
estructura motiva cierta
s i g n i fi c a c i ó n d e l a s the observation of any future state discloses nothing about the starting state.
partes. En juegos , al ser
participativos hay la
As James Gleick memorably described it, “Nonlinearity means that the act
posibilidad de romper el of playing the game has a way of changing the rules.”50 In other words,
juego o seguir las reglas
the rules of play are either mutually dependent upon the behaviour of play-
ers or they allow for various, unpredictable versions by which a player or
players can follow the rule. Both cases will be found in our examples of
ludic participation. Such “twisted changeability,” Gleick writes, is difficult
to calculate and predict, but it also produces rich and complex behaviour.
This means that one might observe that a certain passage of play is consis-
tent with the rules of some game or other, but one neither could have pre-
dicted that the rules would have led to this passage nor reconstruct how they
did so. Unless, of course, one has access to the testimony of one who has
observed every passage of play thus far. Even then, that testimony would be
incomplete. Any attempt to model systems that include nonlinear relations
must leave something out, without knowing decisively whether or not that
omission is important. To put it differently, it is difficult to tell in what way
a model is flawed. The complexity of such a system is, to use Paul Cilliers’
term, incompressible.51
A complex system as studied by second-order cybernetics is a “non-
trivial machine,” to again use Von Foerster’s term, that is highly sensitive
to changes in its internal states and to the function of these states as tokens
of past states of the system.52 It uses self-referential and recursive opera-
tions and observations in order to differentiate itself from an environment to
which it nevertheless remains open. Such a system, rather than deteriorate,
has the capacity to self-organise, which means that novel or unprecedented
organisation comes about not only by way of external exigencies, but devel-
ops from local, nonlinear interactions within the system. Cilliers describes
self-organisation as “a property of complex systems which enables them
to develop or change internal structure spontaneously and adaptively in order
to cope with, or manipulate, their environment.”53 Self-organisation allows
for deviant or unexpected phenomena to emerge without catastrophic conse-
quence for the organisation of the system.54 After all, a system that “already
behaves unpredictably,” and that is nimble and adaptable, is more likely to
reorganise in the face of disorder and noise than a system that is simple and
repetitive.55 Cilliers’ example of a self-organised and emergent system is a
neural network. Another example, more significant to us, would be a game.
Game theorists and designers Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman have
explained how games operate as complex systems. Their definition of a game
is “a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules,
that results in a quantifiable outcome.”56 They update Johann Huizinga’s
Introduction 11
identification of the “magic circle” that marks off play as a “temporary
[world] within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act
apart,” in light of complex systems theory, arguing that the game “inscribes
a space that is repeatable … a finite space with infinite possibility.”57 These
systems can demonstrate varying degrees of openness or closure, Salen and
Zimmerman argue, depending upon whether the schema used to summarise
and analyse its behaviour is formal, experiential, or cultural. As a formal,
designed system of rules, the game is closed and separable from any one play
of those rules. The experience of play can be closed or open, according to
whether we analyse only those aspects of play that derive from the internal
structure of the game or also those that reflect the expectations, desires, and
relationships of players. As culture, games are open. Here, one studies the
broader contexts with which the game system correlates.58 At great length,
Salen and Zimmerman explain how the formal, designed structure of rules
operates in a complexly systematic way to produce surprising and emergent
results in play.
Throughout Play and Participation, I will draw upon some of the excel-
lent analyses in games studies that have used complex systems theory to
understand games. However, works of ludic participation are not usually
or not yet games, even though some modify or otherwise make use of and
complicate already existing game structures and materials. Instead, works
of ludic participation often solicit participants to play toward the establish-
ment of game rules. This means that to study ludic participation requires
an understanding of the complex and systematic organisation of play more
than an understanding of formalised games. This is not to suggest, of course,
that there are no implicit rules or constraints operating in ludic participa-
tion. Indeed, these are often what guide participants toward explicitly rules
play. It is more that we cannot identify formal systems of rules, separable
from play, but must analyse works of ludic participation instead as open,
complex, and informal systems.
Our next question, now that we have an idea of what is a complex system
and what is meant by the systematic organisation of complexity, is what,
then, do we mean by play? Faced with this question, we might well respond
as Saint Augustine did to the question of what is time, “If no one asks me,
I know; if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not.”59 Similarly,
a player might fully know and feel his or her activity to be play, or an
observer might confidently point to an activity and state “That is play,” but,
when asked to explain it, that same play presents both with a definitional
quandary. This quandary derives, not least, from the categorical ambiguity
of play, as described by the following quotation from Millar:

Exploring what is familiar, practicing what has already been mastered,

friendly aggression, sex without coition, excitement about nothing,
social behaviour not defined by a specific common activity or by social
structure, pretence not intended to deceive: this is play.60
12 Introduction
More recently, Thomas Henricks has vividly described the peculiar phenom-
enon that play scholars take as their object of study.

At times, players seem spontaneous and fanciful; at other times, they

behave in rule-bound, goal-oriented ways. Sometimes players com-
pete; sometimes they cooperate. Many play activities exhibit noisy
exuberance; others feature quiet calculation. There are times when
players comply with the authority figures that try to control them;
there are times when they defy those authorities. Players routinely
spend hours constructing something in the most patient and fastidious
way; moments later, they tear that construction apart. In short, players
are equally the creators and the destroyers of orderly form.61

Faced with such a seemingly paradoxical phenomenon, we might learn

from the approach of educational psychologist Brian Sutton-Smith in his
The Ambiguity of Play, which is to propose that the only characteristic to
distinguish play is, precisely, its ambiguity.62 Sutton-Smith classifies play
according to even “rhetorics” that support its use as an act of fantasy, or of
progress, or of power, of the development of a self, and so on. Attention to
these rhetorics might improve analytical clarity irrespective of play’s ambi-
guity and the variety of play’s definitions. Most important for the study of
ludic participation is that, as Sutton-Smith shows, although play’s ambi-
guity might evade clear and invariable definition, play still functions as a
means of social organisation and as a contingently necessary orderly form.
Here, Sutton-Smith refers to the cybernetic definition of play developed
by Bateson, what the latter calls “metacommunication.” This doubled or
second-order communication allows us to understand play’s organisational
function, as it shows how, through play, an organism or a system “pulls itself
up by its bootstraps,” which is simply a more colourful way to describe self-
organisation.63 In Bateson’s definition of play as metacommunication, we
might find how play organises in the absence of explicit rules. I will return
to this definition in more detail at the end of Chapter 1 and in Chapter 2.
In conclusion, it remains to be seen just how works of ludic participa-
tion might be systematic complexes of elements entangled in nontrivial but
highly contingent ways which, strangely enough, both demand commitment
from participants and ask them to observe and test out how they might oth-
erwise play. Of most importance will be the organisational particulars of the
works under analysis, which is to say, how they distribute roles to observers
or players, what the complications and modalities of play objects are, what
the function of boundaries and other constraints are, how the form of play
recurs over time, what the specific topologies of playgrounds are, and, lastly,
how governance of such works is at all possible. What might be at stake in
ludic participation is the organisation of sociability in play that, although
it certainly occurs elsewhere, might be observed as it enters the domain of
the social system of art in such a way that it becomes both more evidently
Introduction 13
contingent and more governable. It is for this reason that, faced with the
phenomenon of ludic participation, we must begin to develop a play theory
of organisation and governance.


1. Ernst Gombrich, ‘Raphael’s Madonna della Sedia,’ in Norm and Form: Studies
in the Art of the Renaissance (Oxford: Phaidon, 1978), 77.
2. Matthew Schum, ‘The Spectre of Evaluation: Interview with Thomas
Hirschhorn,’ Flash Art 278 (May–June 2011): 111.
3. Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship
(London: Verso, 2012), 2.
4. Words in bold and italics signify glossary terms. The Ludic Museum confer-
ence took place at Tate Liverpool between 31 January and 1 February 2014 to
accompany an exhibition revisiting Palle Nielsen’s The Model—A Model for a
Qualitative Society, which first took place in the Moderna Museet, Stockholm,
during October 1968.
5. Grant Kester, Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern
Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004); and The One and the Many:
Contemporary Collaborative Art in the Global Context (Durham, NC: Duke
University Press, 2011).
6. Bishop, 7.
7. Ibid.
8. Kester, 24, 32–33.
9. Arman Avanessian, ‘Aesthetics of Form Revisited,’ in Aesthetics and Contemporary
Art, ed. A. Avanessian and L. Skrebowski (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2011), 33.
10. I here modify Eva Knodt’s presentation of this question in her Foreword to
N. Luhmann, Social Systems, trans. E. M. Knodt (Stanford, CA: Stanford
University Press, 1995), xvii.
11. Mick Wilson, ‘Autonomy, Agonism, and Activist Art: An Interview with Grant
Kester,’ Art Journal 66, no. 3 (Fall 2007): 108.
12. Kester, 14.
13. Carey Wolfe, ‘Meaning as Event-Machine, Or: Systems Theory and “The
Reconstruction of Deconstruction”: Derrida and Luhmann,’ in Emergence and
Embodiment: New Essays on Second-Order Systems Theory, ed. B. Clarke and
M. B. N. Hansen (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), 229.
14. Carey Wolfe, ‘In Search of Posthumanist Theory: The Second-Order Cybernetics
of Maturana and Varela,’ in Observing Complexity: Systems Theory and
Postmodernity, ed. W. Rasch and C. Wolfe (Minneapolis, MN: University of
Minnesota Press, 2000), 186.
15. Katherine Hayles, ‘Information or Noise? Economy of Explanation in Barthes’
S/Z and Shannon’s Information Theory,’ in One Culture: Essays in Science and
Literature, ed. G. Levine (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987).
16. Gregory Bateson, ‘Style, Grace, and Information in Primitive Art,’ in Steps to an
Ecology of Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972), 145–47. Our
question to a work of art should be, Bateson argues: “What sorts of correction
in the direction of wisdom would be achieved by creating or viewing this work
of art?”
14 Introduction
17. See also Bateson’s Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (New York: E. P. Dutton,
18. Martin Herbert, The Uncertainty Principle (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014), 10.
19. Edgar Morin, ‘Le retour de l’événement,’ Communications 18 (1972): 6–20.
20. Bruno Latour, ‘On Interobjectivity,’ Mind, Culture, and Activity 3, no. 4 (1996): 223.
21. Francis Heylighen in Carlos Gershenson, ed. Complexity: 5 Questions,
(Copenhagen: Automatic Press, 2008), 69.
22. William Rasch, Niklas Luhmann’s Modernity: The Paradoxes of Differentiation
(Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), 47.
23. D. Baecker, ‘Systems, Network, and Culture,’ presented at the international sympo-
sium Relational Sociology: Transatlantic Impulses for the Social Sciences, Berlin,
25 to 26 September 2008, accessed 25 February 2009, http://www.relational-
24. Ibid., 47.
25. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Stith Bennett, ‘An Exploratory Model of Play,’
American Anthropologist 73, no. 1 (1971): 46.
26. Johann Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (Boston:
Beacon Press, 1955), 10.
27. Ludwig Von Bertalanffy, General Systems Theory: Foundations, Development,
Applications (London: Allen Lane, 1971), 36.
28. Edgar Morin, Introduction à la pensée complexe (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2005), 29.
29. Von Bertalanffy, 36.
30. Ibid., vii.
31. Hans Haacke, untitled statement in Conceptual Art and Conceptual Aspects, ed.
Donald Karshan (New York: New York Cultural Centre, 1970), republished in
Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artist’s Writ-
ings, ed. K. Stiles and P. Selz (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 874.
32. Jack Burnham, ‘Systems Esthetics,’ Artforum 7, no. 1 (September 1968): 31,
35. See also, Francis Halsall, Systems of Art: Art, History and Systems Theory
(Oxford: Peter Lang, 2008); Luke Skrebowski, ‘All Systems Go: Recovering
Hans Haacke’s Systems Art,’ Grey Room 30 (Winter 2008): 54–83; and Cath-
erine Jones, ‘Hans Haacke 1967’ in Hans Haacke 1967 (Cambridge, MA: MIT
Press, 2011).
33. Pamela Lee, Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s (Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press, 2004), 67.
34. See Edward Shanken, ‘Reprogramming Systems Aesthetics: A Strategic Histori-
ography,’ Proceedings of the Digital Arts and Culture Conference, University of
California, Irvine, December 2009,
35. Von Bertalanffy, 32.
36. Lee, 64.
37. Von Bertalanffy, 30.
38. Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1954), 12.
39. Morin, 30.
40. Niklas Luhmann, ‘Operational Closure and Structural Coupling: the Differen-
tiation of the Legal System,’ Cardozo Law Review 13 (1992): 1419.
41. Von Bertalanffy, 31.
42. See Claude E. Shannon, ‘A Mathematical Theory of Communication,’ Bell System
Technical Journal 27 (July–October 1948): 379–423, 623–56.
Introduction 15
43. See Francis Heylighen and Cliff Joslyn, ‘Cybernetics and Second-Order Cybernetics,’
in Encyclopaedia of Physical Science & Technology, 3d ed., vol. 4, ed. R. A. Meyers,
(New York: Academic Press, 2001): 4:155–70.
44. Luhmann, 62.
45. Lee, 66.
46. Heinz von Foerster, ‘Molecular Ethology, An Immodest Proposal for Semantic
Clarification,’ in Understanding Understanding: Essays on Cybernetics and Cog-
nition (New York: Springer, 2003), 140.
47. Bruce Clarke and Mark Hansen, ‘Introduction: Neocybernetic Emergence,’ in
Emergence and Embodiment, 6.
48. See R. Keith Sawyer, Social Emergence: Societies as Complex Systems (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2005), 3.
49. Paul Cilliers, Complexity and Postmodernism: Understanding Complex Systems
(London: Routledge, 1998), 95.
50. James Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science (London: Vintage, 1998), 24.
51. Ibid., 10.
52. Von Foerster, 141.
53. Cilliers, 98.
54. Carlos Gershenson and Francis Heylighen, ‘How Can We Think the Complex?’
in Philosophy, Theory and Application, vol. 1, Managing the Complex, ed.
K. A. Richardson (Institute for the Study of Coherence and Emergence/Information
Age Publishing, 2004), 1:12.
55. Hayles, 104.
56. Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), 80.
57. Johann Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (Boston:
Beacon Press, 1955), 10. Salen and Zimmerman, 95.
58. Ibid., 97.
59. Augustine, The Confessions of Augustine, ed. W. G. T. Shedd (Boston: Draper
and Halliday, 1867), Book XI, XIV 17, 313.
60. Susanna Millar, The Psychology of Play (London: Penguin, 1968), 256.
61. Thomas S. Henricks, ‘Orderly and Disorderly Play: A Comparison,’ American
Journal of Play 2 (2009): 13.
62. Brian Sutton-Smith, The Ambiguity of Play (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1997).
63. Gregory Bateson, ‘The Message “This is Play,”’ Transactions of the Second
Conference on Group Processes, October (1955): 216. During this discussion
of the message “this is play,” Bateson recounts more detailed studies of otters
made with his research assistant, the poet Weldon Kees. These studies involved
two male otter at the Fleishacker Zoo in San Franscisco, observed between
December 1952 and April 1954. The play behaviour of these otters was cap-
tured in the film The Nature of Play, Part One: River Otters, released in 1954
(23 minutes, b/w).
1 Precursors to Ludic Participation

With the gradual collapse of High Modernism from the late 1950s onward,
diverse arts practices moved away from the studio-to-gallery model of artis-
tic production and began to investigate more performance-based or event-
based models, which allowed for participation, so-called “live” production,
and distributed authorship. The use of play and games reorganised the
encounter with art to be participatory, unpredictable, aleatory, or distrib-
uted. In light of this expansion of art toward ludic participation, the aim
of this chapter is threefold. Firstly, it is to show that with early examples
of ludic participation, whereby the work of art was expanded to unknown
others through play, there was an explicit and implicit engagement with
systems, or at the very least, an understanding of play and games as distinct
organisational modes. Secondly, it is to how discuss two works of early ludic
participation exemplify two distinct arguments for how play and art meet.
On the one hand, there is a humanist argument for play, for which play
constitutes a gain in agency for an individual or a group and allows players
to take pleasure in mastery, if only within the magic circle of their play. On
the other hand, there is a posthumanist argument, for which the player is
as much plaything as master of her play. In this case, to be in play is to be
played. Or more precisely, it is to be mutually entangled and conditional
upon other players, play objects, and dynamic, sometimes emergent pro-
cesses. It would be mistaken to call any one player a master of his play.
Admittedly, this is a schematic distinction, and the examples I discuss are
explained exhaustively by neither the one nor the other argument, but the
distinction still has explanatory power and follows many previous attempts
to think play and art together. On the one hand, and here I follow Robert
Wilson’s summary of two traditions in the literature on play, there is that
which advocates play as the optimal achievement and free expression of
those who participate in it. On the other hand, there is that which counters
this humanism with the description of systems or a world at play, upon
which human agency is conditional.1 As we shall see in the chapters to fol-
low, current works of ludic participation inherit these arguments, both in
the intentions of their authors and in the critical evaluations made of them.
Thirdly, the aim of this chapter is to show that this book’s claim for the
systematicity of contemporary ludic participation is consistent with selected