This exhibition essay was written for the PLAYFUL catalogue and colouring zine. PLAYFUL was an exhibition curated for National Youth Week at the Melbourne Library Service, City of Melbourne, April 2016. 

Evie Barrow,  Drawn Together,  cotton fabric, interfacing, embroidery thread, wooden frame, 28 x 20cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Evie Barrow, Drawn Together, cotton fabric, interfacing, embroidery thread, wooden frame, 28 x 20cm. Image courtesy the artist.

What does play mean to you?

Does it mean playing board games with your friends, experiencing a different world through a comic book, knitting a new toy, or watching your favourite cartoons late into the night?

Or maybe it means walking to class taking a different route than normal, downloading an app that lets you decorate your photos, or visiting an exhibition at your local gallery.

The most wonderful thing about play is that it can mean all of those things, and much more. While playing itself is an activity, playfulness is an attitude. It is a perspective grounded in imagination and creativity that we adopt in responding to the world and in this way, it is a perspective that is wholly individual and unique to ourselves.

PLAYFUL is an exhibition that celebrates fun and creativity, and brings together eighteen artists from a range of disciplines who are known for their imaginative and playful approach to art making. Some artists are known as toy makers, some work in illustration and design, while others use diverse mediums including ceramics, textiles and painting to express a playful attitude towards personal narratives and experience.

One of the strongest threads throughout this exhibition is an engagement with memory and nostalgia, informed by personal joys and passions. These include Kenny Pittock’s ceramic figures based on childhood heroes, to Rosaleen Ryan’s interactive Gashapon machines inspired by trips to the kawaii wonderland that is contemporary Japan.

Another strong thread through this exhibition is the importance of play in forming relationships and connections to others. Philippa Rice’s hand crocheted characters, which also feature as actors in her ‘Soft Spot’ series of stop-motion videos with Luke Pearson, offer an insight into the dreams and aspirations of this wonderful band of friends. In more abstracted terms, Tessy King’s sculptural installation suggests an interplay between the parts, a playful relationship formed through shape, form and colour.

The links between art and play is also keenly expressed in the works of toy makers and designers, some of whom are exhibiting their works in Australia for the first time. From SoreureuBear’s jointed animal critters, made using traditional teddy-bear making techniques to Anna Hrachovec’s knitted gnomes, inspired by scientific figures and illustrations, these artists demonstrate that the intersection between art and toys is a fruitful one.

Although this exhibition has been developed to celebrate National Youth Week 2016 – an annual celebration of young people across Australia – I hope that this exhibition will be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Play matters, and there is no age-limit on living a playful life – whatever that may mean to you.