How would you describe your work?
I run Learning Landscapes - a small landscaping company designing and creating bespoke school outdoor areas to create inspiring, educational and fun spaces. This can be anything from creating quiet sensory areas to physically testing trim trails and climbing frames. From environmental learning spaces with ponds and vegetable growing beds to outdoor shelters or timber structures for role play. Everything is made from scratch (usually on site), so can be tailored to suit the individual’s needs and can often serve as a valuable lesson for the pupils to observe.
What, for you, is the role of play in your work?
For me, play inhabits all parts of my life and I wouldn't want it to be any other way. When I meet a client for the first time on a site visit I will be trying to build rapport, so I approach the conversation with a playful mindset and try to find shared interests or, even, humour.
I like to think that I am fairly well in touch with my inner playful child, in fact many people would probably say "what do you mean inner?!" So, when I am designing a new project, I will think 'what would a child like to do in this space?' or 'what would be fun here?’
How does taking a playful approach take you in unexpected or different directions?
Picture this: you are working in a school playground in a cordoned off area. When the kids come outside you are surrounded on all four sides by maybe a hundred children. Then, imagine you are being repeatedly asked the same questions such as "what are you doing mister?", "what's that supposed to be?" or being told "my dad could do that!" At these times, I feel a lot of sympathy towards caged zoo animals.
Now, I could use this as time for a break and miss an opportunity. Or worse still, I could try to keep working and get more frustrated and resentful. So, I often down tools and simply engage with the kids and have a chat. They may not have been told what I'm doing there, so I can explain and say what this could mean for them. Then if anyone still asks me what I'm doing, I can tell them to ask someone who was listening!
Sometimes, it helps me relax, especially if part of the project is particularly challenging, and I might even use it as an opportunity for some spontaneous juggling lessons, although this usually attracts even more kids. Sometimes, if I'm feeling really mischievous, I'll say I'm digging to Australia, looking for treasure or making a swimming pool just to see how they react (I do always tell them the truth later).
At other times, I might involve the children in the design or implementation of a project. Finishing projects together is great so that I can hand over ownership to them. Ideally, I want the project to be an experience in some way for them and not just something that's done to them. Also, in more deprived areas it reduces the chances of vandalism. When they are involved, making the work playful definitely helps to keep them motivated and a healthy level of competition usually improves output.
On some occasions I am invited to do an assembly or speak to groups about what we have made for them. Again, this is a great ‘handing over’ experience and a fantastic opportunity to be playful. I love to use ice breakers and the challenge of trying to keep them interested gets me thinking outside the box.
Do you have any examples of playfulness informing a particular project?
Sometimes the client doesn't actually know what they want or hasn't had the time to give it much proper thought. I had a recent site visit at a new school where my only instructions were "just go for it, you're the expert- so go for your grandest design."
So, in a tiny unused patch of trees in an unused corner of a school field I worked with my own brief. It was an exposed windy site so I decided on something that can feel sheltered and safe and take advantage of the birdlife living in the trees. The surrounding views were amazing and I know that kids love to be elevated, so, I designed a 2-level structure. The 'ground floor' is a bird viewing hide and an external staircase leads to the top floor, which has a pitched roof with skylights poking out of the top of the trees to take in the fantastic views.
I was really pleased with the outcome, especially as I wouldn’t have done anything like this without that freedom to “just go for it”. The school were over the moon with it and lots of other schools have seen it and want one too. So, in this instance, being playful has broadened my portfolio and boosted my enthusiasm for my work.
To see more of Stuart's projects visit his website.
Sussi Louise Smith is a Danish artist and poem painter, based in West Yorkshire. She paints everyday life in colourful naïvism. A vibrant celebration of everyday life and the hygge and grace it encompasses - the beauty lies in the detail. And in the hues. And in chocolate. There must always be chocolate. And Coffee. Possibly Bacon. Definitely Salty Liquorice
How would you describe your artistic practice?
Involuntary. I am laughing as I write it, because it is true. There was a period in the mid-nineties where I was doing really well financially from my art. Loads of commissions, articles about me, poster sales. Attention, in a good way. One would think. But it was not for me. I felt trapped. For me art was freedom. It was a way of speaking, saying what I couldn’t in daily conversations. So I Painted and Poeted. Yeah, that’s a thing. The verb of poetry.
However, when I became popular and the work pressures started to build, I felt I was at a cross-roads artistically. I packed away all my paints, canvasses, paper, notebooks, all of it, and promised myself not to paint or write for a year, 365 days. If at the end of it I had not missed it… then my since-birth feeling of being an artist had been a misunderstanding. But IF I had missed it, then my practice going forward would have to change dramatically. I would have to commit to my expression. Live my colours and words. Believe my questions.
So, how did it come to that? You might ask. But since you are here, reading Playful Being’s blog, you know the answer.
I had stopped playing. Or I had stopped playing enough. I don’t think I could ever stop playing, but back then, I was not playing enough.
Obviously, since we are having this conversation, I started my art life up again on day 366. It had been a hard year. The first few months I had felt relief but soon, I was spouting poetry and colours in my sleep. Speaking in lyrical tones in conversations, running my fingers over sculptures and painting as if to suck up their essence. It was torture. Necessary art celibacy.
So yes. My artistic practice is involuntary, it is an extension of me. I have no choice and that makes me happy in who I am. I am what I ‘Art’
What, for you, is the role of play in your artistic practice?
Oxygen. Without play, curiosity, challenges and experimentation my practice suffocates. Playing around is pivotal. HOWEVER, I recognise that people and organisations define play in different ways. Some say ‘A physical or mental leisure activity that is undertaken purely for enjoyment or amusement and has no other objective'. Others are more ‘activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation’ in their definition. I am definitely in the latter category. I do not like or agree with the addition of ‘Has no other objective.’
I believe that play has evolving and ever-changing objectives. I was a qualified school teacher for a short number of years, and the role of play in learning, perhaps more so in Scandinavia, was absolutely key.
Later, I got my master’s in education and psychology and went on to work in staff development in academia, teaching teaching to university lecturers. Oh what grim joys I sometimes had. As an artist and an academic, I mixed my playful practices and the resistance amongst academics was often great to start with. They had forgotten how to play. Forgotten the importance of play for learning. For moving forward and excelling in one’s chosen fields. So yes. I played with fully grown professors, lecturers and teaching assistants and got paid for it. And I would paint, draw and collage with them, for them even at them I must admit. Why? Because I needed to be true to my artistic practice. I had promised myself. Plus, I find that art, play, poetry, educational psychology, quantum science, geography you name it. They are all sides of the same story. Play does not exist un-situated, it is context dependent, like everything else.
Play with others and play with landscapes, tools, materials, by oneself… are all part of the process.
How does taking a playful approach lead you to new discoveries or take you in different directions?
Play is a door into a secret garden of endless possibilities and solutions. The main difference between being in the garden and standing outside the door searching for the right key, is courage. And thinking patterns. Put very black and white, which I am not usually a fan of but for the purpose of simplicity, it is the difference between convergent thinking and divergent thinking. Thinking in conventional learnt ways or totally letting rip.
If I have a creative problem. Say I am doing a life-story painting of a long life. An elderly person who has had a rich life with tons of experiences that were important to them… how do I grasp the essence of their joy? Sometimes it is easy. Sometimes it is a spiritual journey and a battle with the ‘normal’ chronological and episode driven themes on the one side and the feelings, emotions and experiences on the other.
If it doesn’t flow … I play. I play with materials, I play with nature, I non-stop write and I retell the story as a fairytale or horrorshow, whatever is the OPPOSITE of where logic would take me normally. Breaking patterns is so important to unlock that door into the secret garden.
Click here for more about Sussi Louise and her art.
Rose has been dancing 5Rhythms since 2003, and been an accredited teacher since 2011. In 5Rhythms she has found a practice where she can express and accept her dark, wild and tender self.
As a teacher and dancer Rose is drawn to explore ways of dancing that embodies this wild spirit, whilst honouring the physical truth of how the body ages and changes with time. Rose lives in an urban village on the edge of Bradford city centre, and teaches classes and day workshops in Bradford, Leeds, Manchester and online.
What is 5R?
The 5Rhythms practice was created by Gabrielle Roth and grew out of her experiences of teaching dance to elders, people in psychiatric units, children and young people, as well as thousands of people in workshops who were seeking a deeper relationship to their own bodies. Over time she identified 5 main Rhythms: Flow, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness, and together these form a Wave of energy.
In a class we move through these 5Rhythms, exploring in movement and dance how our own bodies hold, express and release these patterns and rhythms.
What, for you, is the role of play in the 5Rhythms practice?
What immediately came to mind was a session with Gabrielle Roth in one of the Teacher Training sessions when she asked us why so many people were drawn to 5Rhythms. We were offering 'spiritual' type answers, along the lines of 5Rhythms being a dancing path to ecstasy, a mindful movement practice and so on, and Gabrielle eventually stopped us saying yes yes yes (I think she was slightly exasperated with us) but the reason they love it is because it's fun! So I do see playfulness as being there from the beginning of my practice as a teacher. But the meaning I bring to 'play' is quite broad, and I see play as a willingness to explore something, in this case movement, without judging what is created. When I see children absorbed in their play, I see they bring everything to it, all their energy, attention and imagination, and it can be an intense experience, and I like that notion of play as something that is whole-hearted and involves the whole self, and in a way where what is being created is constantly changing and evolving. There is a fluidity in play that moves around fixed points.
In terms of the 5Rhythms, I think play sits most easily in the rhythm of Lyrical, and we are often more able to be playful with others in Lyrical. In Sweat Your Prayers Gabrielle writes: 'In Flowing you discover yourself. In Staccato you define yourself. Chaos helps you dissolve yourself, so you don't end up fixed and rigid in the self you discovered and defined. Lyrical inspires you to devote yourself to digging deep into the unique expression of your energy. And Stillness allows you to disappear in the big energy that holds us all so you can start the whole process over again.' (Sweat Your Prayers, pp 194-195). I feel that when we're digging deep into that unique expression of our energy, we're playing at a deep level in the dance, and we're most visible, and being visible, other people can join us in our dance, and can play with us.
In what ways does play feature in your teaching?
I like to think that what I described above permeates throughout my teaching, and especially in workshops where we have a bit more time to create an open space, and drop into the space and let go of the judging mind. I like to offer a piece of work (such as a movement exercise or a dancing journey) and then see how this works in the group, and what unravels as we 'play' with the material, and although I have an idea about what I hope people will gain from the play/work I'm curious to see how it evolves. I see this as grown-up play. Sometimes I offer ritual or theatre as part of my work, and while this can be quite solemn sometimes, I like to think that there is still a quality of play as described above.
And in your own practice?
There are times when I sense that I've dropped into the open space where I can 'play' rather than trying to get it right! I feel that the 5Rhythms enables every body to move in and out of moments of beauty and grace irrespective of our body shape or levels of mobility, and there are times when I'm aware that I so want to be in that state of grace that I try too hard and it becomes work with a goal or outcome rather than staying open to the possibility of what is here, in this moment. (And by the way, I think work and having goals and outcomes are very useful, but so many of us live in a world where they are prioritised over curiosity and playfulness, and so it's good to encourage more play!)
What are the rewards and challenges of connecting playfully 'in person'?
When I connect with someone in the dance, I experience a broadening, an expansion of my sense of myself. I feel that parts of me that are at the edge of my awareness become more available to stand in the light. I feel more confident. In that moment, I feel more trusting of myself and the other person, and of people in general. My experience of the challenges of connecting playfully in the dance are mainly to do with boundaries. I sometimes have a sense of intense energy in the dance, and I often do not want physical contact, and negotiating that in movement can sometimes be tricky.
How does that differ in an online environment?
One of the main challenges for me of dancing online is not being able to Flow around the other people, and not being able to feel the flow of energy around the room. And when it comes to Lyrical, I miss the joy of playing in flow, the hide and seek of following someone around the room, of spreading magic around the room. And one of the benefits of being online is that I have control over how near or far I am from the screen and from other dancers. I have loved the playful connections some of us have found online, and I do feel that there are some real benefits of connecting in movement online, especially with hands and with faces, where movements can be easier to isolate, mirror and amplify, so we can mirror back simple and small movements that might get lost in an in-person class where there is so much else to pay attention to.
To find out more about Rose and her teaching
visit her website here: http://www.5rhythmswithrose.co.uk/