A new beginning?
Today is my first day as PhD student, which feels a bit funny. As Camilla said in the morning when I left, hardly concealing her laughter: “have a nice first day of school” (when we met each other, she had just handed in her own dissertation and now, 9 years later, I’m finally ready. I guess that makes it painstakingly clear just how slow I am).
Anyway, it is the start of something new, and I’m slowly coming to terms with what that might mean. I had a chat with my supervisor, Eva, and she suggested that I start experimenting as early as possible. That’s music to my ears, of course, I can’t wait to get out there and make things happen in the world.
Those who know me will be aware that I have a rather broad interest in play, and I will only reluctantly limit my scope and prioritize certain kinds of play over others. While I initially wanted to consider all possible types of play, I eventually had to accept what a PhD project is also about and demands: focus. I chose not so much a type of play, but a context which allows for any interesting type of play I can think of: the junk playground (originally known in Denmark as “skrammellegeplads”, now often referred to internationally as “adventure playgrounds). I insist on using the “old” term, because I like how it invites a renegotiation of the meaning of junk.
While I will initially study practices, experiences and knowledge from existing junk-/adventure playgrounds, the core of my project will consist of a series of experiments, where I aim to bring the spirit of these playgrounds to new contexts and new people, primarily adults.
In designing these experiments, I wish to build on, but also reimagine and recontextualize the traditional playgrounds. The original “skrammellegeplads” was indeed also seen as an arena to practice democracy, and I believe there is still much potential here, as people engage in playful, embodied interaction with each other and the materials to create a shared reality that express their collective dreams and desires. I was recently pointed to the delightful journal “Anarchy – a journal of anarchist ideas”, where Colin Ward writes about adventure playgrounds in a way that resonates with me:
“The adventure playground is a free society in miniature, with the same tensions and everchanging harmonies, the same diversity and spontaneity, the same unforced growth of cooperation and release of individual qualities and communal sense, which lie dormant in a society devoted to competition and acquisitiveness.”Colin Ward
That image mirrors the atmosphere of the design experiments I want to conduct, though I don’t yet know what these playgrounds will look like in detail, or how exactly I’ll organize them. I imagine that I will make a few experiments for a longer duration of time, maybe a few weeks to a month, where people can come back several times, and some smaller interventions over a few days, like a weekend. I’ll be talking to municipalities, recycling sites, companies as well as good people, who are already involved in this domain in one way or another (suggestions are more than welcome!).
For now, I’m considering really short experiments – micro-experiments – to get the ball rolling and to start identifying and playing with central traits of the junk playground. I have often thought about the smallest conceiable invitation to play, but what might be the smallest conceivable way to spark deep, sincere “junk-based play” – that can then, in turn, lead to explorations of way of living together?
What could an experiment look like? What kind of materials are essential? What would you like to do? Maybe you want to actually play along?
Please, play along
Now is the time to remind you that I don’t think of this as just my project; it is our project, and the more people will play along, challenge me and shape this somewhat daunting endeavor, the more we’ll all make of it (assuming I can live up to the responsibility of joining the pieces in meaningful ways, but for now, let’s make that somewhat outrageous assumption).