Campfire Conversation - Play and the City

Submitted by Lottie on Sat, 2010-09-11 14:20

Play and the city a campfire conversation at Spitalfields City Farm
august 4th 2010
attended by 12 people
in the tree house in the rain
after the thunder and before the rainbow.

Before everyone arrived I made a start with the campfire, I glanced up at the thick grey clouds, smelt the sweet rain drenched soil and then raked the ash and made some space in the spot where the fire is usually lit. I took the brown paper bag that the bread had come in and scrunched it up, placed it on the ash and began putting the kindling on top. Then a few pieces of wood I’d taken from two skips I’d passed on the way. The fire was set and I looked around for the lighter but couldn’t find it. So I just sat there feeling my body on the railway sleeper bench, smelling the air, feeling, sensing, breathing. I noticed a little smoke swirling up from the brown paper, even though it had been raining the ash must have still been warm from the previous fire. Over the next few minutes the smoke became thicker and thicker billowing and spiralling into the moist air. I watched it wafting over towards the currant and berry bushes and suddenly, looking back I saw flames had shot up and the smoke was gone. Bruce Springsteen was wrong, you can start a fire without a spark.

Lucy and Hannah from the Fun Federation arrived, We sat down by the fire and it began to rain heavily so we headed to the tree house. Shortly Nils Norman and then Charlie Wells arrived. We set up a few kids foam blocks to sit on and made a start on the bread and massive wedge of Montgomery cheddar.
Lucy and Hannah began asking Nils about his work. He said a few years ago he’d wanted to make an exhibition about adventure playgrounds but found that no archive of them existed, so he went to research them throughout London. Some one asked him about adventure playgrounds, do you mean like Thorpe Park? No he said playgrounds made by children themselves. He said there are lots in Germany and then they talked about playgrounds that are now being made for older people, Nils said there are more in Germany and that there is now one in Hyde park, part of a new direction in Adult play. Part of the intention of which is to keep adults healthy as we get older. Rebecca said she’d seen a kind of outdoor gym in Lambeth and it looks like no one used it, we laughed at how self conscious you might feel using it. Nils said he did lots of research and in the end made a book instead of an exhibition it’s Called an Architecture of Play , it’s published by four corners book . He’s since been to Tokyo and seen adult play environments there including areas for adults to bounce, like large bouncy castles.

Pat Khan arrived and said she thought it would be a good idea to get one’s MP to ask a question in the house – how to be joyful in the street, she said if a few people asked a few Mps then it would be recorded in hansard.

We were quite a few people by then
Ian Morrison and his friend who started an organisation that used play as a basis for it’s working culture, arrived an perched on branches in the tree.

I made a brief introduction, described my research into joyful behaviour in the streets, personally I’m interested in behaviours that are not about producing or consuming primarily and asked people, with the thee of play and the city in mind, how do they see it and what is particularly inspiring them at the moment?

Pat: I like noticing things. I liked the performance/walk last week with Walk Walk Walk, and the idea that they left posters around with details about what had happened in that location. She said that had taken work for them to do but was not productive and was very playful. Pat said she likes to observe and discover signs, places, people.
Hannah: works for the Fun Federation, she introduced it as an organisation started by a rich guy who had a vision of a room with adults playing together, their eyes sparkling, smiles and with open faces. She has worked for the Fun Fed since it began and now wants to take tie out from work. “I don’t want to work for a year, I want to play. I realise what a paradox this is to give up a job where I’m well paid to play so that I can play. The fun Feb do games , clowning, singing and dancing – stuff that engages people in their bodies and is not competitive. She’s now moved to a village and says in some ways its like the 1970’s kids still play in the streets and get excited about finding the simplest things – she’s heard them woop with excitement at finding treasure.
She raised the question, how do you remain an adult and remain open? How do you make context for adult play and make sure people don’t feel stupid? How does one describe play so that it feels like a legimate activity for an adult?

I ask if poinntlessnes is important and Hannah says she doesn’t want to get into intellectualising the point of pointless. She begins to talk about the clowning training, the value of being lost and of unlearning our impulse for getting safe. She says her clowning teacher urges staying lost and staying unresolved.
Lucy: introduces herself, says he also works for the fun fed, her job description is games mistress and she is a trained fool. She says she has intellectualised play a lot over the years and has played a lot over the years too. She knows a lot of games – it’s hard to be put on the spot and come up with a game but she just knows the right game for the right moment often. She says she’s interested in Street Training and how to relate to it. She says her work has been play so now play for her is stuff like doing the washing up. She talks very amusingly about a book about flw that she hasn’t read and says she gets into flow states often, when she;s ironing or crossing the street. At the Secret Garden party she was working with a team of people who’d known eachother for years and found a real harmony and magic inn the ways people related to eachother as they worked. She spoke a bit about her fool training with Jonathan Kay, it requires one to looks at ones self from every angle in every mood. She says she likes to apply play to the darkest times as a way to get out of them.

Ian Says
Play is what happens when your brain leaks out and infects your surroundings. Play is a game you play with your consciousness. Eg you play that you are a cowboy. It’s bit like democracy – some one says let’s play doctors and nurses and if they are convincing enough, other people join in. There is an element of gesturing and acting to make your will into reality. Some people can steer a group based on what ever they decide they want to make happen based on their arbitrary decision. There are ties when the normal rules don’t apply. Ian says the game Mornington Cresecent is good, if you can coe up wth a rule you’re playing.
He says an important factor is to not care what happens.

Ian’s friend says he founded an organisation where people could come in for as long as they wanted, do what ever work they though they needed t o do and they all got paid the same, that set up lasted for a year. The organisation lasted for 12.

Rebecca says she likes walking and mucking about in the street at night in Dalston. she says that’s her play and there is risk involved which is part of the play. She says she is using a right that millions of women across he world don’t have – the right to walk alone at night in the streets. We talk about how powerful the forces that make that harder, and using a right is so important in maintaining it. We talk about freedom and risk being synonymous.

Hannah talks about an interaction at the bus stop and we talk about how much more free and relaxed strangers are when at festivals – ore able to trust and interact with eachother.

Rachel says she loves to walk in the streets of London – she says it’s a city that precipitates it unlike New York or Chicago, she likes the way one can get lost. She says bein a child is to not look forward or backwards but to be in the moment. Children’s play is where utopia is formed. It’s not accepting what is – it’s the aking of utopias.

Ian’s friend asks – do utopias survive beyond childhood?

Rachel says we always need utopias – we always need the state of possibility. She says utopian thinking was so prevalent fro the 1900 to the 1970’s

Then she talks about teenagers – that we can support children’s play and describe the benefits but for young people it’s harder, they don’t want to do activities that are adult endorsed and have little to do.
I describe the project I do with the South London Gallery where young people train the police to have fun and tell the difference between pro-social and antisocial behaviour by taking the climbing on roves, swinging on railing and playing in their own ways.

I mention capoeira and say there is so much play in the roda and the exploration of what one can do with one’s body and with physical interaction with another person.

Play –power and will are identified as related to eachother
You can play with power

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