toy baroque: the emergence of contemporary entertainment worlds
As leisure consumers in the early 21rst century, we are used to what Jay Bolter and Richard Gruisin call “hypermediacy”, the saturation and multiplication of different media on our screens and in our everyday life. Our leisure time can be seen as a collage of media experiences, each, presumably, affecting us with its own medium-specific logic. For example, a day trip to a theme park might alternate with a few hours spent playing a video game, an afternoon at a museum exhibit, or a week of camping out at an art festival. At a second glance, these activities form an experiential continuum within the context of today’s media landscape, bringing together the arts of world-building, engineering, and experience design. In a theme park one might traverse a narrative space rigged with animatronics and special effects, in a video game explore a fantasy world through virtual kinetic actions, at an exhibit interact with a mix of physical and stereoscopic objects embedded in a themed environment, and at an art festival design and play with large scale kinetic electronic sculptures within the context of a utopian community. These activities take place across a wide variety of media platforms, but show striking commonalities in their users’ experience that defies an analytical methodology that would assign them medium specific interpretations. All of these objects, of course, trace back their current avatars to a long genealogy of artistic, technological and entertainment practices rooted both in the “high-art” domains that function within institutional frameworks like the gallery, the museum and the city, as well as in the “lively arts” (Jenkins), the commercial/popular culture of blockbuster movies, the circus, carnivals, arcades, outsider/insider art, tinkering, and industrial design.
The goal of this paper is not to untangle these genealogies but to begin to theorize the family traits of a transmedia, transdiciplinary region of popular culture whose objects, both interactive and spectacular, call the subject to a specific logic of emotional, cognitive and imaginary engagement. Speaking specifically about pre-cinematic optical toys such as the phenakistoscope and the zooetrope, Dulac and Gaudreault use the term “cultural series” to define a group of cultural objects whose commonalities in logic and usage emerge over a period of historical iterations. Broader than our understanding of specific media and more fluid than our understanding of genre, the classification of cultural series is particularly appropriate for a taxonomic examination of media phenomena based on similar qualities in user experience. Drawing from case studies featuring a game, a theme park “dark ride”, an exhibit/art installation and DIY art festival, I will argue that the notion of the toy, as a an affective object, as a machine, and finally as a world-to-be-explored, can be partnered with Deleuze’s concept of the Baroque to gain insight into the particular phenomenological mechanism of these media works. The Baroque, as a philosophical and aesthetic principle for organizing experience, is a useful interpretative framework for understanding how toys, as technological objects endowed with affective and imaginary properties, produce a particular logic of experience of their own. Although a larger discussion of the pervasiveness and impact of Baroque toys in today’s media landscape is beyond the scope of this argument, the theoretical implications at hand will hopefully offer some insight into an emerging cultural series.
SOFT TOYS: the kinetics of the curve
In his psychological study on the nature of play, Play and Reality, D.W.Winnicott attributes to a child’s first toy, often a stuffed animal or a piece of soft fabric, the qualities of a “transitional object”, meaning an object that mediates the barrier between the self, the inner reality of the child, and the external world. This first toy, which the child carries everywhere with her, as well as batters and mutilates in extremes of affection and abuse, functions as an identity as well as a possession. It possesses textural qualities that lend themselves to the fostering of an intimate relationship. Plush, pliant, “…all too easily de-formed under the pressure of the subject’s feeling or attitude towards it”, to quote Sianne Ngai on the attributes of the “cute” object, the soft toy receives the imprint of the self, sometimes serving as the subject’s psychic double in the outside world, sometimes becoming a proxy for the world, miniaturized, docile, completely under the subject’s control. As such, the transitional object is a means for the child to assume control over herself and over her environment, a necessary fantasy that allows the child to function in reality. Winnicott’s concept resonates with other toy-related discourses, from an a literary history that assigns dolls as fetishes (Kuznets, 95) to the huge popularity in recent years of Japanese kawaii “cute” consumer items – lovable brand-characters that populate transmedia franchises, but that are perhaps most conspicuously consumed as collectible companion-accessories or as a youthful fashion style. According to Anne Allison in her discussion of the Pokemon phenomenon, cuteness has valence because it enacts “the pursuit of something that dislodges the heaviness and constraints of (productive) life” (40) – it offers escape from the adult world of work and social values by being gently grotesque, diminutive, soft, and helpless, an alternative to those traits of willfulness and rectitude associated with the pursuit of reality and a realistic world-view. A stuffed animal of Tortoro, the adorable spherical monster from Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film of the same name, is a study in action without consequence: you can squeeze it or throw it any way you like, it will bounce back, adapt, mold itself to your desires while affectionately flattering your skin with delectable fuzziness. The fact that cuteness is a rising cultural and aesthetic value, not only for children but for adults as well, points to a parallel growth in the significance of toys, as instigators of new affective relationships between (adult) subjects and the outside world.
The specific subject/object interaction defined by Winnicott’s transitional object and exemplified in the cute toy finds a revealing echo in Deleuze’s theory on the Baroque, which in The Fold is expressed not only as a cultural movement in 17th and 18th century European arts, sciences, and philosophy, but as a manner of being, a style or lens through which one can construct /re-envision the world. Key to Deleuze’s Baroque is the idea that the object, and structured materiality in general, organizes the subject’s point of view on the world, rather than the other way around. The baroque subject is one that is in continuous contact with “expressive matter” (39). She does not dominate the world from a singular, master viewpoint (as in the windowed perspective of the painting or the cinema) but imbibes the world by feeling the imprint of objects on her sensory apparatus. Akin to the “pricklings” of minuscule folds or “vibrations”, the world is felt on a pre-cognitive, textural level in tune with the object’s affective and sensorial attributes, triggering a haptic way of knowing in which the perceiving subject “…becomes the representation of an object in conformity with organs”, a sort of receiving object herself, as opposed to a separate, self-reflexive “representative of the world” (112). In an inversion of the subject/object relationship, baroque matter, seemingly animated with a force and feeling of its own, explodes the frame of the subject, establishing a sinuous continuity between its flesh and the flesh of the self – recalling the ambiguous status of the plush toy as an intermediary object that blurs the division between psyche and exteriority, between fantasy and physical reality. The toy’s squishy body is the catalyst for an experience of fluidity and soft, unbroken folds, its substance not contained within a fixed form or mold, but deforming itself in endless play and variation, exhibiting those same qualities of “rounded angles”, and “spilling over” (4) of mass that are at work in the texture of more traditional Baroque objects, such as the flowing drapery in Caravaggio’s painting or the curls of marble leaves and flesh in Bernini’s sculpture.
Baroque objects and plush toys both express what might be called a kinetics of the curve, namely, the dynamism or momentum that results from a specific organization of matter into parabolic trajectories and the motion of soft, rounded objects. Katamari Damacy, a 2004 console game created by Namco, is an example of a toy environment – or Spielstadte, “toy city”, to reprise Kuznets’s fruitful use of the term from E.Nesbit’s story of the same name – that takes Deleuze’s concept of the curve literally. The game mechanics call upon a tiny prince to roll a giant sticky ball (the katamari) around a terrain speckled with a random collection of objects. The objects get stuck to the ball, increasing the ball’s size, thus allowing the ball to pick up larger and larger objects as it rolls along, eventually emptying the level of all mass and structure. The katamari in the hands of the player is what Deleuze would call an “objectile”, an object-projectile. According to this logic, “the new status of the object no longer refers its condition to a spatial mold – in other words, to a relation of form-matter – but to a temporal modulation that implies as much the beginnings of a continuous variation of matter as a continuous development of form…The object here is manneristic, not essentializing: it becomes an event”. Thrown on a curving trajectory that gives its matter temporal form in excess of the original, finite thing, the snowball katamari is a quintessentially Baroque object, namely, more than an object, a force, a process. The katamari’s status as a toy is tied to this double function, which makes it simultaneously inanimate matter, something to be played with – a noun/the ball – and the vehicle or agent of play – a verb/to roll. This latter capacity constitutes the toy’s entry into the psychic realm, endowing it with a superlative imaginary existence. Deleuze would say a virtual existence, understanding the toy-object not as an entity, a point, but as a series of temporal inflections, of changing moods and lived realities: “the inflection is the pure event of the line or of the point, the Virtual par excellence” (15). As such, the inflection or curve, as a trajectory towards the virtual, produces e-motion (to use Giuliana Bruno’s term), an affective dimension in excess of the kinetic motion of the katamari itself.
Here the katamari mechanics express an affective logic that reflects the complex interplay of power and submission, detachment and love that characterize the subject’s relationship with the transitional object. In this case the transitional object is not a single toy, ballooning instead to the scale of the Spielstadte, the game space constructed of toys. In the first few levels of the game, the player collects the contents of a child’s fantasy/nightmare bedroom, complete with animated toys such as scurrying block mice and dangerous pogo-ing teddy bears, but also replete with the ephemeral consumables of everyday life, gum, lipstick, scissors, plates, matchboxes, etc…littering the floor of the room like the remains of a shopping explosion. The cuteness of the jolly carnivorous ball swallowing the (cute) object-victims in its path speaks to the voracious desire – gluttony – at the heart of the toyshop fantasy, an echo of the troubling undercurrent that constitutes the player’s pleasure at wielding total power over docile possessions. This feeling is complicated by the subject’s identification with another possession, the katamari itself. Katamari Damacy in effect closes the affective economy of the transitional object, creating a world where toys toy with toys in cataclysmic collisions that pit the soft roundness of the ball, powered by the curve, against the sharp edges of static objects. The game is felt as a battle of textures and geometries, where the elongated pointiness of an unwisely captured pencil might throw the katamari off kilter, breaking the momentum of play. Successively crushed and empowered by the toy(s), the player oscillates between control and loss of control, engaging with the Baroque subject’s ambivalent perspective in a shifting universe. Here we might take Angela Ndalianis’ remark on the baroque visual regime that “…the center is to be found in the position of the spectator, with the representational centre changing depending on the spectator’s focus”, to also provide insight into the affective relativism that constitutes the subject’s relationship with the toy. The player of the toy, like the Baroque subject, is not a self-sufficient organizer of her psychic realm, but an emotive zone of encounter between different virtual objects, including her self, which slide in and out of reality depending on the direction of her attention. We can then see how the notion of the transitional object, with its connotations of dependency and helplessness (typically associated with toys in general) reveals an affective sub-layer, a Baroque attitude of elastic, ecstatic looseness towards the subject that embraces the multiplicity of the world as Spielstadte, a heterogeneous collectivity of things-to-be-played-with. This perspective clearly emerges in the feeling of irrepressible headiness that comes with giving into the katamari. The player’s experience is of being directed by the pitch and roll of the ball, thereby achieving a plateau in the “flow” of the game that is superior to the arduous sensation of actually steering the object. The toy enables this new relationship with the environment, which then becomes an open terrain of possibilities.
TOY THE MACHINE: material/immaterial folds
The particular emotional attachment generated by toys by virtue of the subject’s ability to both identify with and possess the toy-object makes them particularly susceptible to becoming engines for cognitive exploration. In Toys as Culture, play theorist Brian Sutton-Smith recounts mathematician Seymour Papert’s experience of playing with car models and erector sets as a child:
“I remember there was feeling, love, as well as understanding in my relationship with gears…As well as connecting with the formal knowledge of mathematics, it also connects with the “body knowledge”, the sensory-motor schemata of a child. You can be the gear, you can understand how it turns by projecting yourself into its place, by turning with it. It is this double relationship – both abstract and sensory – that gives the gear the power to carry powerful mathematics into the mind…”(206)
Papert here give us insight into another aspect of the Baroque subject’s relational perspective. The gear solicits the kind of cognitive attention that enables the subject to project herself into the object and work with it (“turning with it”), in effect “becoming gear”, to echo Deleuze’s concept of rhizomatic identity, according to which living beings tend to pattern themselves onto each other, “capturing code” from one another, in order to achieve an information-enriching metamorphosis. In Baroque terms, this translation means “the surface (of the object) stops being a window on the world and now becomes an opaque grid of information” (40) that the subject can tap into by interacting with the material mesh of the object. The discovery of the gears’ intelligibility is thus a function of the gears’ sensory legibility, resulting for the player in an intuitive permutation of “body knowledge” with “abstract” knowledge.
This duality present in the gear-as-toy evokes the Baroque duality of material and immaterial folds, in which the operation of folding constitutes a fluid tessellation of the sensuous with the cognitive, a fold being continuous with and yet separately identifiable from another fold. According to Deleuze, Baroque matter thus also possesses immaterial, abstract qualities: “abstraction is not a negation of form: it posits form as folded, existing only as a ‘mental landscape’ in the soul or in the mind…hence it also includes immaterial folds.” (40). Keeping in mind that the Fold is an analysis of Leibniz as a Baroque philosopher, one arrives at another translation, the time-honored tradition of linking cognition with spirit. In addition to the contemporary meaning of cognition as rational understanding, the term carried for the 16th century metaphysist the notion of animus, of aliveness itself. Papert’s account of synergy between himself and the gears is also, conversely, an account of the soulfulness of the gears, so to speak, a view that flips the relationship between subject and object, understanding it instead as a dialogue between the soul of the subject and the soul of the object. It is in this continuum between the emotional and logical resonances of the toy that the toy’s nature as an animated “spiritual” machine becomes clear.
Alongside a history of being associated with childish play, toys have also entertained a techno-magical relationship with adults, dating from ancient world treatises of self-moving statues like Hero of Alexandria’s Epivitalia (Kuznets, 13), to the automata and optical toys of the Baroque age, such as Vaucanson’s Digesting Duck, Christiaan Huygens’ magic lantern, or the telescope. These “devices of wonder”, as Barbara Stafford and Frances Terpak felicitously name them, are toy-machines, instruments of scientific entertainment with magical or mystical auras, often miniatures or models of a newly understood, but still mostly uncharted and marvelous cosmos (Sutton-Smith, 59). Their descendants include the ancestors of modern media, the phonograph and the cinematograph, devices whose introduction precipitated a flurry of spiritual (or perhaps simply Spiritist) experimentation, from spirit photography to records of the dead. The computer, which within its first couple of decades was repurposed as a game engine and a music and video synthesizer before becoming the multimedia platform we know today, also enters media history as a “device of wonder”.
As a hybrid product of the digital and the mechanical tradition of entertainment cybernetics, the animatronic spaces of the theme park ride constitute perhaps the most fully realized incarnation of this techno-magical lineage. This is particularly true of the dark ride, a type of attraction in which the visitors ride guided railcars that are processed through a convoluted series of spaces populated with automatons. The dark ride is a procedural object endowed with a voice and an identity. Propelled through the information space of the dark ride machine, the visitor encounters a local animus that enters in dialogue with her, addressing her not only through direct speech but through the language of the entire sensorium. In his analysis of Disneyland, Scott Bukatman insightfully compares the theme park to a cyborg whose interface is so seamless that the visitors themselves become amazed cogs in a biotechnological ecology, part and parcel of a machine that fully integrates its human and mechanical components with each other. This cyborg Disneyland is strikingly analogous to Deleuze’s concept of the “ideal” Baroque machine, namely a machine so complex that it is “composed of parts that are themselves machines” (8). As a system that animates objects and that, conversely, turns subjects into functional parts of itself, the dark ride is a product of Baroque “plastic forces” (8), an aesthetic logic that conjures the illusion of an infinite artificial organism.
In her analysis of the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman ride at Universal Studios, Orlando, Ndalianis writes that the emotions of the theme park visitor “vacillate between a child-like joy and wonder at how the illusions (of the ride) are possible.” (Ndalianis, 366) Contrary to Debordian notions of the spectacle, the visitor is in a state of heightened perception rather than one of passive stupefaction. It is this kind of wonder, this fascination with the inner workings of the machine that is indistinguishable from intense curiosity – “how are these illusions possible?” – that makes the dark ride such a fun cognitive experience. Like the gear, the dark ride functions as a bridge between “sensor-motor” and abstract knowledge. Deleuze provides further insight into this connection between the intellectual appeal and sensorial attraction at work in the illusory effects of wondrous devices: “the essence of the Baroque entails neither falling into nor emerging from illusion but rather realizing something in illusion itself, or of tying it to a spiritual presence that endows its spaces” (143). As we saw in Katamari Damacy, the soft toy is engaging specifically because it also a virtual, imaginary object with affective resonances; the illusions of toy machines operate in a similar fashion, establishing an Ariadne’s thread for the visitor to follow between the magical verisimilitude of the illusion’s appearance and the abstract mystery of its form. The illusion, manifestation of the device’s animus, offers both a fantasy to emotionally connect with and a puzzle to solve.
Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion” dark ride is a rich example of the animate spirit of the Baroque object materializing in the illusion created by the particularly ingenious and evocative effect of Pepper’s Ghost. Pepper’s Ghost, invented by John Pepper and Henry Dircks in 1863 as a theatrical trick, is a refinement of earlier magic lantern techniques used in late 18th century phantasmagoria shows; the effect essentially consists of placing a brightly illuminated subject in an otherwise darkened room underneath the stage and reflecting them off an angled, inconspicuous pane of transparent glass placed in front of the audience, thereby creating the impression that a hovering, translucent figure is appearing on stage. The ride, which opened in 1969, dizzyingly multiplies the trick to include a whole ballroom scene peopled with whirling, dancing ghosts, many interacting convincingly with the solid objects in the room: hanging off chandeliers, drinking from glasses, and playing the organ. The ride’s “endless hallway” scene also uses a similar artifice; in this case a scrimed mirror placed at the end of a corridor makes the far wall disappear entirely, while a lone candelabrum (its side facing the mirror painted black to avoid being reflected) floats down the hallway into oblivion.
By placing the visitor at the center of an illusion machine that overturns the physical parameters of conventional space – erasing sharp edges, liquefying texture, vaporizing mass – , Disneyland’s ride fully concretizes not only the Baroque “…principle of co-extensive space – (as) a space that illusionistically connects with and infinitely extends from our own” (Ndalianis, 361), but the idea of virtuality itself. The singing ghosts of the ballroom, trailing as they do visual, aural, and almost tactile evidence, achieve a degree of phenomenological realism that blurs the line between their status as objects of fantasy and their status as physical objects in space. They offer the possibility of the Ideal Toy, of a play-object capable of fully materializing the player’s imaginary world, of making her fantasies come to life. The effect of Pepper’s Ghost metaphorically realizes this transitory state between spirit and matter, between the abstract and the sensorial. The uncanny figure of the ghost as alive/not alive echoes the fascination evoked by the figure of the automaton, a machine endowed with soul, and the literary trope of the mad scientist/toymaker’s workshop, whose magical dolls become animated at night (Kuznets). Here again, as with Papert’s account of the gears, the double logic of the toy as abstract and concrete mirrors the Baroque interplay between the two sides, the opposing surfaces of a same fold, in this case between the exteriority of the architectural façade, the realm of appearance and sensorial evidence, and the interiority of the room, the site of cognition and spirit. According to Deleuze, “the monad is the autonomy of the inside, an inside without an outside; it has as its correlative the independence of the facade, an outside without an inside” (31). This space is in fact an inside divided from (and larger than) its outside: the ride takes place in a soundstage situated beyond the borders of the Disneyland berm, which the visitors enter through an underground passage – the famous “stretching elevator” room. The New Orleans mansion rococo façade, integrated into the landscape of Adventureland, functions as the porthole transporting the visitors into the closed-off, looking-glass zone of the haunted house. The cybernetic mechanics of the dark ride, the immersive force of the ghostly illusion, and the folded organization of the dark ride space all participate in making the dark ride a site that produces an experience of phenomenological verisimilitude so absorbing that it sets up an alternative reality.
TOY WORLDS: the labyrinth and the pyramid
Room after room, over mezzanines and down twisting tunnels, the dark ride presents an accordion-like iteration of picturesque scenes, dislocated but tessellated tableaus that progressively come together to sketch an impressionistic after-image in the visitor’s mind. The design that articulates this vivid, heterogeneous spectacle through a series of vertiginous juxtapositions is not coincidental, and obeys a specifically Baroque logic. In the words of art historian Henri Focillon, “the baroque reveals the ‘system of the series’ – a system composed of discontinuous elements sharply outlined, strongly rhythmical and…that eventually becomes the “system of the labyrinth”, which, by means of mobile synthesis, stretches itself out in a realm of glittering movement and color” (Ndalianis, 360). Focillion’s quote reveals the labyrinth to be a quintessentially expressive geometry, a system for mapping ideas and images onto a space, such that the space becomes legible to the imagination of the visitor. Here we find again that a key Baroque concept has a corresponding attribute in the toy. The maze, as an architectural formation capable of structuring such a pattern of visual impressions, parallels the toy’s capacity to enable, structure, and extend the player’s imagination. According to Sutton-Smith, the toy operates as prop for world-building activity. By playing with the toy, by channeling her agency through the object, the child gains access to a larger and more elaborate representation of her inner world (Sutton-Smith, 192). The labyrinth is the spatial counterpart to the toy’s function as an imaginative platform: to navigate its folds is also to follow the contours of our own thoughts and mental representations. As such, the labyrinth and the toy can be understood as symmetrical mapping systems. The labyrinth’s historical interpretation as a map of the soul – particularly in the Romantic tradition of 18th and 19th century English gardens – is significantly correlated with the toy’s historical interpretation as a map of the universe – beginning with the wondrous devices and 17th century optical toys mentioned earlier. If the maze externalizes and unfolds the space of the mind, the toy internalizes and folds up the spaces of the cosmos, according to Deleuze’s logic that “to unfold is to increase, to grow; whereas to fold is to diminish, to reduce, ‘to withdraw into the recesses of the world’ ” (9). Both mapping systems superimpose in the 17th and 18th century tradition of the cabinet of wonder, or Wunderkammer.
Wunderkammers commonly refer to ornate pieces of furniture devoted to the imaginative juxtaposition of various curios with evocative sensorial and/or figurative properties. These different objects were often placed within nested compartments, creating in the owner’s mind a receding chain of sensuous and symbolic associations. This “system of the series” assimilates the visual layout of the labyrinth to the tactile delectability of the objects housed within the cabinet, so that the Wunderkammer as a whole evokes a vast imaginary play-room whose extensive proportions are folded into the comparatively diminutive physical space of the piece of furniture itself. As we saw in the case of the “Haunted Mansion”, this motif of nesting fantastical spaces within smaller facades is an inheritance of the Baroque. According to Deleuze, the Baroque’s tendency towards a minute examination of the textures and folds of matter – as much at work in the experience of the wunderkammer as it is in the still life paintings of 17th century Dutch masters – obeys a Russian-doll logic of miniaturization that unlocks proportionally infinite spiritual and imaginary realms. “Matter thus offers an infinitely porous, spongy, or cavernous texture without emptiness, caverns endlessly contained in other caverns: no matter how small, each body contains a world pierced with irregular passages” (5).
This principle of the “universe in a box” is at the heart of The Museum of Jurassic Technology, a museum-scale, modern-day cabinet of curiosities situated in Los Angeles, founded by David Hildebrand Wilson in 1987. There are many exhibits in this “museum”, which presents itself as a compendium of memorabilia from forgotten branches of knowledge. The largest exhibit, The World is Bound with Secret Knots, uses a heterogeneous array of toy models, stereoscopic dollhouses, as well as a minuscule cabinet theatre, to explore the various facets of 17th century German Jesuit and “universal scholar” Athanasius Kircher. The visitor is treated to a dimly lit walkthrough of this Renaissance man’s esoteric and puzzling theories. Kircher’s research into magnetism is illustrated with his “magnetic clock”, a circle of seductively iridescent, water-filled orbs, while his theory of musicology rings out from the propeller-powered chimes of an Aeolian harp. His incursions into Egyptology and Sinology are on display in glass boxes containing eerie dioramas. When the visitor peers through the copper spectacles attached to the cases, translucent figures appear to people melancholic papier-mâché landscapes. The peregrination culminates in a curtained alcove, in which a soft velvet ottoman invites the visitor to watch a series of stereoscopic images projected onto a glass screen, while two superimposed voices, one in English, one in German, narrate a dizzyingly complex poetical interpretation of the scholar’s work. The exhibit’s particular choice of media platforms, Wilson’s innovative projection mechanisms especially, presents an elegant continuity with Kircher’s own inventions, which include the camera oscura and the magic lantern. The most curious of Kircher’s optical toys was a device called the theatrum catoptricum, the “theatre of mirrors” (not featured in the museum). The theatrum catoptricum’s purpose was to fabricate infinite virtual space. It was a marionette theatre whose walls were paneled with a hundred mirrors. Opening the device caused light to incessantly bounce around the inside of the box, so that one could from a few trees or flowers planted in the tiny proscenium “create an immense forest or… an endless garden” (Stafford and Terpak). The exhibits that compose The World is Bound with Secret Knots produce a similar psychological effect. The knots of the title are the secret correspondences that link the separate displays, as well as Kircher’s own multiple bodies of knowledge, together. These toys are placed in a configuration that allows the ideas and associations contained within each of them to reflect off each other, creating an infinite series of permutations, interpretations – in effect opening up a bottomless imaginative well with a collection of tastefully arranged objects. In words that seem quoted directly from The Fold, the exhibit’s two narrators explain that The World is Bound with Secret Knots is a reference to Kircher’s theory of the magnetic interconnection of all material forms. As attributed to a certain “Valentine Worth”, “all of nature…is in the end interrelated – worlds within worlds within worlds: the seen and the unseen – the physical and the immaterial are all connected – each exerting influence on the next – bound, as it were, by chains of analogy – magnetic chains. The world is indeed bound with secret knots.”
In theorizing the imaginative worlds that both the fold and the toy open up for the player, it becomes necessary to address the question of whether these worlds are essentially solitary experiences, inward journeys, or whether they can in fact be shared. Of the case studies under consideration, Katamari Damacy is designed as an individual experience (although collective viewing of the gameplay may add a social context), while the “Haunted Mansion” and the Museum of Jurassic Technology are public spaces that are effectively not designed for socialization. “Haunted Mansion” establishes a mechanism of crowd control and a viewing apparatus – the Omnimover system of swiveling pods – that directs the visitors’ attention away from each other and towards the attractions. The Museum of Jurassic Technology, with the exception of the Russian Tea Room on the second floor, absorbs the visitor in the quiet scrutiny of artifacts, films, and fine print rather than in conversation. Sound-based interfaces such as the telephone receivers in the Sonnabend exhibit, which play interminable recorded messages, tend to suck the visitor into an introspective rabbit hole. These contemporary toys reflect a trend towards increasing individuation in entertainment experiences that Sutton-Smith examines at length in his discussion of the relationship between toys and solitary play. According to Sutton-Smith, the importance of the toy as a cultural form goes hand in hand with the relegation of children to private spaces (the bedroom) where they are provided with a variety of affective, sensorial and cognitive stimulation in the shape of stuffed animals, picture books, puzzles, and dolls, and encouraged to play by themselves. Sutton-Smith argues that this kind of solitary play is actually real training for the conditions of modern urban life, where the individual, no longer able to rely on strong familial networks, is increasingly forced to fall back on his own intellectual and psychological resources to survive. Although it is clear Sutton-Smith has identified a real correlation between toys and a modern form of imaginative self-involvement, toys can and often do serve as props for collective play, as evidenced by a work that he extensively analyses, Brueghel’s painting Children’s Games (1560). Brueghel depicts a scene in which a huge crowd of figures, in groups of twos and threes, play with a variety of simple toys – Sutton-Smith refers to them as playthings, unwilling to give them the status of toys, which presumably involve some amount of technological design – too numerous to identify. If this form of loose communal play, in which toys become public things shared between an amorphous multitude of players, seems far from the modern condition for Sutton-Smith, a contemporary phenomenon like the arts festival of Burning Man, a week-long gathering of fifty thousand revelers that takes place every summer in the Black Rock desert north of Reno, Nevada, seemingly contradicts him.
What differentiates Burning Man from Children’s Games, apart from the degree in color saturation and variety of textures, is the ubiquitous use and even celebration of technology, and of the machine as a feat of creative engineering in particular. “Burners” create devices of wonder in the tradition of toymakers and inventors of the Baroque Age, using the full palette of modern materiality at their disposal, from metal and PVC to artificial fur and glow-wire, in order to construct fantastical vehicles and monumental playgrounds. Electricity is a popular material; a great number of campers bring massive generators. More often than not involving intuitive interactive interfaces that encourage revelers to create their own games with light, sound, and kinetic parts (including other revelers), these structures defy any logic of medium specificity. Deleuze’s logic of the series runs amuck in these artworks/play-spaces that refuse to form discrete objects, but instead subtlety continue into each other, joining into vague and brilliant amalgamations of live matter, “stuff” that the extravagantly ornamented revelers are integrally a part of. On any night of the festival, a giant jungle gym rigged with floating, swinging platforms, aerial ladders and gangways, might spontaneously become a hot node, as crowds climb in from all directions to dance to a squelching, strident beat. People on bicycles moded with neon and glittering antennas slalom in and out of the path of larger vehicles – a creaking, pedal-powered steampunk folly, a Victorian Mansion on wheels (complete with decorated interior and upper floor), an animatronic dragon that spouts fire and hundreds of others crisscrossing the desert plaza. A little further a tentacular sculpture of pulsating cubes rises over a scaffolding of tubes and billowing fabric tattooed with the colossal projection of an ongoing Tetris game. The contours of the two structures seem to mesh in an Escher configuration. An anonymous reveler fills balloons with helium and blue LEDs and strings them like beads along a mile-long chain that bobs up and down the sky. Pink bubbles float in from an indefinable source. The individual reveler is adrift in “chaosmos”, Deleuze’s felicitous term for a totality/system that is dynamically generated by a diverging series of forms. The manner in which Baroque arts exceed their traditional categories and spill over into other mediums is a quotidian fact here: painting escapes its frame and joins forces with electricity to produce neon sculptures, sculptures grow to monstrous scales and become buses and buildings, architecture, uninhibited by sidewalks, mushrooms into a glutinous city. In every direction, things are gliding, accelerating, blinking, bleeping, trailing colors, causing the horizon to melt in a diffuse 360° glow. The sound of music and conversation coagulates in puddles, demarcating zones of loose togetherness. Within these fluctuating regions, “the sum of the arts becomes the Socius, the public social space inhabited by Baroque dancers” (Deleuze, 142). Sociality in this context is not so much experienced as a timely back and forth of exchanges but as “intensities” of feeling, sharp peaks of heightened consciousness that condense out of the pool of festive mood that generally suffuses the entire space. If the spatial representation most closely aligned with the imaginative world of the solitary player is the labyrinth, a serpentine configuration folded in on itself, then the geometrical figure that best illustrates the Burning Man ethos, its collective imaginary, is the peak or the pyramid, a singularity where all the lines spinning out from a broad base come together.
“It hardly suffices to speak of a succession of limits or of frames, for every frame marks a direction of space that coexists with the others, and each form is linked to unlimited space in all directions at once. It is a broad and floating world, at least at its base, a scene or an immense plateau. But this continuity of the arts, this collective unity in extension, goes out and beyond, towards an entirely different unity that is comprehensive and spiritual, punctual, indeed conceptual: the world as a pyramid or a cone, that joins its broad material base, lost in vapors, to an apex, a luminous origin or point of view.” (142)
In this pullulating Spielstadte, this toy city build at realistic scale, the collective imaginary is a palpable sensation. The term “sensation” here is a better fit than sense or feeling, since both the cognitive and affective aspects of experience find themselves so fused with the Baroque surfeit of stimulating detail, that experience itself is exteriorized, migrating from the mind to the perceptual membrane of the body, the skin. Another way of putting it is that ideas or images no longer need to be interiorly en-visioned, they seem to simply vision all by themselves, haphazardly milling about the reveler like so many ordinary objects. In a space where all actions are voluntary within the time frame of the festival – Burning Man does not function as an economy, artworks and vital necessities cannot be solicited or paid for, only gifted – there is no reality principle, no vestigial imperative of functionality, to interfere with the cascading folds of adventurous matter. The façade is not kept from spilling over the sidewalk in bulbs and curlicues by a municipal ordinance. If we follow Deleuze’s idea of the material/immaterial fold to the end, the repeal of all limits to the façade inevitably provokes, in a seesaw fashion, a proportional ballooning of that magical, inviolate spiritual space that always exceeds any given form, the sanctum circled by the Disneyland berm, allowing the new numberless multitudes to partake in the Baroque dream. In which case, the logic of the Toy Baroque can then terminally invade the public sphere.
Bolter, Jay and Gruisin, David, Remediation. John Hopkins University Press, 1996
Deleuze, Gilles, The Fold. Continuum, 1993
Deleuze, Gilles, Felix, Guattari, Milles Plateaux. Les Editions de Minuit, 1980
Jenkins, Henry, “I Like to Sock Myself in the Face”: Reconsidering “Vulgar Modernism”.
Kuznets, Lois, When Toys Come Alive: Narratives of Animation, Metamorphosis, and Development. Yale University Press, 1994
Ndalianis, Angela, Architectures of the Senses: Neo-Baroque Entertainment Spectacles. In Rethinking Media Change, The Aesthetics of Transition, ed. Thornburn, David and Jenkins, Henry. MIT Press, 2003
Stafford, Barbara and Terpak, Frances, Devices of Wonder: from the world in a box to images on a screen. Getty Research Institute, 2001
Strauven, Wanda (ed.), The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded, Amsterdam University Press, 2006
Sutton-Smith, Brian, Toys as Culture. Gardner Press, 1986
Tobin, Joseph Jay (ed.), Pikachu’s Global Adventure. Duke University Press, 2004
 In A Thousand Plateaux, Deleuze uses the metaphor of wasps and orchids, who over generations of mutually beneficent, accidental collaboration have evolved similar physical traits, therefore progressively “becoming orchid” or “becoming wasp”.
 the example Deleuze uses to illustrate the Baroque treatment of folded material surfaces.(141)
 “…painting exceeds its frame and is realized in polychrome marble sculpture; and sculpture goes beyond itself by being achieved in architecture; and in turn, architecture discovers a frame in the façade, but the frame itself becomes detached from the inside, and establishes relations with its surroundings so as to realize architecture in city planning” (Deleuze, 141)