Artists at play

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As Permindar finalises some of the installations for her exhibition, she has found time for “play”. Her playful activities have resulted in a number of objects on the theme of clouds, that will not feature in the exhibition, but that have provided valuable distraction from the objects on which Permindar has been working since the start of her residency.

Permindar finds that, in between planned projects, she often enters a “playing phase”. This involves experimental practice with no defined outcome in mind, or  “that doesn’t lead to anything”. Or, in practical terms, activities that do not result in resolved, exhibitable works. Her goal in play is not to produce, but to reflect. It seems partly cathartic – ridding herself of distracting ideas that she know will not work – and partly exploratory – creating a safe space to test risky ideas without worrying about whether or not they work in practice. It also functions as a kind of cure for writer’s block, distracting Permindar from frustrations with the task at hand so that she can return to it, or to a new project, with a fresh mind. It helps to “put me in the  right frame of mind to start a new project, she says.

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Play can also happen in the final stages of developing an outcome for exhibition. Permindar’s plans for any installation are neither detailed nor precise, and so ideas continue to be shaped throughout the final stages of production. Her plans are purposefully vague and flexible so that options remain, even beyond the moment of installation in an exhibition space. These final alterations often occur through a process that Permindar likens to free play.

It is important to distinguish this kind of improvised “free play” from the improvisation and “automatism” of Wassily Kandinsky, as well as from the structured gamification of art or learning. Free play, in Permindar’s case, is a method of idea generation. The goal is to serendipitously discover something which may later be of use. That spark of inspiration must then be followed up: to encounter something that is “interesting, and then… to work out why it’s interesting”.

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This approach to play suggests that it is an activity that succeeds or fails. She describes successful play as that which “goes on to something else”. Even though this phase is purposefully unproductive, Permindar knows when it is successful, and when it just “doesn’t work”. However, she also recognises the potential value in failed play. She keeps all of her failed experiments in case they may later be reassessed, and contribute to future ideas.

Permindar is not alone in this use of play. Stephen Nachmanovitch has described “free play” as a method for provoking “spontaneous creation”, that often generates “the kind of creative breakthrough from which art and originality emerge”. For Permindar, play is how she makes unexpected leaps and discoveries, and how she encourages lateral thinking. While a structured, logical process of development would only yield predictable results, play leads to unexpected destinations.

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