On my visit to South London Gallery

Oh my goodness – what a place!  What a project.  Check it out!

This is their ‘Shop of Possibilities‘, part of Febrik’s residency.  Frances, the Gallery’s Head of Education, brought me down and introduced me to everyone, and showed me around the beautiful gallery space and back garden that leads onto the Sceaux Gardens estate.

In the evening I showed some slides of our own play shop to their Curator’s Club (made up of residents of the estate who have been involved in these projects long-term) and we talked about play, childhood, freedom and art.  It was just beautiful, especially to see the incredible warmth and passion in everyone I met, and how dedicated they were to thinking differently about relationships between the gallery and the estate, between the residents and the spaces available, between the individual and the landscapes we all share.

One question that came up during our conversation was about the ‘looseness’ of loose parts, and whether an emphasis on the parts themselves can sometimes mask another conversation about context and connections.

I often use an example from my dissertation, of a large table that regularly moved around a den area at Evergreen Adventure Playground.  I mapped its movements each day for a week.

It became a flying carpet, a boat, a place for picnics – whatever it was, it was always upside down.  I think that’s in part because it was a subtle declaration that this was a place by and for children, a place where a table could become anything.  Anything that is, other than the table that adults had made it to be.

The children interacted with this table in a way far freer than they would have if they had found it at school.  Its context in the undergrowth of this adventure playground changed things, gave them a range of permissions and inspirations.

We give this consideration when we’re gathering materials – we know that some combinations provide more play value than the sum of their parts.  Fabric and clothes pins.  Buttons and cups.  Cardboard and a knife.  Bringing materials that compliment each other doesn’t determine what they’ll become, but it increases the possibilities exponentially.

Can we do more?  When we bring materials, particularly to places or groups that have had little chances for play, how can we make the same parts ‘looser’?  Can we flip them upside down?  Can we dismantle them, set them out in weird combinations?

In the absence of a clear stamp of children’s play, I think that we can help spark things off by creating a sense of the surreal, of objects that are eager to be transformed.  Things that are upside down, out of place – these signal that you have entered a place where usual rules don’t apply.  They say: this is a place where a table can be a table, but it doesn’t have to be.

We are sometimes so accustomed to explaining play opportunities to new visitors that it’s easy to forget we can let the place explain a lot for us.  A good place to play sends its own message – that here, you get to decide.

For anyone interested in learning more about the South London Gallery and their exhibitions and residencies, check out their website!  And go down there for Febrik’s “Play, I Follow You” exhibition starting on the 17th May.

How about more on this idea of stuff, power and how we arrange our stuff?  Read Edensor’s Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality.  Or my old dissertation, which quotes him heavily.

For everyone else, I’ll be back to talking Turkey tomorrow!


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