Sunday, 4 October 2015



At the weekend I participated in Symplaysium, a one-day symposium on play, creativity and public space as part of the current exhibition Think.Play.Do. at The Tetley, Leeds.
The event began with an introduction by Zoe Sawyer, Curator at The Tetley, and Kenn Taylor, Participation Curator at The Tetley. They explained that the Think.Play.Do exhibition launched the gallery’s ambition to commission a play sculpture for Brewery Green. In the form of plans, sketches, maquettes and prototypes, the artists’ proposals will help ask the question ‘What if…?’ Working with a contemporary artist or artists’ group, The Tetley aims to commission the play sculpture as a contribution to the development of new public realm in the emerging ‘South Bank Leeds’, one of the largest regeneration projects in Europe.

The project has emerged in response to a lack of play facilities within Leeds’ city centre. The exhibition presents ideas from a range of artists interested in the public realm, sculpture, and intergenerational play.

The artists were invited to ‘start at the beginning’ and not to be constrained at this stage by real-world practicalities. Some of the projects have and will develop during the exhibition through a range of workshops and events devised by the artists. After the exhibition, some of the ideas will be taken to a design development stage in tandem with fundraising for the commission.

Nils Norman, an artist living in London, spoke about his practice as a whole and then specifically about his proposal for the play sculpture at The Tetley.


Norman “works across the disciplines of public art, architecture and urban planning. His projects
challenge notions of the function of public art and the efficacy of mainstream urban planning and large-scale regeneration. Informed by local politics and ideas on alternative economic, ecological systems and play, Norman’s work merges utopian alternatives with current urban design to create a humorous critique of
the discrete histories and functions of public art and urban planning. He exhibits and generates projects and collaborations in museums and galleries internationally.”

Norman’s website houses his archives, with playscapes being one of his main areas of research. He provided a brief history of playgrounds, which were introduced in the mid 1800s as a form of controlling children, and showed a variety of different playscapes from around the world.

He then gave an overview of his proposal for The Tetley’s play sculpture.

Nils Norman

Collaborative duo Robinson/Stirling (Dr Liz Stirling and Laura Robinson), delivered ‘Play is Powerful’ a collaborative action and talk with Jo Hassall and Ben Hall. Ben Hall and Laura Robinson delivered a slide presentation giving an insight into their work. Meanwhile, Liz Stirling and Jo Hassell, who had been sat in the audience, began to cake their faces in vaseline and what looked like dirt, donned scrappy wigs and began bounding round the room on all fours making unexpected growling and barking noises. We, the rather amused audience, were then encouraged to join them to explore the exhibition upstairs as dogs, sniffing, barking and crawling around the artworks. Unexpectedly for the artists, we all played game, and proceeded to alarm the other visitors in the gallery by crawling round the exhibition, throwing and chasing sticks and barking. It certainly provided an alternative way of viewing the exhibition!

Simon and Tom Bloor
The group discussion was wide ranging and covered topics such as the importance of bringing play outside of defined play zones. When asked about the history of playscapes, Nils Norman explained that there has been a shift towards abstraction in playgrounds as opposed to playgrounds resembling castles, ships etc. This encourages children to use their imagination more. He discussed some of the different playscapes around the world, and how they vary and are valued differently. For instance, German playscapes are regarded as pedagogical areas – areas of learning.

Natalie Finnemore
Alice Withers and Lucy Courtney-Clegg from REETSO (Ben Boothman is the other member) began the afternoon session with a presentation covering a range of their projects that “aim to incite thought and play through creative projects that involve the general public.” Their “work manifests itself in a variety of forms including; installation, performance and workshops.”


They provided us with a taster, by giving us a sheet of foil each. We then formed pairs and were both instructed to face each other then close our eyes, pick up the foil and cover the other persons face with the foil. We carefully had to fit the foil around their face so as to create an impression of their face. What a wonderful way of getting to know your neighbour!

Matthew Houlding

Lesli Godfrey, a playworker and lecturer at Leeds Beckett University gave the final presentation.

She described some factors contributing to creativity:

- Divergent thinking

- problem solving

- flexibility

- access to emotions

- self confidence

- risk taking

- openness to experience

She also explained that play is

- Spontaneous

- Rewarding

- Intrinsically motivated

- Offers some protection

- Actions and thoughts are in novel combinations e.g. role reversals

- Involves performing repeated actions, or exaggerated or incomplete actions 

- Requires the individual to be free from stress or illness

In ‘The Needs of Children’ Pringle (1986) argues that children need:

- Love and security

- New experiences

- Praise and recognition

- Responsibility

In order to promote play, the following actions should be taken:

- Encourage free play

- Provide opportunities for exploration

- Promote divergent thinking

- Allow risk taking

When asked about changes in policy regarding play over the years, Lesli told us that the last Labour government wrote the first National Play Strategy. This was abolished by the coalition, and Michael Gove wanted no play in education. The Welsh government have a law to provide sufficient amount of play opportunities, and the Scottish Government are looking to establish a National Play Strategy.

Jem Finer: Spiegelei 

The summary at the end of the day was a chance for us to give feedback to the curators about the proposals for the play sculpture, and to share with each other some useful links. Here are a few:

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