So Boho have just been in Stockholm for the last five weeks, from the last warm burst of summer through to the first winter snow. We’ve been working with Swedish NGO Miljöverkstan, on the second phase of our collaborative project Democratic Nature.
Democratic Nature is a development of the model we developed at University College London over 2011-12, and tested out for the first time with Best Festival Ever. The format of the work is based on the methodology of ‘participatory co-modelling’ – a practice whereby scientists work with community members to map and model a social-ecological system, and then use that model to help facilitate discussions and conversations about that system.
Our goal was to try to bring some of the skills we’ve developed making interactive experiences to bear on this process. Best Festival Ever was our first full exploration in this area – building a playable model of a fictional music festival. Democratic Nature is the next step for us – using these same skills to map and model the real world system of Flaten.
Flaten is a nature reserve just south of Stockholm. It’s a beautiful lake, surrounded by a forest of oak, pine and spruce trees, right on the edge of Stockholm city. In the 1930s, it became a hub for young Stockholmers learning to swim, and it’s still a major recreational destination. It’s been a space for various groups to set up camp and live in, legally or illegally. It’s the home of various endangered species, insects and birds. And it’s coming under increasing pressure as Stockholm suffers a housing crisis in the wake of increasing migration and asylum seekers.
In January – February this year, we undertook the first phase of this new process: research, meeting with experts, mapping, making new game devices and talking about possible structures for the new work. This month, our focus was on building a prototype. Over the month, we constructed a full working version of the show, which we tested with three scratch audiences this last week.
Democratic Nature consists of a few key games: a sequence we call ‘Worldbuilding’, in which the audience play through the history of the region, from the end of the last ice age through to the modern day. There’s a game looking at the competition between oaks and spruce in Flaten forest, a game looking at the algal blooms that impacted the lake in the late 1990s, a game about Flaten beach on a summer day, and our collective favourite; a game we call ‘Governance’ about managing the nature reserve.
We’re really fond of the Governance game – it’s a nice mechanism that we haven’t used before, in which the audience undertake a number of different projects scattered throughout the room simultaneously. It’s a nice mix of cooperation and competition, and it’s generated some interesting discussions in the scratch shows.
We were lucky enough to be joined this time by two of our favourite collaborators: sound designer Nick McCorriston, who produced a soundtrack based on field recordings from the Flaten area, and designer Gillian Schwab, who constructed an incredible array of set and props.
Following three scratch showings of the prototype, we’ve now wrapped up this phase of the work, and we’re heading out of Sweden on to the next thing. We’re planning to be back in Sweden in mid-2017 (Scandinavian summer!) to undertake the final development; tightening and calibrating the work, and then working with local artists to translate it into Swedish.