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Summary biography / background:

Blast Theory (Brighten, U.K.) is renowned internationally as one of the most adventurous artists’ groups using interactive media, creating groundbreaking new forms of performance and interactive art that mixes audiences across the internet, live performance and digital broadcasting. Led by Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj, the group’s work explores the social and political aspects of technology. Drawing on popular culture and games, the work often blurs the boundaries between the real and the fictional.

Company’s philosophical approach: 

We make collaborative, interdisciplinary work that is highly innovative in its process and execution. To maintain this practice requires long rigorous periods of development followed by international showings over several years that are usually context specific.

Innovation and risk is central to our work. Blast Theory has a strong track record of taking major artistic risks – in Kidnap (1998), for example – and has tackled themes of violence, pornography and politics. The group has made major innovations in the use of technology, in working methods, and in our business model.

The uses of locative media and mixed reality in works such as Can You See Me Now? (2001) and I Like Frank (2004) have had wide impact. The group recognises that true innovation requires significant risks and it continues to be agile and highly responsive to new ideas and opportunities. Our BAFTA nomination for Technological and Social Innovation is an example of the success of that model.

Our collaboration with the University of Nottingham has grown and deepened since 1998 and, to our knowledge, is the longest and most productive partnership between a university and a group of artists anywhere in the world…

For more about their collaborative / business model: Blast Theory entry at Artists Talk by Jeni Walwin

Description and preview of Kidnap (1998):

"Kidnap" winner / participant Russell
A lottery in which the winners get kidnapped.Ten finalists were chosen at random and put under surveillance. Two winners – Debra Burgess, a 27 year old Australian working as a temp and Russell Ward, a 19 year old from Southend working in a 24 hour convenience store – were snatched in broad daylight and taken to a secret location for 48 hours. The process was broadcast live onto the internet. Online visitors were able to control the video camera inside the safehouse and communicate live with the kidnappers. During the run up to Kidnap, a 45 second video Blipvert was shown at cinemas around the UK.Kidnap, a work about control and consent, was inspired by the notorious Spanner Trial in which consenting sadomasochists were convicted and sent to prison.
December 1997″Short essay defining ideas and themes for production” by Blast Theory. Excerpt:

Psychological Investigation

The resulting audio and video tapes will also be a record of an experiment in human interaction with sociological and psychological resonances.  As in the work of Sophie Calle in which she followed strangers or employed people to follow her, a strange form of coexistence will develop.  In this symbiotic state the winners have given themselves over to the kidnappers and are thus free of self determination.  And at the same time the kidnappers have also given up their freedom to the winners.  For they are dependent on the winners for the outcome; they can only watch and wait to see what happens.

Finally Kidnap will be a great adventure, a step into the unknown, a chance for two people to have a once in a lifetime experience.

Newspaper banner: Hostage Drama The Theatre Group Kidnap You

3 June 1998 “Theatre: Kidnapped! And all in the name of art.” By James Ramptom at The Independent U.K.

….. For additional sums of money, you can embellish your fantasy kidnap with such outre extras as a copy of Brian Keenan’s An Evil Cradling (pounds 16), a massage and hot bath (pounds 12), a jam doughnut (40p), or having your captors dressed as Nazis (pounds 24), New York cops (pounds 24) or clowns (pounds 29). For a further financial consideration, you can be kept naked (pounds 1), or pretend to be a leftist revolutionary kidnapped by the secret services (pounds 30). You can even cough up pounds 3 for the privilege of being verbally abused. And if you are determined to make it a truly nightmarish experience for all concerned, you can pay pounds 100 for a set of juggling balls.

So exactly what connection does all this have with art? Doesn’t it run the risk of being seen as the biggest fraud since the Emperor paraded around wearing nothing but a smile?

The Arts Council, for one, were not convinced that Kidnap was a project that merited funding. (Blast Theory eventually raised pounds 35,000, largely from the clothing manufacturer Firetrap.)

Blast Theory kidnapping….. Predictably, Kidnap has already lured more barkers than Battersea Dogs’ Home (the pounds 500 prize for successfully escaping is an added incentive). “You should hear our 0800 number,” Adams laughs. “There’s one man who phones up repeatedly to spell out his address in RAF call-signs. A lot of other people ring up very excitedly shouting, ‘Please kidnap me now.’ One anonymous caller said, ‘Do you sexually interfere with your victims?’ and hung up… But most volunteers, Adams claims, are not so extreme; they are merely attracted by the idea of being plucked from daily life and having every responsibility taken away from them for 48 hours. “They also love the idea of entering the unknown – that’s so rare in our lives. Everyone who’s registered will now look at life through slightly different eyes.” …..

Adams, it seems, has spent much of the year preparing this project in the company of lawyers. The firm of Harbottle & Lewis have been crawling all over the registration documents for Kidnap. Each entrant will have a “safeword” they can use at any time if they wish to released (a practice commonly used during S & M). A psychologist, a St John’s Ambulance person and a liaison officer, who will explain what’s going on to the police and passers-by, will be on hand throughout the 48 hours.

“We eventually took out several options that involved excessive physical contact,” Adams reveals. “One of the original options was for the winner to be tied up – but that was deemed too intrusive.”….. [regarding Operation Spanner] I believe that is a disgusting abuse of civil liberties – when your own body is not yours to do what you want with.” …..

That still does not offer a full explanation as to what on earth would possess someone to sign up for this project. For that, I turned to Roger Plant, a 66-year-old retired investment manager who has enthusiastically registered to be kidnapped….. “Blast Theory are examining the relationship between the persecutor and the persecuted, and the extent to which the kidnapped person sets the agenda. I want to examine how far I will defend myself by attacking my kidnappers. Will I take on their characteristics?” He pauses, before adding with a laugh: “I hope I don’t end up kicking them in the groin.”…..

The above article was also printed July 18th weekend edition w/ above images [download available]. Video collage of kidnapping [or for some mobile users]:

Related Articles:

General entry at Art & Electronic Media

Company’s entry at Contemporary Performance

Behind the Walls: Exploring the Victorian Prison“. A blog entry at Invisible Cities relating Artaudian theory to the Kidnap project.

Captive and Captivated by Blast Theory’s Kidnap Woods, N. Stimulus Respond####, April 2012, pp.100-107.

A Machine to See With (and Reflect Upon): Interview with Blast Theory Artists Matt Adams and Nick Tandavanitj. By Marcos Pereira Dias. Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies Vol. 8, No. 1, April 2012.[pdf]

Pushing Mixed Reality Boundaries. By Steve Benford, Sally Jane Norman, et al. Centre for User Orientated IT Design.CID-84, KTH, Stockholm, Sweden February 1999. [pdf]

[Images link to related sites. Additional image credit ]

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