Sketch of Les Bal Des Ardents, 1393 | UK Home Office intervening in suspected sham marriage, 2010
Sketch of Les Bal Des Ardents, 1393 | UK Home Office intervening in suspected sham marriage, 2010

TCA LAB | ALTERNATE DIALOGUES : TOM KEMP

An interview about his Difficult Salad production

Through TCA LAB Alternative Dialogues initiative, The Common Affairs has selected four promising projects to support in their production. One of the selected participants is Tom Kemp, a visual artist whose project Difficult Salad examines the notion of marriage as an interface between the partnerships of individuals and the machinations of state. Read more about it in the interview below.



Can you tell us who you are, and what are you currently working on?

My name is Tom Kemp, artist and originally born in London. Currently I am studying at the Dirty Art Department at Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam.



What drew you to apply to The Common Affairs Open Call?

My work usually takes the form of prototypes or proposals of new formats for narrative dissemination, incorporating comics, animation, film, roleplaying game design and weddings. Not only did the open call present an opportunity for a new and very different context and audience for my practice, it also provoked a generative challenge to employ the larval, speculative media forms of my previous works for a more concrete outcome — in this case, something of journalistic merit.



What is your project about?

The predicted outcome of the project will be a series of filmed, game-based events culminating in a video work using a combination of social game design, improv, video documentation and VFX. I am examining the notion of marriage as a constantly developing interface between the partnerships of individuals and the machinations of states — with a particular focus on ‘marriages of convenience’ — the de facto western pre-modern marriage motive for dynasty and diplomacy, now making a contemporary manifestation in its vital and somehow idiosyncratic position within the context of human migration.


Much of this legislation is already structurally sympathetic to a roleplaying format — the questions conducted in a UK Home Office Marriage Fraud interview read exactly like the prompts for an improv or roleplaying scenario — and the structure of convincing an inspector that a couple is genuine, intrinsically has the dynamics of a social game.



Why did you choose this particular subject / approach? What is the urgency in it for you?

I often make relationships, desire and romance the subjects of my narratives, deploying these both as comprehensible, human entry points to the work and fulcrums by which far larger and more intricate non-human processes might be outlined and maneuvered. My first game, Rouge Doaist, presents a scenario in which the UK housing bubble leads to romantic couples being financially obligated to prematurely cohabit, ultimately resulting in a new generative strain of logic based on paradox and the reconciliation of irreconcilable desires. Choosing themes so close to the skin elicits both a certain type of performance in the roleplayers and, with the addition of post production and VFX, a certain reception in the viewer — the ambiguity of which induces an active, critical state of reception.

Now that the future EU citizenship status of UK nationals and vice versa has been clouded by dark potentiality, there has been a notable increase in references to marriages of convenience among my contemporaries which, though mainly in jest, sketch out another potential revision of the notion of marriage. Often, migration laws of the state — somewhat incongruous given its self ascribed status as rational actor — fuse citizenship and romance, indirectly predefining very specific forms of interpersonal partnership.

Much of this legislation is already structurally sympathetic to a roleplaying format — the questions conducted in a UK Home Office Marriage Fraud interview read exactly like the prompts for an improv or roleplaying scenario — and the structure of convincing an inspector that a couple is genuine, intrinsically has the dynamics of a social game. Game structures create spaces within which existing behavioral forces and systems, be they laws, economics or societal expectations, can be de-neutralised and safely explored.

sketch of a U.S. marriage fraud interview



Imagine with us: do you see the possibility of incorporating this project into a journalistic context? What kind of value will the work bring to the news organization and its broad public audience?

My aim is to create an outcome that, through proximity, interfaces with and contributes to the othering of existing journalistic forms — positing in relief an alternative delivery system for factual narrative. My work is concerned with having, as best as I can manage, accessible affective value for as broad an audience as possible, which is one of the reasons why I work so frequently with the subject of personal relationships. While this may seem to be the same tactic as the journalistic ‘human interest story’, my hope is to in fact propose a ‘non-human interest story’: rather than reducing the frame complexity of a subject to its human protagonists, through using a generative roleplaying structure it may be possible to instead attempt to protagonise the subject itself — in this case, marriages of convenience — as a temporally distributed non-human entity in which human lives are incidentally caught up.

In the same way an obituary selectively describes a human life, roleplaying game structures can be used to encapsulate these titanic processes and show them manifesting through gamified human behavior — the human roleplayers essentially becoming vectors, substituting continually as the game iterates and motivations transmit from body to body.