- Olivia Plender born 1977
- Ink and correction fluid on paper, 60 digital prints on paper, lead, plastic and dice
- Overall display dimensions variable
- Purchased 2020
Olivia Plender’s Set Sail for the Levant: A Board Game About Debt (or a Social Satire) 2007 is a board game based on the sixteenth-century British ‘Royal Game of the Goose’, the earliest commercially produced board game involving dice. Plender’s game parodies the historical struggle of the commoner to achieve social and material success in life by presenting debt as the only realistic outcome in life. The game tells the story of the ‘enclosure of the commons’, which began in Britain during the sixteenth century and continued into the nineteenth century. It was the legal process of consolidating (enclosing) small landholdings into larger farms. Once enclosed, use of the land became restricted to the owner, and it ceased to be common land for communal use. This was a period when wealthy landowners used their control of state processes to appropriate public land for their private benefit. Enclosure was essentially a privatisation of the land, whereby ‘commoners’ lost their traditional rights of access to ‘the commons’.
When the game begins, the player – a commoner – has been forced off the land and is obliged to take to the road. The player is given ten gold pieces and a loaf of bread, represented by small hand‑painted lead components, but is immediately forced by the rules of the game to pay two gold pieces to the authorities in lieu of rent. The commoner is instantly disadvantaged due to their position in society. From that point on, the game is rigged so that capitalism always wins, and the commoner can never improve their circumstances. The only way in which a player can escape penury is to steal or borrow money and then ‘set sail to the Levant’, to escape the repercussions, as explained by Angus Cameron in an essay on Plender’s work:
If at any point you want for succour or funds you may go back to the square marked The Church to beg for monies and miss a turn. If you have no capital to secure the loan then the interest is equal to the loan itself and your debt doubles, at which point you may beg for more monies to repay the increased debt and so on. So it would seem that there is only one way out of this predicament: to set sail for lands where the law can’t reach you. The winner absconds to the edge of the known world leaving their debts unpaid. The losers are financially ruined and cast into a state of penury where they are greeted by Death.
(Angus Cameron, ‘Games of Exception’, in de Blaaij, van Noord and Plender 2015, p.189.)
Set Sail for the Levant: A Board Game About Debt (or a Social Satire) exemplifies Plender’s practice, much of which is research-based and interrogates the ideological frameworks underpinning the narration of history. Her work has addressed such subject matter as early twentieth-century social and religious movements, educational systems, the history of the suffragettes, and the collapse of the distinction between work and leisure and the new identity of the entrepreneur.
Remco de Blaaij, Gerrie van Noord and Olivia Plender (eds.), Rise Early, Be Industrious, Berlin 2015.
Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.