Front and back cover design by Henry Barbera
Table of Contents The First Playdate Rebellion by Jordan Goheen Play: (n) (v) with photos by Ari Mamnoon Angeleno by Adali Schell Asobi Anarchestra
Littlefield Dr. by Melissa Niles The Monster Series by Lena Howell Sandbox by Talia Markovich The Invisible Window
To My Younger Self by Daniel Leka Mania by Josephine Newton Blumencwejg Designing Play: St. Louis City Museum Boat by Buzz Smith Blue Puppet by Fletcher Barnhill Acknowledgements
First Pla e Th yd
When I imagine play I see the tangled hair of My Little Pony’s strewn across the living room floor or a brightly colored playground next to a rambunctious youth soccer league. In childhood, opportunities for play are abundant, but as we age these opportunities dwindle. Because of this, play often feels rooted in the past – evoking a sense of nostalgia. Playing with abandon at any age is a uniquely liberating and fulfilling experience that is necessary for survival. This past summer, my family and I had the monumental task of moving my grandma’s possessions out of her impeccably maintained farmhouse that has been in our family for 55 years. As a kid, this place felt like the castle to the king and queen who were Nana-Pi (I couldn’t say grampi-pi like my older cousins so it was shortened to Pi and hyphenated to Nana). This grand pilgrimage to their home was further dramaticized by the fact that we are living in a time where we fear physical proximity to strangers, so my cousin and I road tripped from Los Angeles to Schoolcraft, Michigan. Turning onto YZ avenue, passing the intersection where we first drove a car on our uncle’s lap when we were too small to reach the pedals, feeling the warmth of years of crowded dinner tables spill through the front doors, across the lawn, and into our car made us yelp and giggle like we were 8 again as we maneuvered down the gravel driveway. Inside, the physical items of my childhood that had gone untouched for 10 years were waiting in the garage to greet me. The task of sorting through my childhood toys and creations and electing what to save for my future children felt daunting. My American Girl Dolls had an especially noticeable twinkle in their eyes, as if they still recognized me from our last time playing house years ago that neither of us knew would be our last. Lying in their newly opened cardboard boxes, they beckoned me to retreat back into their world. My mom and I found Kit, my first American Girl Doll, abandoned for years in clothing she would never like to wear. It hurt my heart to imagine how one day,
unbeknownst to my dolls, I put them to bed in in their cardboard boxes and didn’t wake them up until this day 10 years later. Without even consulting one another, my mom and I impulsively got to work at redressing the dolls in their correct clothing. For hours we searched for tiny, matching shoes, tried them on to see how well the doll liked to run or dance in them, and changed them from school uniform to recital outfit to sports gear. As we fell deeper into the mesmerizing act of play, my mom acted out the voices and I swung the dolls from vine to imaginary vine in the jungle-summer-camp we dreamed up many years ago. We laughed at ourselves for feeling so invested, but we were both entranced by this opportunity to play again. I am accustomed to seeing my mom in this setting, surrounded by my dolls on the floor, hearing her animated voices specific to each doll. She looks a bit older now and I have to contort my long legs with a little more effort than when I was small, but not much else has changed. This is a much more rare occurrence now – being flooded with this feeling of euphoria while playing with abandon. After I left Michigan to drive and camp across the rest of the country, I found myself coming back to that evening with the dolls night after night as I lay awake in my tent. That moment reintroduced me to a feeling I couldn’t shake. By holding onto my dolls, my mom and I left the lid to my childhood ajar. That night, we shattered the seemingly impenetrable facade of adulthood. What I didn’t realize until that moment was that I could return to childhood through play at any moment. Since that summer evening spent digging through the archives of my childhood, I have been searching for explicit ways to reintroduce play into my life and honor my inner child.
This project documents my journey on the urgent search for play in my early twenties. Each day I feel myself growing older while remaining alarmingly stagnant amid a pandemic. My generation is experiencing the loss of these last moments of our youth. Play is a life raft to gather on amid the collective trauma we are all experiencing. Every day I feel myself growing farther from my inner child without what I imagined to be the normal rites of passage of a proper goodbye. I miss her, I seek to honor her, re-engage with her, and above all, play for her. “A creative adult is a child who survived.” I seek to survive – for my own resilience and for the child who I once was. This project includes what I have learned on my journey of exploring play, the people I have connected with along the way, and I hope that it may inspire others to intentionally engage with the radical joy of their inner child.
Rebellion by Jordan Goheen
Play, with a chorus of laughter a bird-song medley the melody of mutual listening Play, with pregnant pauses like rainy-day static-air raising hairs before lightning strikes
Play, shattering the serpentine scales of the impenetrable workweek one smile at a time Play, Peter Pan’s shadow part of us, following us, leading us a coy trickster disruption with a smile
Play: (n) (v) 1. Play is a free activity -- typically outside ‘ordinary life’ but can also exist inside 2. Absorbs the player utterly and intensely 3. Accompanied by a feeling of joy When I first began thinking about defining play, I believed that play must be an end unto itself. Through this definition, if you want to consider skating as play, you skate solely because you enjoy it – not because you want to get better at skating, impress your friends, post your trick on Instagram, or become sponsored. I find this definition unintentionally limiting. I want to explore not only how play is enjoyable, but also its powers of transformation, healing, and resistance. I aim to capture the fundamental essence of play, including its powers of transformation and resistance. I do not claim that my way of thinking about play is the only correct way. My work is not intentionally radical, but it may cause you to think about play and the systems around you differently than before you entered this “magic circle.” A preliminary Google search of the term play quickly leads to Johan Huizinga’s heavily referenced, early 20th century text on how play manifests itself through human culture. The book, titled Homo Ludens, meaning “man the player,” states, “Play is a free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious,’ but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner.”
This definition provides a good jumping off point for an analysis of play; however, the strict approach excludes activities such as professional sports or gambling. While these players are additionally motivated by their economic outcome, during the game they are still absorbed in the experience within the boundaries of time and space, and ultimately, they are still playing. I believe a crucial element in the definition of play is entering into a magic circle. While this magic circle normally occurs outside the boundaries of “ordinary life,” play can also arise spontaneously even in situations that we wouldn’t think of as inherently playful. These surprising instances of play are often the most impactful.
Most definitions used by prominent scholars state that work stands in contrast to play. According to Brian Upton, the author of Aesthetics of Play, play is something used by most people to “escape the drudgery of work and the mundane tasks that make up our day-to-day life.” He goes on to write, “Play is a way of moving within and engaging within a particular sort of system.” If play can arise from the way one engages within a system, why can’t it happen at work? My definition argues that play can be integrated into our seemingly mundane, everyday lives within the system of capitalism. I work at a pottery studio where one of my frequent tasks is loading artists’ work into kilns. This task can be mundane, but on a good day I view it as a game of tetris where I nestle freeform sculptures into the negative space of precise, wheel-thrown vases. With each kiln shelf that I layer on, I advance a level, and if the higher I go I don’t feel any wobbles, I gain extra points. If we lived within a system where I didn’t have to show up to the studio every weekend for my minimum wage paycheck, maybe I would be at home on the couch playing a real game of Tetris. But spending my days at the studio is my reality, and I play whenever possible within the constraints of my world.
Gender and Skating series by Ari Mamnoon
Another crucial element of my definition of play is that it absorbs the player utterly and intensely, and leaves them with a feeling of joy. When a moment of play is over, it gives me the same feeling of sitting in a theatre after a performance before the lights come up. I recently participated in a performance of 600 Highwaymen, which is an interactive piece of theatre where I was randomly matched with another audience member to speak with over the phone and follow a set of carefully crafted directives. Throughout the hour, a portrait of my partner emerged through the moments they shared with me and the sound of their unseen voice. At the end of the call I still didn’t know their name, but I felt I knew their essence. Near the end of the call, the prompting voice asked them to tell me what they were going to do once they left this call. My partner answered that they had to finish a math test and then they were meeting up with a friend to get milkshakes. When the call finally ended, I was left alone in my room to reflect on this strange, powerful,
and utterly raw experience of human interaction. When an experience of play is compelling enough, as often is with a moment of play, it will keep running in our minds even after the external stimulus has been removed. After these experiences, I feel more open to human connection, and I understand that we are all trying the best we can to survive and feel joy. Author and activist Adrianne Maree Brown, who writes about pleasure activism, asks the question – “How can we awaken within ourselves desires that make it impossible to settle for anything less than a fulfilling life?” The self love and healing that come from play are an act of pleasure activism. In order to show up for your community, you must first heal yourself so that you can feel the radical joy that you wish to activate in the world. While it is possible to integrate play into everyday life, not all pleasureful moments are play. Biting into a juicy nectarine on a hot day is a beautiful sensation, but it isn’t play. Sensory pleasures can add to the experience of play, such as the sound of catching a baseball in a glove, but they aren’t play in and of themselves. My purpose in expanding on the aforementioned historical definitions of play isn’t to argue that everything is play (although wouldn’t that be fun). Instead, I want to extend this magic circle of play into ordinary life and infiltrate the systems that are designed to exclude it. While scholars can entertain theories of play for chapters – our lives and attention aren’t unlimited. Theoretical, openended texts may allow for infinite wanderings, but our actual lived experiences are finite. Theory can be useful for clarifying messy, big ideas, but when you get caught up in theory about play, you aren’t actually playing. So, let’s stop theorizing and start playing.
Photos by Emma Sher
“How can we awaken within ourselves desires that make it impossible to settle for anything less than a fulfilling life?” – Adrianne Maree Brown
In order to show up for your community, you must first heal yourself so that you can feel the radical joy that you wish to activate in the world.
by Adali Schell
“I grew up in Los Angeles, but then was forced to move to a Socal suburb 100 miles away right in my second semester of 8th grade. I was left longing for Los Angeles and it’s people, who like me, abided by and believed in the Angeleno identity. Although embedded in no particular memory, many formative experiences of my early youth consisted of sitting in the backseat of my parents car, watching Los Angeles dance. I always longed to truly immerse myself within the city as a free adult rather than a little kid, and by photographing the city streets, holding the camera mostly at my waist, I felt as though I can tap into the voyeuristic and magical qualities of Los Angeles and my childhood, while simultaneously exploring the question of what it means to be an Angeleno.”
Asobi: Play in Japanese Graphic Arts
Figure 1. The Kabuki Scrolls, ca. 1603–1615, two scrolls, 36.7 x 836.1 cm, 36.7 x 699.4 cm, Tokugawa Art Museum.
Asobi is the Japanese word that most directly corresponds to the English concept of play. The spirit of play is at the heart of much Japanese aesthetic expression. Playfulness permeates all forms of cultural life in Japan, from theater to fashion to children’s television shows. Cultural anthropologist, Johannes Huizinga, defines play as, “stepping out of real life into a temporary sphere of activity with a disposition all its own.”1 The Japanese concept of the floating world reflects a similar ideology. Floating world imagery refers to kabuki theater, pleasure quarters (sites of sex work), and physical sites of play. In the floating world, the imaginations of men and women are activated, either as performers or audience members, by interacting with this playful genre of theater to escape the strict hierarchical regulations of their everyday lives. The playful element of Japanese graphic arts is also evident in the word play and parody popular in the Edo period. Additionally, contemporary artists of the Super Flat movement convey serious messages through playful aesthetics of childhood media. Although limited research exists on the role of playfulness in Japanese aesthetic expression, through the analysis of escapism, pun and parody, and childhood aesthetics it becomes clear that play is a unifying force in the canon of Japanese art history. Beginning in the 16th century, many Japanese images depict the iconography of the floating world. The floating world abstractly defined as, “the attitude of drifting through the world in pursuit of diversion.”2 In the floating Johannes Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955), 8. Julie Nelson Davis. “Introduction: The Floating World and Its Artistic Networks.” In Partners in Print: Artistic Collaboration and the Ukiyo-e Market. (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2015), 3. 1 2
world images, actors and audience indulge themselves in the heavily stylized and glamorous performances of kabuki theatre and the sexual entertainment of the pleasure quarters as a form of escapism from the strict social rules of the Tokugawa shoguns. In this period, poverty was prevalent and the rigid hierarchy of the government controlled all aspects of daily life. Kabuki theater, comparable to contemporary burlesque performance, has a long history of subverting political rule due to its controversial nature. Theatrical play, which allows the participants an escape from reality and the rules of the ordinary world, posed a threat to the government. Kabuki theater began with women performing on the riverbeds – an intermediary space with no specified owner – to evade formal restriction. Soon after its formation, women were banned from performing due to the government’s fear that this performance bordered on sex work, so young boys took their place. These young boys were also outlawed as performers, and then replaced by men. Author and curator Christine Guth argues, “it is in the arts of this period that the duality of play – its potential for simultaneously subverting and The floating world reinforcing the social order – is given its most created a space eloquent expression.”3 The Kabuki Scrolls image depicts an early women’s kabuki where people theater performance in which the artist further across social exaggerates the playfulness of the scene by classes could including a mesmerized, male audience. As depicted in artistic renderings of kabuki theater escape from their and enhanced by the avoidance of government everyday lives and restrictions, the floating world created a space where people across social classes could escape engage in a world from their everyday lives and engage in a world of play. of play. Just as Edo-period audiences participated in play by escaping reality and entering into the floating world, they also took great pleasure in visual parodies and puns. The Japanese language has many homophones that lend themselves easily to creating puns. The mass enjoyment of this specialized jargon of sexual innuendos, euphemisms, and double entendres is represented in Japanese print culture throughout history. A common play on words pairs Daruma, the name of the 6th century Indian founder of Zen Buddhism, with a similiar slang term that represents Japanese sex workers in the pleasure quarters.4 Suzuki Harunobu’s woodblock print Daruma in a Boat with an Attendant, depicts a sex worker next to the patriarchy of Zen Buddhism, vainly staring into his own reflection while picking his nose (an act that symbolized being madly in love) (fig. 2). This 18th century iconoclastic representation of these two dissimilar figures materializes the playful humor present in Japanese culture during this period. Parody, or mitate in Japanese, is another form of pictorial expression closely associated with the culture of the pleasure quarters. Both pun and mitate require extensive familiarity with traditional literary and pictorial history. Takeda Harunobu’s Daruma and Courtesan Wearing Each Other’s Clothes, is a mitate of the same 3 4
Christine M. E. Guth, Asobi: Play in the Arts of Japan, (New York: Katonah Museum of Art, 1992) 21. Christine M. E. Guth, Asobi: Play in the Arts of Japan, 34.
Figure 2. Suzuki Harunobu, Daruma in a Boat with an Attendant, 1767.
play on words (fig. 3). This image also depicts the two figures, but now the courtesan wears the monastic robe and sandals – emblematic of the renunciation of worldly pleasures – and the celibate Daruma wears the robes of the woman of the pleasure quarters. The artist also parodies the materiality of the work by employing a pictorial inversion of style of these two robes. The robe worn by the courtesan is created in ink monochrome which is associated with Zen painting, and the robe worn by Daruma is depicted in bright colors and decorative details that are characteristic of the aesthetic of the pleasure quarters.5 The use of pun and parody in these images of Daruma and the courtesan denotes an appreciation for play and humor in Edo period aesthetic expression. Through the genre of Super Flat, Takashi Murakami commands the imagery of anime subculture that his generation acquired in childhood to reflect on the repressed memories and reality of violence in Japan.6 With the advent of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games and the related construction of “bullet” trains, the influx of technology turned the nation into a connected network of households sharing a myriad of identical information. Children of this generation experienced homogenized media – they filled their rooms with manga, tokusatu, and anime paraphernalia of the subculture – which forged a large generation gap between these children and their parents. By the early 1970s, there was a growing fad of violence and gloomy imagery in children’s media, and Sawaragi writes that children, “secretly began anticipating that the world anticipating that the world would end during their
Figure 3. Takeda Harunobu, Daruma and Courtesan Wearing Each Other’s Clothes, [date unknown], hanging scroll, ink and light color on silk, 24 x 12 ⅜ in, Shin’enkan Collection, Corona del Mar.
Christine M. E. Guth, Asobi: Play in the Arts of Japan, 34. Takashi Murakami, The Super Flat Manifesto, (Tokyo: Madra Publishing Co., 2000). 5 6
lifetimes,” and they lived in terror of this apparent fate.7 Time Bokan, popular 1975–1983 anime television series depicts mushroom iconography – reminiscent of the atrocious aftermath of the 1945 nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – an image almost inconceivable for children’s programming in the only country that has ever suffered atomic bombing. Yet, Time Bokan was eagerly awaited by Japanese children for it’s weekly episodes. Japanese subculture – such as manga and anime children’s TV shows – expresses an obsessive fondness for military violence, engaging with this subject as a fantasy while making little connection to its historical significance in Japan. This dissonance between violent imagery and suppression of Japanese reality and memory, as well as the use of mushroom cloud iconography, is represented in Murakami’s 1999 Super Nova (fig. 4). This work employs approachable pastel colors and youthful aesthetics reminiscent of the media Murakami’s generation consumed in their childhood bedrooms. Upon further examination, a viewer of this work then notices the mushroom clouds which represent not only the violence inflicted on Japan from the United States, but also Murakami’s attempt to counter the “profound psychological suppression” prevalent in postwar Japanese art.8 The highly sleek, Super Flat aesthetic of Murakami’s Super Nova gives form to the distortion of Japanese history by reassembling fragments of childhood anime and mange aesthetics with representation of the violent history inflicted upon Throughout history, Japanese graphic arts engage with play through the escapism of the floating world, the pun and parody of the Daruma and courtesan imagery, and the childhood aesthetics of the Super Flat movement. The unifying aspect of this expression of playfulness is a search for pleasure, enjoyment, humor, and possibly a tribute to one’s own childhood. The prolific Edo-period writer Asai Ryoi perfectly captures this sentiment in his description of the floating world:
“The floating world consists of living only for the moment, savoring the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms, and the maple leaves, singing songs, drinking sake, and diverting oneself in just floating, unconcerned by the prospect of imminent poverty, buoyant, and carefree, like a gourd carried along with the river current: the is what we call ukiyo.”9 Play is a feeling more than it is an action. Japanese aesthetic expression often ignites this feeling, whether through observing carefree play of others, laughing at a crude joke, or feeling flooded with nostalgia from images of childhood. Noi Sawaragi, “On the Battlefield of ‘Superflat:’ Subculture of Art in Postwar Japan,” Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture, trans. Linda Hoaglund, ed. Takashi Murakami, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 193. 8 Noi Sawaragi, “On the Battlefield of ‘Superflat:’ Subculture of Art in Postwar Japan,” 204. 9 Christine M. E. Guth, Asobi: Play in the Arts of Japan, 21. 7
Figure 4. Takashi Murakami, Super Nova, 1999, acrylic on canvas mounted on board, 118 x 413 in., Collection SFMOMA and Collection of Vicki and Kent Logan.
Anarchestra is an interactive musical experience created by Andy Thurlow, a musician-turned-welder who finds fun in every aspect of his life to “keep the spirit alive.” I discovered his work from a YouTube video titled “Strange Musical Instruments Never Before Seen,” where he gives a tour of a selection of his 200+ original, handmade instruments. My personal favorite is Reroar, a set of gongs on a pulley system that can be lowered into a basin of water to deepen the pitch. Together, these instruments create the band Anarchestra, which is often set up as an interactive installation where the spectators are invited to become part of the band. After watching these videos, I was fascinated by Andy’s project and personality and we spoke on the phone that same day.
Can you walk me through what inspired Anarchestra? My belief is that people can all play and should all feel that ability. I make instruments that provide an opportunity to do that because they’re not constricted by a previous set of restrictions. If you just hand a random person a guitar they’ll say “oh I can’t play that” but with these that doesn’t happen. Anyone can play one of these cause nobody else has played them before and they don’t have all that burden of expectation. I played a lot of instruments in my life, but these are just more fun because instead of making what the supposed sound is, you just work with what you think sounds right. There’s all kinds of music that hasn’t been made yet and sounds and haven’t been heard yet. People are excited to get a chance to explore reinventing the idea of music. How did you first combine your interests in music and welding? I’ve always found a way, one way or another, to make my life be about music. I was a welder for 10 years before I made instruments and when I put it together with music it was like, “oh my god, I can have fun at both things!” And so for a year, I made these extra instruments to play along with your usual guitars, stuff like that. And from recording, I realized that the guitars sounded cheesy with them. And that’s funny to me cause at the time I was a really good guitar player, but it just sounded so much better without them. That put it in a different direction when we realized, “Oh, this is about these instruments, we have to make more and more of them.” And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. What intrigues me about your project is that it seems to welcome people of all ages. How do your instruments invite adults as well as children to engage with a sense of fun and creativity? At a show a couple of years ago, this old guy got up and was looking at a huge horn-like instrument. And he just played one thing, just went “pwooow” on it but he had the best time! The best time! It was like he was back in the 70s, it just lit him up.
Most of us forget to do that – we’re a lot more creative when we’re young. Lack of creativity and having fun is something that we’re taught to do by teachers. And so I’ve always resisted that. I decided I never want to give up having fun. I love to watch other people play and get into it because it reminds me of how I played with my brother when we were kids. The expressions on people’s faces are the same as they were when we were 12 and 9. My brother, when I started off with these instruments, he thought it was ridiculous. He really did. He’s a really good musician. And he came the first time, kind of out of loyalty, with a frown. Then he started to play and he played well. He smiled like he did when he was 9. He came to every show after that. He just sort of got it. I just invite people to come and try it out. I’m very hands off about what people do. So the interaction is sort of immediate. When people get it, they just get it and there’s nothing to explain. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from creating this work? I feel like music is for all of us. And it’s really only in the last century that it got made into a commodity, before that it was like most people have pianos, or at least a guitar in their house. And they sang, and they played together. Nothing was really serious. Or maybe it was too. I feel like that’s been lost from us going to the recording culture. We’ve gotten really absorbed in that. A lot of us don’t think that we’re musical. And we are.
Littlefield Dr. by Melissa Niles I want to be in the world That’s pink and orange Like my watermelon Lip Smackers And the flowers on the hanging plants In the backyard On Littlefield Dr. Where there’s the house with stone walls And the cupboard overflowing with VHS tapes And my dog tries to outrun me As I paint the ground with my Razor scooter
I want to be in the world That’s blue and green Like my favorite bathing suit And the air that smells like Coppertone At the big pool down the street From Littlefield Dr. Where my friend sticks her wet hands In the Cool Ranch Doritos bag And I let it go Because I love her
Even when the world Became a stark, bright white In the walls of my room On Littlefield Dr. It was okay Because lonliness is different When your world is small And you are too
The world is a whole color wheel now Full of nuance on a spectrum of light It’s good, because I’ve grown But I can’t help but miss The days when the pigments were so pure And I felt so sure Of what everything meant
Mon e ste Th r by Lena Howell
“Making The Monster Series was a process to apply self- soothing tools through art making that I used as a child in order to overcome trauma I experienced as a young adult. After leaving an abusive relationship, I was left with constant fear, anxiety, and a feeling of otherness from the people around me. It was hard to find kindness and forgiveness for myself; I felt that I had failed to protect myself, as though I’d let a little sister down, or had forced the child still in me to grow up too fast. At this time, I was also studying Applied Developmental Psychology in school and decided to pursue a career in art therapy with children. Curious to revisit the art I created as a child, I found a book containing about 200 drawings of monsters I had made at age 7. I was a very shy child, and by imagining the monsters as imaginary friends and protectors, I helped myself feel comforted and never alone. I decided to engage these monster friends once again at age 21 in an effort to help myself feel supported and looked after. So, I embarked on a series of paintings re-envisioning the monsters. In them, I grieved in the monsters’ arms, posed with them for a family photo, and ran away with them from scary places; I illustrated them as though they had been with me through everything, and thus I felt less isolated in remembering and processing my past. They became my little fairy godmothers, angel guardians, good luck charms. Thinking of them in this playful, sweet way helped me identify more with the parts of me that still felt child-like and whole. The making of the monsters was a practice to further look inwards to find strength in myself and trust my ability to heal. I followed the lead of seven-year-old me who instinctively knew how to comfort herself through art making.”
Sandbox by Talia Markowitz
Sandbox was partially inspired by the fact the artist thought they could fly as a child. “Obviously I couldn’t, but like maybe I could, right?” The sculpture is comprised of a sandbox filled with sand and three rocks. The two rocks on opposite sides of the box exchange stories the artist wrote as a child. “They go back and forth, infinitely considering the truth of memory as it transforms and blurs with each recollection. It is these changes that comprise the spatiality of imagination, which is both the spaces where imagination takes place, but also where imagination escapes, becoming completely immaterial and unbeholden to the logic of the corporeal world.” One of these stories is transcribed on the following page:
Gabriel The Germ, a flower. Oh, my name is Talia. Someday I hope that my mommy will take me to California. Well, I’m going to tell you a little story all about Gabriel The Germ, a flower. One day lived Gabriel, the germ, a flower. He was a little boy and he was naked and joy and peaceful and quiet. Until one day a little girl named Talia picked him. She said, oops. Alright, I’m a beautiful flower. So put me back in. And she did! And he grew and grew and grew and grew And grew until he was a tree. He liked being a tree. Then he shrink, shrink, Shrink, shrink, shrink back into a flower. And then he was a flower. And Talia picked again. Then she put them back in. And he grew, grew, grew, grew grew. How do you think this happened? Because there was because Talia kept picking him. And when that was over, the flower grew and grew and grew 14 times until he was dead. Then another Gabriel flower grew and grew and grew. And what happened? They came over to Talia the human being and she married him when she was growing older.
And that’s the end of the story.
The Invisible Window The impulse to play is ancient, pre-cultural, and even pre-human. Play behaviors have been identified across species of animals. Herring gulls playing games of catch with clams in their mouth and ravens sliding down snow-covered roofs only to fly back up and repeat the process over and over again. Dogs show signals of mock aggression to entice others into play fighting, and horses and cattle often chase each other for no obvious reason. Evidence of human gameplay has also existed since the beginning of time. As a young child, my dad and I traveled through Latin America, where we visited ancient Mayan, Inca, and Aztec cities. I vividly remember walking through the Mayan ballcourt
at Tikal, and trying to imagine what that game could have possibly looked like all those years ago. Examples of games exist across all cultures and throughout time – from the pebble-aiming competitions of Yoruba children, rope-skipping games of the Outback, chivalric tournaments of medieval men, to videogames in modern Japan. Most importantly, how we play across cultures and across time is the same. There is something deeply human within the structure of games that allows players to transcend cultural boundaries. If a young Yoruba girl explain the rules of Suwe – a game similar to marbles, where players attempts to throw their pebble into a specific area of a rectangle drawn on the ground – I could play the game. I would play with a noticeable lack of skill compared to the other children, but at the end of the day I would still be playing the game. Games act as an invisible window into different cultures where anyone who learns the rules, can temporarily, within the confines of the game, enter into this other culture. This new player may not understand the history or cultural significance of the game, but they are able to temporarily enter this culture through the magic circle of gameplay. One can play a game from any culture or era and it will function, fundamentally, as a game. They may not play the game with the same expertise as someone who grew up playing within their own culture, but they can still play. Most cultural practices aren’t as portable as games. Take Chinese opera for example, if I attended a performance and afterwards decided that I wanted to join the troupe, my voice physically wouldn’t be able to adapt to the requirements of this artform without intensive training. Other forms of cultural expression, such as dance and performance, require expression, such as dance and performance, require years of practice to master these physical feats. Games act as a window through which anyone can temporarily step into a culture other than their own. Not all play takes place in the form of games, but games are a tangible example through which to analyze the meaning of play. Gameplay can also transcend language barriers, especially in children. On those trips with my dad in Latin America, I frequently made friends with children in the towns we stayed in, even though my level of Spanish at the time was very elementary and these children often didn’t speak any English. While we couldn’t verbally get to know each other or joke around, we didn’t need to speak the same language to play together. On the rural coast of Mexico near La Crucecita, Maira and I played an ongoing game of fetch in the ocean for weeks. One of us would throw the plastic water bottle filled with rocks so that it sank somewhere among the coral and maybe alarmed a brightly colored fish on its way down. The other, without seeing where the friend threw it, would begin the search donned with snorkeling gear. We played this game almost entirely without talking, the space around us filled only with our giggles and splashing of fins. Through gameplay, whether rule-based or make believe, there is a unique ease to interaction. The players feel a part of a world bigger than themselves. In connecting with this greater human truth, we can, for an instance, surpass the barriers of culture and language that often hold us apart.
To My Younger Self by Daniel Leka
“For me, it’s this idea of growing old versus getting old, because when you get old, you’re allowing yourself to be stuck in certain periods of your life where you’re allowing your mind to grow ignorant and stubborn to certain things. Whereas if you’re growing old, you’re just allowing time to refine your craft and refine your passion. And for me, it would feel disingenuous if I was to stop doing what I was doing, even if it doesn’t amount to anything grandiose. When you think about “PLAY,” you have to understand that it’s about an experience. But the thing is, we don’t allow ourselves to experience things anymore. When we were kids, we were experiencing the moments we have with our toys and our dolls and with our GameCubes and PlayStations, and even going to the playground. But now, because everything is so digitized and automated, it’s just like one of those things where you’re kind of apathetic, and you have all the information in the world. And the attention span is not there. So it’s like everything is kind of meaningless to you because you can’t resonate with it. I’m trying to just make things that evoke that sense of “Play.” I want people to feel like those pictures of HHC dancing and everything, I want people to feel that joy and freedom. And I want people to understand that this is something that they can resonate with. Because the thing is, you have moments where you’re dancing with your friends all the time. You don’t have to overthink that – you’re just having fun for that moment. When people think about what they have to do, it’s always about what the end goals are. It’s always about “I have to progress in my career or my status and whatsoever”, but all those things are human fallacies. They’re not real. The only thing that’s real is just that feeling that people have when they’re with you – the feeling that you give with what you make. I think that’s what “Play” typically is, it’s just this feeling that is intangible, but people try to make it tangible.”
DIASPORA - “A shot I took while on my cousin’s shoot of the same name. She conceptualized the idea and scouted the location and recruited the models and I just took extra shots while assisting her. I made the decision last minute to shoot my film in black and white and after getting the pictures back, this one stood out the best and I’m happy with my decision to represent my culture in such a way.”
GOOD DAYS - “A shot from my “IDEALISM” series. This shoot is a visual manifestation of what the song “Good Days” by SZA looks like for me. My friend Ava modeled for me and our mutual friend Tiffany styled the shoot and I think that it’s the perfect blending of ideology and dichotomy. It’s something captivating about our decision to have a more abstract look photographed in a natural environment and I think we pulled it off well.”
BLACK IS: THE BLUEPRINT - “The photos from this shoot are the epitome of freedom in my eyes. What it looks like when we’re allowed to exist and be beautiful.”
Mania Writing and art by Josephine Newton Blumencwejg Content warning: discussions of personal experiences with mental illness I’m too scared to look back at all my actions and messages I sent when I had my manic episode last September 2020. But they are there, permanently recorded, and branded as permanent memories that over the course of the past eight months I’ve attempted to utterly block. When they come back in little flashes, I shudder with embarrassment, or with panic, or with night terrors. When I first experienced symptoms of mania, I was reaching out to everyone, hanging out with someone every minute, and when I wasn’t, I was creating, I was reaching out to childhood friends I probably hadn’t talked to in 10 years, and I was DMing artists over Instagram who I found inspiring and asking to collaborate. This was very unlike me, for I was notorious for never using my phone or Instagram and never responding to my messages. If you wanted to reach me you had to either go to my front door, or call my best friend at the time. But I was more I felt like my social than ever that September. I felt like my inner child inner child Jojo Jojo was out to play again, after being in a depressive funk for almost over half a year. I was so energetic, was out to play ecstatic, and felt so happy, like some magical force again... had released me from my own prison. I realized how much fun I could have in the world, how much there was to learn, and why would I ever have time or want to be sad? I wanted to become a walking Wikipedia, tears were a waste of brain space. There was no need for sleep, there were too many creative projects to be made, too many conversations to be had. During mania, your system floods your brain with the dopamine it so desperately craved. No drug can replicate what it feels like to be manic, not even meth or crack is strong enough. The crazy thing was none of this was drug induced, this was just all happening in my mind naturally. You are likely to hallucinate and have delusions, and feel like an absolute god when you’re manic – it’s a feeling like no other. When you’re manic you don’t feel the need to eat, all while being able to walk ten miles and bike twenty. I had what was called a hypermanic mixed psychotic episode, where I was extremely high during the day time, but come nightfall, I would “crash” and experience suicidal feelings. The hallucinations and delusions were a constant 24/7. From the combination of lack of sleep and the flooding of dopamine in my system, I started to believe in things that were not real, just as a child does at play. When I was a kid, me and my two best friends thought we were fairies with special avatar-like powers, I was the earth fairy and could earth-bend, and my friend was the fire fairy and the other was the water fairy. My mania in a way brought me back to this, but in far a more dark distorted way. It wasn’t pretty, fun, made up fantasies, rather it was scary, grievous, and disastrous realities.
I am very grateful I made it to the psych ward the time I did. It really amazes me how little control I had over my thoughts and the situation at the time, if at all. It shakes me to my core that I had so little control that I spent a whole month in a psychiatric facility against my own will. Time moved by extremely slow, I split the day by meal time, then by the hour, then by fifteen minute intervals in between groups. Nighttime moved especially at a snails pace, since there were no evening groups. When you have a head full of racing thoughts, and endless time, you get creative and come up with ideas to pass time. This is where I rediscovered my childhood love and memories of reading and writing. I had spent the summer prior living in Buenos Aires, Argentina where my family is from, and that summer was probably the best time of my life, I had never been more happy and was surrounded by my nine aunts and uncles and my twenty plus cousins. Every weekend I would visit my Abuela in the suburbs of the city, and we would cook raviolis and she would force feed me an exorbitant amount of food against my will. Before I left, she gifted me a couple of books by Jorge Luis Borges, the notorious Argentine author who was most active in the 40s, and who wrote some of the most mind-twisting short stories and heartfelt, humane poems. I had seen this author on my dad’s bookshelf before, and in all of my cousins, aunts and uncles houses, but had never read him even though I had a copy of his collected works my dad gifted me when I was “of age” (14 to be exact, apparently you have to be mentally mature enough to grasp the meaning of these stories according to my father). To be Argentine, it was a requirement, a rite of passage, to read Borges. So I asked the nurse in the ward if she could print four copies of his most famous short story “Garden of Forking Paths” for us to read. I wanted to earn my badge as a true Argentine, and I had always been curious about these stories, and what better way to pass the time? And so we began reading. There were four of us the first night, so each of us would divide the story by four, and read a page and move along. Borges stories are no walk in the park, and usually require close reading and a rereading, so a girl reading with pressured speech, a boy reading who was battling with auditory hallucinations, a shy boy with issues vocalizing, and an over expressive professor made for an interesting read, and an even more interesting way to understand the story (it was quite difficult). We returned to this every night, it became a tradition in the ward. I would ask the nurse to print out the next short story by Borges, and after all of our minds had been emptied, we would all try and piece the story together. We came up with some very far fetched creative metaphors that could only be
At lunchtime we would discuss tonight’s material excitedly, because it was a way for us to share, to forget for a moment where we were and what had happened. I was proud, I created something, and other people were excited too. Even better, I looked forward to reading, and carried Borges stories with me wherever I went. Once I left the ward, my copies of the stories were so heavily marked up with notes and thoughts, I had probably read my favorite story, “Library of Babel” ten times.
...it was a way for us to share, to forget for a moment where we were and what had happened.
Even though I left the ward, reading, especially with others, has consistently stayed with me. Just at the turn of the new new year, I started an email thread with about 15 of my friends called “kook book kloob” where we would read a short story every week and I would write an email with my thoughts on the story and people would reply with their thoughts. Since then, there are a whopping 48 readers in my club. Come September, it will be a year anniversary of my manic episode and my diagnosis, the month where everything changed. I know it is a cliche to say it has changed me, but it really has. I did not know how little control I had over my mind and what it is truly capable of. Ever since, unfortunately I have become quite shy and sheltered, in fear of something triggering another episode. I have had to learn the hard lesson of who my true friends are, who weren’t afraid to support me during my most vulnerable state. I am slowly crawling out of my isolative hole in preparation for returning to school next fall. It is really hard for me to see a “silver lining” in all of this, because quite honestly, I wish this never happened. It completely derailed my whole life, took me out of school for the year, and there is still the possibility out there of having another episode. I have definitely dealt I know that with depressive symptoms my whole life and have my episode experienced months of debilitating depression, but reignited my nothing throws your life out of wack quite like mania. One thing I do know, however, is I probably would childhood love have never picked up Borges and earned my official for stories Argentine badge if it wasn’t for the boredom in the evening in the ward. That would have never had lead of fantasy me to creating my book club and sharing his magic and mystery, with my loved ones. That’s one thing I know for sure. connecting me I know that my episode reignited my childhood love for stories of fantasy and mystery, connecting me to to my culture, my culture, and lighting a passion for sharing stories. and lighting I hope in the future I can share stories of my own, in the medium of narrative film, in hopes of raising a passion for awareness of bipolar disorder and de stigmatizing sharing stories. mania and creating understanding of the condition.
Designing Play: St. Louis City Museum
City Museum in St. Louis is the only museum, to my knowledge, where it’s suggested to wear knee pads and visitors are welcome to bring a flashlight. This place is no ordinary museum – you may climb through a tunnel that runs across the ceiling, end up in a hand-sculpted cave, take your turn running on a human-sized hamster wheel, peek into the aquarium, skate park, or performing circus school, ride the ferris wheel, explore school bus that hangs over the edge of the roof, and scream down the 10-story slide repurposed from the shoe factory that used to occupy the building. There are intentionally no maps in the building, and it would take years to explore every tunnel, crevice, and detail of the museum. “It will be a place where we can do things that are normally illegal,” says Bob Cassilly, artist and creator of the museum. As a kid, this world he created felt like something out of a dream to me. I’m sure if I visited again that feeling would still ring true. Just like the first time I went to the St. Louis City Museum, every time I learn more about Cassilly, artist and creator of the museum, I become more enthralled by the world of his imagination. Cassilly recalls a time eavesdropping on his parent’s adult’s conversation, and thinking to himself, “What a shame not to be 11.” Cassilly seems to be a Peter Pan archetype, driven by his childlike sense of wonder and his ability to shun the usual trappings of adulthood.
Isabelle Picciotti: I was there once on my birthday and a bunch of strangers gathered around the big piano in the main part to sing me happy birthday! Playing in the city museum was such a joy! I never felt pressured to participate in any ride or exhibit but I was instructed to experience the museum at my own pace. I was able to make the museum feel so much smaller because I was in control. I think the reason why the museum resonates so well with kids, parents, and grandparents is the fact that every exhibit and ride is easily adaptable to every age and ability level. There’s a friendship bracelet making booth in a small corner of the museum and I can still remember how all the colors of string looked suspended from the ceiling! Clare Roarty: I think that the fact that everything can be played on is super cool and important. There are so many little details that make it feel like someone wants you to have fun in the space. The care put into each play structure creates a unique feeling, almost like you can’t help but play and interact with your surroundings. Two memories that stick out are playing hide and go seek with all my cousins in the cave area! I was probably like 8 and it felt like the biggest place in the world with so many little passages and things to discover! Also, after a field hockey tournament in high school, I remember sitting on these like life sized spinning tops for what felt like hours and just going around and around. Adam Triplett: I haven’t been there in a long time but from what I remember it felt like a big skyscraper-sized jungle gym, without any rules. I’m sure that there were some that I just wasn’t aware of because I was young but it really felt like this huge lawless place that I could have explored forever. I wonder if that lack of structure and familiarity seems enticing to people?
By Buzz Smith
“There aren’t consequences for failure in play. You play because you want to – you decide where and when to start, proceed and finish. Ideally, my work is play as much as possible. Unfortunately, typical work stresses the optimal conditions of playing. The boat was a playful activity but parts of the building process inevitably felt like work because there were ideas of consequences and times I needed to get things done. When I could understand how little it actually mattered if I made a successful boat or not, the project became play. Once it’s made, it matters: there is no consequence for not doing it.”
Blue Puppet by Fletcher Barnhill
A huge thank you to my UCLA World Arts & Cultures senior cohort, my guiding professors Bryonn Bain and Bobby Gordon, all of the contributing artists who shared their passion and labor for this project, every one of my friends and family who at some point throughout this year discussed what play means to them. And although we don’t know each other, thank you to Jenny Oddell, Robin Kelley, and Adrianne Maree Brown, whose written words guided, shaped, and motivated this project since the beginning.