TAG by Low Brow Trash (2006)


Tag is played by children all over the world, dating back to ancient Egyptian times. Tag requires no teams, no scoring or equipment just a group of people chasing around tagging each other to be ‘it’ by simply touching them with their hand. Its inherent simplicity makes the game of Tag popular in the playground arena.

In Game/Play “Low Brow Trash” invite us to a gallery playground to engage in a ‘one on one’ game of Tag with an interactive computer programme, but things may not be as anticipated ...TAG is played in front of a giant widescreen projection. A participant’s first encounter with TAG is that of three seated figures who remain motionless. As you traverse the play area their heads and eyes follow you, they are your Judges, this is not the game that you initially signed up for, you are being monitored, surveillance is in play, you are ‘it’ and you have been ‘tagged’, but it feels like an electronic tag used for Home Detention curfews – Big brother/sister is here and all three are watching you.

During the first scene you get verbally instructed to approach the man on the far right who is wearing a tie. On getting there the participant initiates a branching narrative of different scenes. In each ‘game’ a participant will only ever experience 7 of the selection.

The second scene encountered is a lush amber neon street lit, urban environment, a camera is tracking our movement in more ways than one. Have we entered not a game but a Panoptican as described in Jeremy Bentham’s Panoptican Principle of 1787, where the central idea was to enforce behaviour and a sense of control over us in ‘our’ space. At this stage the software branches, the narrative of scenes that the participant will experience on this encounter with the game will be different to the previous and future player.

Within this branching of experienced narrative there exists the possibility of role reversal. From the initial feeling of being relentlessly watched by another we have the potential to interact and tag back. Power is returned to the user, we control the screen, we can ‘tag’ the computers world. In another scene this ability of the participant being ‘it’ and ‘tagging’ back is very literal. The participant is transported to a dirty brick wall, their body functions as a spray can, as they move they ‘tag’ the wall with their paint.

TAG employs motion tracking as the interface through a variety of ways depending on the scene a participant is playing with. Sometimes it is just lateral movement, as with the ‘Judges’, at other times proximity to the screen will also make a change, as in Graffiti, and sometimes specific zones change what happens – “walk towards the ‘hoody’ in the underground car park” ... TAG encourages exploration of the full play arena by the participant.

We play with TAG, TAG plays with us, roles of power are challenged reversed, social commentary is made, play is allowed and the question of who is playing/being played with remains. TAG, commissioned by the Arnolfini 2003, the same year the Criminal Justice Act and the use of electronic tagging became law. TAG was later reworked, in collaboration with Peter Bowcott, and for Game/Play Low Brow Trash have been commissioned to create new scenes drawing from the locations of Derby and London.

By Pete Bowcott