Hubbub has gone into hibernation.

Drifting through the city with a few bocce balls

Bocce Drift

On a recent sun­ny Sun­day after­noon I took a walk while boulesing through Utrecht. Togeth­er with a group of friends I used a num­ber of streets and squares as a play­ing field. The water-lev­el walk­ways along the Old Canal, the foun­tain behind the city hall, and the usu­al­ly qui­et Sev­en Alleys. Passers­by respond­ed with amuse­ment and some­times even joined in. The win­ner of each round decid­ed where the next one would begin. For the rest, the route was deter­mined by where the balls rolled. The result was wan­der­ing around for hours through the city cen­ter, a route no one could have planned in advance. We played Boc­ce Drift, a game described by its cre­ators as a mix between boules and the Situationist’s Dérive. Who?

A constant state of revolution

The Sit­u­a­tion­ists were an inter­na­tion­al­ly oper­at­ing group who resist­ed the sta­tus quo in the 1950s and ‘60s. Their most famous mem­ber was Guy Débord. If his name rings a bell, great, if not, no prob­lem. They tried to unleash a con­stant state of rev­o­lu­tion with all kinds of hap­pen­ings that were dis­guised as enter­tain­ing, easy to con­sume activ­i­ties. The dérive was one of these. They walked through town with­out a plan, which, in this time of recon­struc­tion and domes­tic­i­ty was in itself sub­ver­sive. This was their way of map­ping city life, by expe­ri­enc­ing it them­selves, not by read­ing maps or the pub­lic reg­is­ter. ‘Dérive’ can be trans­lat­ed as ‘drift’.

Cre­ators of urban games such as Boc­ce Drift love the Sit­u­a­tion­ists. Just like Débord and his bud­dies there are quite a few activist-types in that scene. Espe­cial­ly in the Unit­ed States, where pub­lic life and pub­lic space are sub­ju­gat­ed to social pres­sures. But also in The Nether­lands and the rest of West­ern Europe there are rules and norms about what can and can­not be done in pub­lic spaces. Think about it, our idea about what a city is good for is often lim­it­ed to a hand­ful of activ­i­ties: going out, liv­ing, shop­ping, per­haps work­ing or study­ing. That’s it. Urban game-mak­ers, at least some of them, see it as their job to put ques­tion marks around that image, that ver­sion of a city. They believe that city-dwellers don’t need to be told by the pow­ers that be what a street or build­ing is, or isn’t, for. If they want to use a pub­lic square as a gar­den, play­ground, or open air cafe, they should be able to.

Pitiful bourgeois

But on that play­ful, sun­ny, Sun­day after­noon, none of us were talk­ing about protest. I don’t even think the major­i­ty of my fel­low play­ers knew of the polit­i­cal-artis­tic roots of Boc­ce Drift. It didn’t mat­ter. The game can be played as a game and noth­ing else. You could even say it was a suc­cess­ful sit­u­a­tion­ist inter­ven­tion. The play­ers, and spec­ta­tors, were play­ful­ly tempt­ed to adjust their view of the city. But I think that’s going too far.

After­wards, relax­ing on the ter­race of Café de Zaak with a Ger­man wheat bear and a bas­ket of tor­tilla chips, we most­ly just had a feel­ing of fun at hav­ing expe­ri­enced the city in a way we weren’t used to. And if I’m hon­est, that’s more than enough for me. But Débord, he took play­ing seri­ous­ly. He would have seen us as a bunch of piti­ful bourgeois.

This piece orig­i­nal­ly appeared on Bash­ers in Dutch and was trans­lat­ed by Alex­is Moran Trans­la­tions.

The Boc­ce Drift ses­sion I refer to here was a Hub­bub social event which took place on Sun­day 22 August 2010. More pho­tos can be viewed on Flickr, and a video is up on Vimeo. 

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