PlaytimePosted: July 22, 2011
Apart from Working Title in Gallery 1, there’s been a ‘experimental drawing’ workshop running, this week. This brought into focus the role of ‘play’ in an artist’s practice. Participants on the course, guided by Melanie Rose, had to submit to playfulness to discover, rediscover and explore modes of drawing, of mapping the physical, conscious and unconscious. It can be difficult to overcome the ‘education’ we’ve studied so hard to receive – in this instance, the way those taking part in Mel’s workshop had been taught to draw, that art must have meaning or reason to justify itself. Student artists are less taught nowadays, there’s less dogma, formalism – but, they are still asked to substantiate artworks with validating statements, to lever their making into Art Theory. This makes grading of students possible, it makes visual art empirical, comparative. Only, in actuality, artworks are far more impulsive, instinctive and haphazard in their coming about. Art is the concrete product of play, of intense and intimate playing.
Working Title is a super demonstration of this truth. It is play that finds an iota of sense in disparate objects, that cements an umbrella and sewing machine together on an operating table (to nick a Comte de Lautréamont quote). If you’ve spent time watching children at play, seen them develop complex rules of mutual engagement, lost within a shared fantasy, where the ‘received’ notion of their toys disintegrates, so sticks are just as much dolls, or guns, or roads as Tiny Tears, waterpistols or Scalatrix. It is complicated play, developing a useful sense of confusing issues. It’s also the idea of ‘play’ meaning room for manoeuvre, the give in any situation. That old chestnut about keeping an open mind. Play is where a snowball begins to roll and engage greater quantities of snow and whatever other stuff lays in its path, that comes to rest, to be circumnavigated, considered and its existence determined. Art is not an essay, it doesn’t communicate by explanation. Art is, it’s a process that births a thing, the whole of its being is balled up within it as an object – sometimes it is obvious, more often intriguing, puzzling, and ever as eclectic as an individual can be.
Play is an element of viewing art. You ought to play about with the ideas with which you are confronted, more so if you don’t recognise any thought behind a work (this being the other meaning of ‘play’ – approaching with an open mind, checking your initial response for misinterpretation, undue seriousness or plain prejudice. There is no right and wrong in art, only what occupies the eyes and mind, and what doesn’t divert – and always there’s the warping caused by taste.
Yesterday, a young fellow, due to start a sculpture course in September, came into Working Title‘s interactive area to make, to participate. He played for a bit, shuffling through the materials, creating games, finding shared context amongst the scraps. I watched him from the office above, he sat on the floor as if playing with Dinky Toys, connecting this to that to make something or other. The space became his studio, a play-room. I was busy elsewhere, but when I returned, he’d left the artworks, or arrangements, seen in the photos below. An Alsatian stands alert on the furthest reach of a slanted broom handle, held acute by string affixed to the leg of the settee. It feels epic, the opening gambit of a great wildlife adventure, the kind that Hollywood would film from helicopters swooping about a mountain crest, demonstrating the grandeur of the natural world. Only, this work features a plastic dog, the Education broom and a ball of twine – nothing actually epic. I adore it. It makes me laugh, it makes me wonder at the simplicity of causing an effect. I doubt this young fella arrived with a premeditated work in his head, what were the odds of a plastic Alsatian (a broom, yes, bound to be one, even string, yep – but a stridently posed mutt, naw). He partook of the exhibition with his hands and mind, he tested his thoughts about the show with a practicality most ignore or never consider. Creativity isn’t a competition, nor is it a show-n-tell. If anything, it’s an attempt at unravelling the most knotted scribble of nonsense that is life – that satisfaction at a sudden clean length of un-knitted existence.