PlayGround 1: The Art of Tension

I recently took part in PlayGround, an experimental collaborative artist-lab project that ran for four days at the John Hansard Gallery in Southampton. Its aim was to explore the idea of ‘play’ and how this might inform individual and collaborative artistic practice.

I’ll be writing more about the specifics of the event – the ideas, techniques, materials and so on – in other posts, but here I just want to look at one aspect, the tension between individual and collaborative work. This was a topic that was raised on several occasions, including during the morning and afternoon meetings we held to discuss progress. Many of us work primarily alone, and although we enjoy working with others, may not find it easy to collaborate as easily when being creative as we might if we were, say, doing something purely practical. From the beginning, although there was no fixed remit regarding the output, and it was made clear that individual play was valid, it was also clear that there was an expectation regarding participation with others’ work. This immediately introduced a tension – for me, because of my urge to use the rare opportunity of a large gallery space to build something much larger than I’m usually able to, having never worked in such a space previously. This was something I had as an expectation in advance, and although I stated openly that others were welcome to collaborate with the construction, in hindsight it was clear that this was ‘my’ part of the project, at least until the final public open day.

Still, this was an important part of the process and, for me, very freeing – as soon as the construction was ‘finished’, I felt no sense of ownership over it, and no concern that it would be dismantled once the event was done – I experienced genuine joy when others did start adding to or amending what I’d made (though interestingly I think they all did so as individuals as in the photos below). This was also the moment when I felt the concept of artistic collaboration ‘click’ and I was far more able to explore what PlayGround was about. It also highlighted the difference between ‘communalism’ (using and sharing the materials provided, most of which were from the local Scrapstore) and genuine collaboration. It was a process I needed to work though (as others did I think) and it would be fascinating to engage with more creativity of this type as I wouldn’t need to go through this cathartic individual aspect. So, as a professional artistic development opportunity, is was highly effective – I’ve already started putting together a plan for a large, multi-disciplinary, collaborative project (it’ll be some time yet, but look out for #ghostriver). On a personal level, it was wonderful – a family member who visited the final open day remarked that she’d “never seen me so relaxed and happy”. If that isn’t successful play, I don’t know what is…

This initial question, and some materials…

The thing I built

A mer-fairy appeared…

tiny urging

public open day begins…

…and continues…

…a fellow artist found it!