Cally Trench's board games are both original playable games and one-off works of art that are animated and completed by people playing them; other visitors become engaged by watching the progress of play.
Cally Trench: These games do not pretend to make intellectual statements about economic or political problems. Just as musicals often confront topics such as war, revolution, and poverty, I believe that board games are a way for people to engage with what distresses us. In general, players willingly suspend disbelief and play in earnest; board games seem to bypass the intellect and engage people directly at an emotional level. My board games highlight moral and ethical problems while not suggesting solutions. Players are not invited to make up their minds; instead they have to live with the choices that they make or cope with the events thrust upon them.
Cally Trench's games are multi-layered: they seem sweet and benign, but more sinister and challenging aspects emerge. The games are fun, but they also make overt the competitiveness implicit in most conventional board games. They have been described as 'subversive' and 'ethically confusing'. They explore people's capacities to follow rules even while engaging (in play at least) in competitive and unsociable actions. People play these board games intensely and seriously, identifying with the roles assigned to them by chance, and trying to keep control of their 'lives' in the game.
Cally Trench's board games (each for 2-4 players) last 5-20 minutes and have accessible rules. When Cally devises her games she makes prototypes and tests them on friends and family to make sure that the rules work.
"Cally Trench uses the board-game format in 'Shopping Spree' (2012) and 'I've brought you back a baby dragon' (2013), evoking long rainy afternoons cooped up indoors. Rule-bound and offering players a god-like view of their fabricated worlds, these games are a sunny echo of the Reception with its barked rules and surveillance TV. They are an invented world within the invented world of the B&B, and of the gallery itself." (Review by Billy Tilley in 'this is tomorrow', 29/7/13, of Be Our Guest at Oriel Davies Gallery, 2013)
"absurdist board game" (The Guardian Guide, 6/7/13)
"highly entertaining as well as thought provoking" (Fringe Arts Bath, 2016)
"The games are beautifully constructed and are intriguing to play. With themes that expose the less pleasant sides of human behaviour, selfishness, competitiveness, greed and excessive consumption and the ruthlessness of strategy that is needed to be a winner. They are also great fun to play." (Clare Carswell, 2017)
"Thought provoking games in a subtle way." (Guy Tarrant)
"The artwork on the board games is exceptional." (Alison Bell)
"Your board games are brilliant, beautifully designed and always fun to play." (Heike Hill)
"Thank you so much for providing your game as a great entertainment. I've heard quotes of the fun times that were had ... an 'old granny' yelling 'yes, I have 2 bodies in my graveyard now'." (Susan Elaine Jones)
"I love how your games tackle pertinent and profound issues with playful wit and whimsy." (Daniel Wilson)
The first game to be played in public was Hitched in Passing Time at Sherborne House in 2004. In 2006, Board Game was played at the Central Saint Martins MA symposium; and it was played again in 2007 in HOME at the Penny School Gallery, Kingston.
Hitched, Danger Money and Board Game were played on 4th November 2009 as part of The Home Delivery, an event organised by ArtWash in Oxford.
Also in 2009, two games were played at Liquid Studios during the Hackney Wicked Festival.
In 2010, some of the games were played during the Games of Money and Death salon as part of the This Is Not A Gateway (TINAG) festival; and at the Beyond the Dustheaps Christmas Party at the Charles Dickens Museum, London. Danger Money was played in At Play 2 at South Hill Park, Bracknell.
In 2011, some of the games were played in The Effort Presents a Puzzle at The Windmill live music venue in Brixton; in Rubik's Cube at the Joiners' Arms, Hackney; and at the Port Mahon pub, Oxford for an OVADA Stammtisch. Vegetable Thieves was played in At Play 3 at South Hill Park, Bracknell. Also in 2011, the games were played at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, and a series of photographs of the games was exhibited in the Link Gallery at the hospital.
In 2012, Vegetable Thieves was played during Floraphilia at Vestry House Museum, Walthamstow; and some of the games were played in At Play 2012 at South Hill Park, Bracknell, OVADA, Oxford and the New Ashgate Gallery, Farnham.
In 2013, I've brought you back a baby dragon was created especially for Be Our Guest at Oriel Davies, Newtown.
In 2014, four of the games were played during the In Dialogue conference at Primary, Nottingham.
in 2016, Whirlpools and Lifebelts was played at Homunculus at Asylum, London. Also in 2016, Shopping Spree was played in Austerity in Fringe Arts Bath; and six of the games were played at an OVADA Stammtisch at Joe Perks & Co., Oxford, including Gravestones and Dry Bones for the first time.
In 2017, all (eight) games were played at the Rising Sun Arts Centre, Reading; and six of the games were played during Festal Favours as part of Charlbury Festival. Three of the original drawings for the board game boards were exhibited in Draw at the Thought Foundation, Birtley in 2017-2018
In 2018, most of the games were played in Board? Gaming is the answer at the Thought Foundation, Birtley; all (nine) games were played during two Cally's Board Game Evenings at Wycombe Museum; Gravestones and Dry Bones was played during On Death at the Banham Barrel; and all the games were played at The Heseltine Gallery, Middleton Cheney during Nick Trench / Cally Trench: Siblings Cannot Agree.
In 2019, Gravestones and Dry Bones was played during Things to do when you're dead at Cambridge City Crematorium; and five of the board games were played in Elisabetta Balasso / Cally Trench: Original Board and Card Games at OpenHand OpenSpace, Reading. Also in 2019, the four most recent games were played at Déda, Derby, during the In Dialogue conference.
In 2020, Cally Trench and Elisabetta Balasso: Board games as an art medium, a paper written by Cally and Elisabetta, was presented by Cally at the 'Medium' conference, London School of Mosaic, 19th February 2020. View or download as a PDF file:
In 2021, I've brought you back a baby dragon was played in the playful turn at Espacio Gallery, London.
In 2022, Tulip Birds and Daffodil Birds, Gravestones and Dry Bones, and Trees versus Axemen were played by the students at the Warehouse Art School, Oxford (19th January 2022).
In 2022, Tulip Birds and Daffodil Birds, Gravestones and Dry Bones, Trees versus Axemen, Hitched, and I've brought you back a baby dragon were played by families at Space Studios, Ilford (12th February 2022), in a Community Games Day organised by resident artist Lydia Julien.
Also in 2022, Tulip Birds and Daffodil Birds, Whirlpools and Lifebelts, Gravestones and Dry Bones, Trees versus Axemen, Hitched, and I've brought you back a baby dragon were played at an International Women's Day iteration of the regular Bucks Board Games session at Wycombe Arts Centre (8th March 2022).
Gravestones and Dry Bones was included in Exploring inside the box: Recent works by Tineke Bruijnzeels and Cally Trench, an exhibition at Cornerstone Arts Centre, Didcot (September-November 2022), where visitors were invited to play the game.
On Saturday 8th October 2022, Tulip Birds and Daffodil Birds, Whirlpools and Lifebelts, Trees versus Axemen, I've brought you back a baby dragon, Danger Money and Vegetable Thieves were played during Cally Trench's Original Board Games at Cornerstone Arts Centre, as well as Gravestones and Dry Bones.
Gravestones and Dry Bones was played at Fun things to do when you're dead at Cambridge City Crematorium on 13th May 2023.
Tulip Birds and Daffodil Birds was shown in In The Likeness of Birds, an exhibition at The North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford, July 2023, with Annie Rapstoff and Monika Tobel, where visitors were invited to play it.