PlayGround 2: Impossible striving

Following the Hansard Gallery‘s PlayGround project, I recently wrote about the tension between individual and collaborative working. Here, I want to look at another aspect of ‘play’ in an artistic sense – whether or not it is possible to recreate a child’s freedom of true play. By ‘true’, I mean unencumbered by worries about being ‘good enough’, or ‘finished’ with a fixed end-point or work-like aim in mind. In this case, a child’s painting of their dinner was brought in, and one of my fellow artists, Bevis Fenner, attempted to copy it at a larger scale.


So, a good scaled-up copy – peas and mashed potato I believe – but that isn’t the point. The aim was not only to reproduce the image, but also the feeling of free play that the child presumably had at the time. However this is not what happened. In aiming for a fixed outcome that is ‘good’ and ‘successful’, the artist precluded the possibility of a pure, free experience. Yes, the child clearly had an idea in mind, but in a self-pressurising way? I think not. This is not to say such freedom can’t be achieved by an adult, but maybe only if doing so as an objective can be put out of mind. Of course, I was aware of little of this until Bevis asked me if I could capture the idea as poetry – an idea that began as enjoyable freedom, but changed from the ideal into a stressful  exercise, futile even. This was not an easy remit – not only were deep and complex emotions involved, but they were someone else’s and thus broke the rule ‘write about what you know’. Still, it was a collaborative project, and I’m a poet who publishes, and takes commissions, but even so I still needed to find a quiet den to write in (even if it was an open wooden frame, it delineated temporarily private space). What happens when such feelings are shared? What happens to them when filtered through a collaborator? Here’s the outcome, complete with imagery linked to some anxieties of adult striving that may well be familiar, and maybe even some answers of a sort…