The Cliff – A Case Study of Interdisciplinary Larp Methods for Artistic Research Practice

The Cliff – A Case Study of Interdisciplinary Larp Methods for Artistic Research Practice


In this article I outline the methodology behind the creation of the film Jyrkänne – The Cliff (2022), which is the artistic part of my doctoral thesis, Näkymä ajan ulkopuolella. Maiseman apokronia ja valokuvallinen affordanssi elokuvassa (2023, Eng. Beyond the Temporal Horizon. Apochrony and Photographic Affordance of the Landscape Image in Film), from Aalto University. The production of The Cliff played a pivotal role in shaping the methodology of my artistic research. Specifically, it explores the distinctive temporal aspect of landscape imagery within the realms of photography and film. Artistic research, by its nature, is an open-ended process that often necessitates the development of innovative methodologies, unique to the artist’s work and research. To bring The Cliff to life, I harnessed immersive techniques borrowed from larp, integrating them into my artistic photography process.

Introduction to the Work

The Cliff is a nine and a half minutes short film, consisting mainly of black-and-white photographs. Categorized as an essay film, it features a narrative composed of fictional notes and letters. The film’s narrator is also its creator, or rather, the creator’s alter ego – a common feature of essay films (e.g., Rascaroli 2017, 183) which often lean on the filmmaker’s subjective experiences. The textual inspiration for The Cliff draws from the films Trans-Siberia – Notes from the Camps (Cederström 1999) and La Jetée (Marker 1962/64). Additional sources for the text include films Le Sang des bêtes (Franju 1949, Eng. The Blood of Beasts), Night and Fog (Resnais, text by Cayrol and Marker 1956), Lettre de Sibérie (Marker 1957, Eng. Letter From Siberia), Hiroshima, mon amour (Resnais, text by Duras 1959, Eng. Hiroshima, My Love), India Song (Duras 1975), and Two Uncles (Cederström 1991).

The inspiration for The Cliff stemmed from the political situation of 2015, labeled as the “Refugee Crisis” in Europe. This crisis saw the number of asylum applications in the EU more than double compared to the previous year (Pew Research Center 2016). In response, Finland tightened its asylum policies (Finnish Government 2015, 1; Bodström 2020). The Cliff was born out of the need to address a situation where human suffering was dehumanized into a “refugee crisis,” turning those in need of help into a faceless mass, an “unmanaged flow” (“hallitsematon virta” in Finnish) in the government’s program (Finnish Government 2015, 1). In Europe, especially in Northern Europe, there is a prevalent expectation that others – labeled as the outsiders – would seek help from us. I wanted to imagine, even on a superficial level, what it would feel like to be in a situation where I had to flee for my life. Using methods often used also in larps I contemplated being a refugee in a foreign land, where I didn’t understand the language, and a situation where I had lost contact with my loved ones. I read first-hand experiences from refugees and began creating a character of myself – writing simple notes about my background and about the character’s feelings and thoughts.

Photo by Katri Lassila

Photo by Katri Lassila

The film narrates the journey of a woman compelled to leave her homeland due to an unspecified crisis, leaving her beloved behind. She ends up as a refugee in a foreign land that they have previously visited together. Traveling by train with a group of fellow refugees, she writes letters to her partner, yet never receives a response. Upon reaching a bustling city, she breaks away from the group and stumbles upon an ancient pilgrimage route. Overwhelmed by the smoke from sacred fires, she loses consciousness and experiences a vision of her spouse. Moved by this apparition, she resolves to embark on a journey to a cliff etched in her memory from a prior visit to this same country with her partner. On the way to the cliff she experiences the landscape becoming alive around her. Finally reaching the destination she sees herself and her spouse kissing on the cliff. The last image shows a partially exposed film frame of just the cliff, with the couple disappeared.

In my dissertation, I propose (Lassila 2023, 162–163) an interpretation of the ending in which the woman realizes that she is looking at her own memory. She understands that interfering with the memory would shatter it, so she decides to stay on the cliff, becoming a part of the landscape, and preserving the memory to maintain a connection with her beloved, whom she will never meet in the real world again. In line with Deleuze’s (2005 [1985], 66–94) philosophy of the time crystal, time fractures at the cliff, branching in different directions: into the past and the future, cyclically complementing each other.

The Inspiration for The Cliff

A significant source of inspiration for The Cliff was Chris Marker’s iconic short film, La Jetée (1962/64). La Jetée unfolds in a post-Third World War dystopian future. The victorious faction conducts experiments on prisoners of war from the defeated side, seeking to harness a new source of energy from the future for the world’s reconstruction. With the aid of a serum, time travel becomes possible, and the film’s protagonist is first sent back in time, guided by his vivid memory. The memory from the man’s childhood features a young woman at Orly Airport in Paris, with a terrified expression. Using this memory as a temporal anchor, he embarks on multiple journeys into the past to reunite with her, ultimately also succeeding in traveling to the future and accomplishing his mission. Instead of remaining in the future, he yearns to return to the past to be with the woman. As he arrives at Orly Airport to meet her, armed enemies who followed him shoot him before he can reach her. It is revealed that the powerful memory of the woman’s horrified expression represents the man’s own death, etched into his childhood recollections.

La Jetée is composed of photographs, with only one brief sequence featuring moving images. Most of the film’s images were captured in a single afternoon, according to Chris Marker (Darke 2016, 25–26; Film Comment 2003) himself:

“It was made like a piece of automatic writing. I was filming Le Joli mai, completely immersed in the reality of Paris 1962, […] and on the crew’s day off, I photographed a story I didn’t completely understand. It was in the editing that the pieces of the puzzle came together, and it wasn’t me who designed the puzzle. I’d have a hard time taking credit for it. It just happened, that’s all.”

Upon closer examination of La Jetée‘s production process for my dissertation, I found reproductions (Bellour 2018, 218) of its contact sheets. These sheets not only revealed to me the type of camera used but also suggested the method employed to capture the images. Marker was already an experienced photographer during the production of La Jetée, specializing in documentary-style photography. Upon examining the contact sheets, it became evident that Marker’s shooting technique for La Jetée closely resembled that of a documentary photo essay or a picture story (Lassila 2023, 105). In a photo essay, the photographer commits to the theme by photographing often several images of the subjects, thus treating the issue from various angles (Monteiro 2016, 495). In La Jetée‘s photographs, the characters’ movements and expressions flow seamlessly from one frame to the next. For instance, the film frames used in the scene where a woman witnesses the man’s death depict the woman in several photographs in nearly identical positions. This led me to conclude that these shots were captured rapidly, one after another, without lifting the camera from the eye between frames. Rather than instructing the woman in individual photographs, Marker seemed to have encouraged her to immerse herself in a specific emotion, which he then captured through multiple consecutive shots.

This shooting technique, combined with Chris Marker’s account of the filming process of La Jetée, suggests an approach more akin to an alternative art form than traditional cinema. I interpret the creation of La Jetée as a collective immersion into the characters and a form of larping documented through photographs, rather than traditional filmmaking.

Photo by Katri Lassila

Photo by Katri Lassila

The Production Process of The Cliff

Artistic research has been actively developed in Finland since the 1980s, with that specific term gaining prominence instead of  “practice-led” or “practice-based research” (Arlander 2013, 7–8). Artistic research typically revolves around the artist’s own experiences, art, and insights generated throughout the artistic process. The first artist-written doctoral thesis in Finland was accepted at the Sibelius Academy in 1990 (Arlander 2013, 9), coinciding temporally with the rapid growth of role-playing and larping culture in Finland. Despite being a relatively recent addition to institutionalized academia, artists have been conducting research long before it was part of degree programs. Similarly, the roots of larps extend further back than the 1990s, and may be traced to performances, 1960s happenings, and artist-driven immersive events, even though these cannot be fully compared to larps (Stenros 2010, 304).

The production process of The Cliff employed larp techniques to immerse the participants, myself and my spouse, into the narrative. Larps often emphasize emotional engagement with characters and their feelings. Jaakko Stenros (2010, 306) notes that, “While books tell and theatre shows – the experience is conveyed through sympathy and empathy – larps make you enact and experience first hand.” In my own experience, weighty and emotionally charged themes especially benefit from collective exploration within larps, fostering understanding and emotional acceptance within the game and beyond. Themes such as fear, uncertainty, war and societal upheaval, inequality, and disasters have inspired for instance the larps Ground Zero (Finland, 1998), Europa (Norway, 2001), 1942 – Noen å Stole På? (Norway, 2000), Halat hisar (Finland, 2013) and Seaside Prison (Finland, 2022) to address topics like refugee experiences, impending nuclear war, the Palestinian conflict, and humanitarian crises.

Photo by Katri Lassila

Photo by Katri Lassila

The production process of The Cliff was unconventional for a film production. It was designed to immerse the participants into the experience of a refugee, fusing larp elements with filmmaking and photography.

Here are some key aspects of the production process:

  1. Larp-Inspired Immersion: A fundamental element of crafting the film involved the use of larp techniques to immerse both myself and my spouse in the narrative. This immersive approach aimed to evoke authentic emotions, deliberately blurring the lines between fiction and reality.
  2. Improvisation: I left the narrative storyline open and undefined in advance, allowing room for improvisation. Filming locations were not meticulously planned, enabling the surroundings and landscapes to naturally shape the final outcome, rather than the other way around. I looked for natural and constructed surroundings which would remain ambivalent. I wanted the places to remain somewhat detached from time and space, so that the viewer couldn’t deduce right away the filming year or specific location. I wanted the film to look like it could have been photographed at almost any time, either in the past or in the future. The film was shot in remote locations across China, Tibet, and Finland, accentuating the characters’ isolation and the uncertainty they faced.
  3. Temporal Experimentation: The utilization of black-and-white analog film introduced a temporal dimension to the project. I opted for a 35mm Leica M3 to capture rapid sequences of images, in contrast to my usual camera, a Rolleiflex, which could only fit 12 negatives on a single film roll. The only moving image sequence in the film was recorded with a digital camera and deliberately slowed down to blur the distinction between still and moving images.
  4. Narrative Structure: The Cliff incorporated narrative structures influenced by La Jetée to delve into the subjective experience of time. The film’s structure, particularly in the final scene, mirrored the disorienting nature of the characters’ journey and blending of the reality with memories.

Methods of Immersion in The Cliff

In the production process of The Cliff, I embraced the shooting method of La Jetée, capturing a significant portion of the film through the same continuous shooting technique. The pivotal scene of the film features the main character’s spouse walking across a frozen lake, pulling a heavily laden sled behind him. It’s a scene that the main character envisions on the pilgrimage route. I directed this scene by asking my spouse to immerse himself in the character’s experience, portraying a war-weary individual leaving the battlefront in search of his beloved. The journey is long and fraught with peril. My spouse, also an experienced role-player, wearing my grandfather’s military coat from the Winter War era, effortlessly channeled the desired atmosphere. We did not rehearse the scene in advance; instead, we sat silently in a dimly-lit old smoke sauna, allowing ourselves to absorb the atmosphere and prepare mentally before venturing onto the ice.

The Cliff was primarily an emergent creation, devoid of a polished script or detailed shooting plan. In the film I reversed the gender roles compared to La Jetée, following the Adventure Romantic ethos (Lassila 2008, 110–116; see also Kalli & Lassila 2010) developed by myself and Laura Kalli in the early 2000s. The film’s main character is a woman – an agentive figure who decides to break away from her group of refugees and embark on a journey to the cliff of her memories. I immersed myself in the story and continued to develop it throughout the filming in China and Tibet in 2016. My immersion was primarily based on observing the landscape and recalling genuine memories while studying it. I summoned shared memories with my spouse, reimagining our moments together and approaching the landscape with fresh eyes, as if I were a refugee rather than a tourist. My inability to understand the language spoken around me added to my sense of alienation. The long train journey from Xining to Lhasa facilitated the deepest immersion into my character. During the multi-day train ride, especially on the brink of sleep, I sometimes lost track of time, uncertain about the time of day, the day of the week, or even the year. It was as if I were slipping out of time and place. Altitude sickness, causing nausea and dizziness as the railway reached altitudes of over 5000 meters, may have contributed to this disorienting experience.

The development of the final scene of The Cliff was shaped by the landscape where it was set. The concluding scene unfolds by Nam-Tso (གནམ་མཚོ – The Heavenly Lake) in Tibet, situated at an altitude of nearly 5000 meters. We spent the night in a small shack by the lake, but during the night, I began to feel unwell. I didn’t know yet that I was pregnant, and maybe because of that I experienced severe altitude sickness, to the point where I could not stand upright on the morning of the shoot. Eventually, I was unable to walk to the chosen filming location. The final shots of the film were shot by my son Aarni on a low hillock, before our concerned guide insisted we leave. Immersing myself in pain, loss, and conflicting emotions during the final scene of The Cliff was simultaneously straightforward and challenging. Physical discomfort intermittently severed my immersion in the narrative, but at the same time channeled these intense emotions as part of my immersion. Ultimately, the experience and its unforeseen circumstances emerged as a more potent story in real life than in the one I had written for the film. Our daughter Meri entered our lives like a miracle during this journey. In the end, this expedition transcended its role as a mere component of my doctoral thesis — it became a voyage during which we brought our daughter home from the Heavenly Lake of Tibet.

In conclusion, The Cliff is an artwork that explores the convergence of three art forms at their intersections. It is a film composed of photographs with one short sequence of moving image, and its fictional-documentary narrative was conceived using larp immersion techniques. An essential facet of the narrative’s development was the natural environment and landscape where it was shot. The process of creating The Cliff ignited new artistic inspirations, not solely within the realms of photography and film, but also in the domains aligning landscape and larp. The environment in larps, which is often scrutinized primarily for its temporal incongruities with the fictional setting, can also be a powerful source of immersion and engagement.

In my doctoral dissertation, I introduced the term “apokronia” (Eng. apochrony) derived from the Greek words από (apó) and Χρόνος (Khronos) (Lassila 2023, 73–74). Apochrony signifies the positioning of something outside of time. In my dissertation I explored apochrony in the context of landscape imagery in film. According to my interpretation, an apochronic landscape image in a film can depict any possible time or even all times simultaneously. Since an apochronic landscape image typically lacks discernible signs of a specific moment in time, it can be utilized to represent any time. The application of similar apochronic landscape utilization is also achievable in larp. If a landscape lacks clear signs of a specific moment in time, the landscape seamlessly functions as the event environment in connection with any possible time: the present, the past, or the future. However, the role of apochronic landscape in larp, as in film, goes beyond being just an event setting. It may be argued that internal immersion may be catalyzed by the external world so that the surroundings have a strong effect on the player’s overall ambience during the larping experience. This however may be experienced even further so. During the filming of The Cliff I felt the ambience of the surrounding world and the landscape to become one with my inner experience. This, in turn, changed the way I experienced my surroundings.

Photo by Katri Lassila

Photo by Katri Lassila

The apochronic landscape opens the path to interactive immersion in a setting where the landscape is akin to one of the characters in the larp. Engaging with the landscape in larp allows interaction not only with other players’ characters but also with the landscape itself, offering a unique reflective surface for immersion. The “rückenfigur” or “back-figure,” an image often used in films, stemming from the art of Caspar David Friedrich, provides one fruitful model for interaction with the landscape. When positioning myself to view a landscape unfolding before me from a high vantage point, I can direct my emotions towards the landscape and let them reflect back to me, thus fuelling, for instance, the feelings of longing, sorrow, anger, or love. In the spirit of Deleuzian time crystals, immersion may flow in multiple directions simultaneously, with the surrounding landscape serving as both a source of inspiration for immersion and a reflective canvas for its expression. In this understanding, the post-humanistic agency of the landscape extends the repertoire of larp techniques, promising novel possibilities for future immersive experiences.


Annette Arlander (2013): Taiteellisesta tutkimuksesta. Lähikuva 3/2013. 7–24.

Erna Bodström (2020): Viisi vuotta pakolaiskriisin jälkeen. Politiikasta. Retrieved 10.09.2023.

Chris Darke (2016): La Jetée. London: British Film Institute & Palgrave.

Gilles Deleuze (2005 [1985]): Cinema 2. The Time-Image. London: Continuum.

Film Comment (2003): Marker Direct: An interview with Chris Marker. May–June 2003 Issue. Retrieved 10.09. 2023.

Finnish Government (2015): Hallituksen turvapaikkapoliittinen toimenpideohjelma. 8.12. 2015. Valtioneuvosto. Retrieved 10.09.2023.

Katri Lassila (2008): Adventurous Romanticism. In Playground Worlds, edited by Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola, 110–116. Helsinki: Ropecon Ry.

Katri Lassila (2023): Näkymä ajan ulkopuolella. Maiseman apokronia ja valokuvallinen affordanssi elokuvassa [Beyond the Temporal Horizon: Apochrony and Photographic Affordance of the Landscape Image in Film]. Espoo: Aalto Arts Books, Aalto University.

Laura Kalli and Katri Lassila (2010): Silmäpuoli merirosvo. In Nordic Larp, edited by Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola, 182–191. Stockholm: Fëa Livia.

Charles Monteiro (2016): History and photojournalism: reflections on the concept and research in the area. Revista Tempo e Argumento, Florianópolis 8(17) s. 489–514. jan./abr. 2016. Retrieved 10.09.2023.

DOI: 10.5965/2175180308172016064

Pew Research Center (2016): Number of Refugees to Europe Surges to Record 1.3 Million in 2015. Retrieved 10.09.2023.

Laura Rascaroli (2017). The Essay Film. Problems, Definitions, Textual Commitments (2009). In Essays on the Essay Film, edited by Nora M. Alter and Timothy Corrigan,  183–196. New York: Columbia University Press.

Jaakko Stenros (2010): Nordic Larp: Theatre, art and game. In Nordic Larp, edited by  Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola. Stockholm: Fëa Livia.


Two Uncles (1991): Kanerva Cederström (Director).

Trans-Siberia – Notes from the Camps (1999): Kanerva Cederström (Director).

India Song (1975): Marguerite Duras (Director).

Le Sang des bêtes (The Blood of the Beasts) (1949): Georges Franju (Director).

Jyrkänne – The Cliff (2022): Katri Lassila (Director). Aalto University.

La Jetée (1962/64): Chris Marker (Director).

Lettre de Sibérie (Letter From Siberia)(1957): Chris Marker (Director).

Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog) (1956): Alain Resnais (Director) & Jean Cayrol and Chris Marker (Text by).

Hiroshima, mon amour (Hiroshima, My Love) (1959): Alain Resnais (Director) & Marguerite Duras (Text by).


Halat hisar (2013): Fatima AbdulKarim, Kaisa Kangas & al., Parkano, Finland

Europa (2001): Eirik Fatland, Vestby, Norway.

Ground Zero (1998): Jami Jokinen and Jori Virtanen, Turku, Finland.

Seaside Prison (2022): Kaisa Kangas, Martin Nielsen, Mohamad Rabah & al. Helsinki, Finland.

1942  – Noen å Stole på? (2000): Margrete Raaum & al. Herdla, Norway.

This article has been reprinted with permission from the Solmukohta 2024 book. Please cite as:

Lassila, Katri. 2024. “The Cliff – A Case Study of Interdisciplinary Larp Methods for Artistic Research Practice.” In Liminal Encounters: Evolving Discourse in Nordic and Nordic Inspired Larp, edited by Kaisa Kangas, Jonne Arjoranta, and Ruska Kevätkoski. Helsinki, Finland: Ropecon ry.

Cover photo: by Katri Lassila

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Katri Lassila is a photographic and film artist, who explores the phenomenology of landscape through analogue photography and film. Lassila has exhibited her works in Finland and abroad since 1999 and completed her artistic doctoral thesis at Aalto University, Finland in 2023. Lassila has written and directed larps since 1998. In the early 2000s, she collaborated with Laura Kalli in developing the Adventure Romantic larp genre, which included a feminist approach and creative concepts later known as "rule of the greater drama" and "play to lift/lose". In recognition of their contributions to Finnish role-playing culture, Lassila and Kalli were awarded The Golden Dragon by the Ropecon Association in 2020. Photo by Natalia Kopkina.