Fiction as parody


As ancient as performance itself, the strategy of over-identification or satire attempts to influence a view of reality with humour. Parody uses a given context then amplifies one (or more) aspect in order to find a new context.


Shakespeare’s fools were defining fictional characters that both confronted power and maintained their position. Ridicule mixed with humour is a powerful position from which to critique. Comedy is perhaps the oldest and most popular form of entertainment.


American activist performers The Yes Men [i] use over-identification to parody power relationships, drawing attention to corporate culture and its contradictions. By impersonating people of power they gain access to an audience of corporate and the political elite. Frequently the fiction is not revealed until after the event or at some stage once the infiltration has taken place, therefore this could be considered as a deceipt by the corporate participants, however an external audience is well aware of the fictional conceit. As many of their events are mediatized (broadcast or documented) the fact that it is parody is already understood by the public.


The grand spectacles of 1970s art collective Ant Farm over-identify a love of cars and television in the iconic work Media Burn (1975), parody politics, sport and television with explosive masculine humour as fiction impacts reality at 100km per hour [ii].


Fiction as value creation


This encompasses the many forms of creating value. Commonly used in Public Relations, value creation uses fiction to selectively create a narrative or a specific understanding that is perceived to add value to something or someone. Human factors writer Steven Shorrock points out that PR might equally stand for Pre-Reality or Post-Reality since it may imagine something before it is a reality (Shorrock & Williams 2016).


While this may or may not be a deceptive or knowingly misleading fiction, it intends to derive new value by creating the terms of value in a specific way. In this way all capitalist production may be seen as creation of value, since its value comes through making something useful or desired. Visual art often creates value through the manipulation of symbolic values, frequently under the guise of fiction. This was beautifully observed by Swedish film-maker Ruben Östlund in The Square (Östlund 2017 [i]), where a complex web of relationship between the capitalist mechanisms and the codified symbolism of fine arts was put under scrutiny.


Not all value creation is about commodity, in many ways performance works to undermine commodity value, in favor of experiential interactions.


Public space performance group ZINA, based in Amsterdam are an interesting collective of community engaged performers and event builders. Their Beauty Salon project performed for the 2016 Signal festival in Brussels installed an attractive salon in popular neighbourhoods and communities on the margins as a way to engage in their stories [ii]. The fiction of the beauty salon changed the value assigned to exchange of local stories through providing a framework that revalued the labour of hand massage and manicure.


Shorrock, S & Williams, C 2016, Human Factors and Ergonomics in Practice: Improving System Performance and Human Well-being in the Real World, CRC Press.

Fiction as transposition


Substituting the qualities or meaning of a place, an object or a person, onto another allows a transposition to experience reality through an altered perspective. French philosopher Guy Debord introduced ‘Psychogeography’ in 1955 to artists of the Situationist International movement, who playfully fictionalised the city through transposing the logic of one city onto another (Debord 2008). Fiction lands like a spaceship in the 60s television series Lost in Space, to another planet that carries with it nuclear family values to be interrogated by the strange and unpredictable other.


Global augmented reality game, Pokemon Go [i] in 2016 was a beautiful conceptual continuation of the many permutations that psychogeography has undergone. Players used GPS signal on their mobile phone devices to capture, battle and train virtual creatures. In a collaboration with Google, the game franchise used Google Maps to locate signals in geographical space. Though augmented reality technology was not used here for the first time, the global popularity set off a critical mass of zombie-like players glued to their mobile devices that stretched some public spaces to unusual limit (Hjorth & Richardson 2017; Mans 2017).



Debord, G 2008, 'Introduction to a critique of urban geography', in Praxis (e) Press.

Hjorth, L & Richardson, I 2017, Pokémon GO: Mobile media play, place-making, and the digital wayfarer, SAGE Publications Sage UK: London, England, 2050-1579.

Mans, S 2017, 'Who owns the playground?: Urban gamification and spatial politics in Pokémon GO'.

Fiction as mythology


The mythic dimension reiterates itself through human and the supernatural forces. Through the retelling of a story for its allegorical truth, interpretations elaborate the real or imagined with equal merit. Fiction draws on the mythic in order to reframe the human will as subject to greater forces. Giants, supernatural creatures, embodiment of the elements or the universe, all challenge the human consciousness to re-assess the limits of its own autonomy. Every culture in the world has mythic fictions as part of its cultural fabric. Myths reach backwards, reinterpreting the past in order to reclaim the present.


The modern myth commonly replaces gods with invisible supernatural or human forces that create chaos, but the form is the same. Contemporary fictions in literature, film, and the visual arts employ mythology as a powerful frame of reference, from writers like Franz Kafka [i] through to Margaret Atwood [ii], to contemporary film makers Jane Campion, The Cohen Brothers, and George Lucas.

The mythic fiction is a familiar frame through which the fallibility of human existence is viewed.


French outdoor theatre company Royale de Luxe frequently employ mythic fiction to frame their spectacular street performance events. In the city of Antwerp in 2010, The Deep-sea Diver, His Hand and the Little Girl-Giant [iii] draws on the local myth of the giant Antigoon from the Sheldt river who lost his hand from the propeller of a passing ship. The search to reunite the girl and the diver becomes a complicit fiction that tens of thousands of participants become involved with.


Fiction as empathy


Fiction as empathy attempts to draw the receiver or witness into an imagined relationship with another. The foundation of drama as shared agreement between performer and audience has been through mimesis, fiction re-presents people and places with the intention of creating an empathic understanding, whether those people are real or imagined.

Brecht famously attempted to draw audience attention back to the mechanism of fiction through the ‘Verfremdungseffekt’, while in contemporary theatre the ‘post-dramatic’ (Lehmann 2006) tendency attempts to reduce the significance of mimesis, following instead the eclectic nature of literature to affect the audience, yet empathy remains a primary mode of the theatrical exchange.


Immigrant Movement International [i] is a long term project by Cuban-American performance artist Tania Bruguera begun in 2011, engaging local and international communities. Workshops and interventions are a key part to this process driven exploration on the condition of migration, structured as a socio-political movement. The structure allows an empathic engagement without placing the artist as the central object, enacting a participation that is not restricted or aspiring to a necessarily aesthetic order, since the Movement becomes the dominant power system.


Lehmann, H-T 2006, Postdramatic theatre, Routledge.

Fiction as absence


Marking the absence or failure of a place or a person, residue appears through a change in power. Read from a psychological perspective as the uncanny, the absent lack of a power system causes a sense of ambiguity that manifests as its own presence. This may be between good and bad, pleasure and displeasure, fear and comfort, the uncertainty of not having a complete picture is the inception of a fiction that may take the monstrous form of a ghost or a subtle yet incongruous shift in the everyday, though infrequently fully exposing itself.


Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) was the original Romantic Gothic novel, marking the beginning of a long lineage of strange monsters. The fiction of Shelley’s creature, abandoned and wandering the wilderness alone, is a remarkably well sustained image in the collective imagination.


Contemporary American film maker David Lynch has structured many of his narratives on the sustained logic of an uncanny lack of certainty, yet constantly counterpointed with the utterly familiar. The residue of a power system that has been lost or moved is a constant atmospheric device that pulls the audience into a united sense of there being a tangible yet unseen presence.


The performance walks of Belgian-Mexian performance artist Francis Alÿs enact some sense of residue, marking a void or shift in significance (Medina et al. 2007). The collective creation When Faith Moves Mountains [i] took place on the outskirts of Lima, Peru mobilized a small army of workers to shovel sand in the hope to shift a mountain. While the metaphor hoped to draw attention to a political situation, it was the palpable presence of absent consequence from the labor that remained.


Medina, C, Alÿs, F, Ferguson, R & Fisher, J 2007, Francis Alÿs, Phaidon Inc Ltd.

Strategies of fiction in works and theories

Fiction as resistance


All resistance presupposes opposition or protest. An idea, a story, a physical or social structure, manifest with the express intent to resist. The very fact that fiction can be dissociated from fact has allowed a vast history of fiction as resistance. From protest songs, to symbolic images in all forms of visual arts, graffiti culture, social movements, overt political activism and individual political transgressions. Fiction enables a voice within any hegemony structure provided that the guise of fiction is not undermined.


Performance activists Pussy Riot created one of the most memorable displays of performed resistance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow 2012 [i]. Armed with a portable music player and wearing symbolically punk costumes they danced and sang a crass song, pointedly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The performers were stopped within seconds and arrested within a few minutes, but the performance which was filmed and distributed worldwide became a potent symbol of protest. The fictional structure of a punk group and the highly charged location of the Cathedral meant that the fiction was effectively crushed instantly by security officials, sensing that the symbolic power of this performance would produce powerful consequential effect. In reality it did ignite worldwide political protest, costing members of the group 2 years in prison for their part.


Fiction as possible worlds

Possible worlds theory is attributed to Czech-born Canadian literary theorist Lubomir Doležel, developed through an analysis of literature and the fictional worlds that they conjure. Essentially a Postmodern reading of open-ended narratives that do not presume the one-world division between real and not real, but operate in relation to perspectives of time and space, possible worlds allows fiction an emergent structure. Doležel goes beyond literature however by viewing possible worlds examples in semantics, philosophy, religion, science and history (Dolezel 1995; Doležel 1998).

Japanese architect Sou Foujimoto who articulates potentialities of space over enclosure builds multi-functional yet open-ended structures, such as the Serpentine Gallery Pavillion in London 2013 [i], or the Final Wooden House in Kumamoto, Japan 2006 [ii], where wooden beams create an amorphous landscape of potential uses.

Berlin architecture collective RamlaborBerlin have created a number of urban interventions, interrogating the political and socially engaged principles of public space. Projects such as the Spacebusters [iii] project touring the US 2009-2017, the installation performance Double Happiness [iv] in Witten 2017, ShabbyShabby Apartments [v] in Munchen 2015 and countless other experiments made within civic and educational institutions are formal examples of structures that use fiction as possible worlds.


Dolezel, L 1995, 'Fictional worlds: density, gaps, and inference', Style, vol. 29, no. 2, 1995 Summer, p. 201+

Doležel, L 1998, Heterocosmica: Fiction and possible worlds, Johns Hopkins University Press.