Guest Blogger: This article is written by Maya Jagger, a former home-schooled student currently studying on BTEC Extended Diploma in Art and Design at Harrogate College. Maya speaks about her college visit to The Baltic; opinions are her own.
At the Baltic, something struck me at the Playground exhibtion. What drew my eye firstly were the photographs, blown up and displayed everywhere, of children playing. They swung and they climbed, they slid, tugged, chased and they played! They played everywhere, absolutely everywhere.
In post-war Britain and Europe, children had taken to playing on bombsites. Children will have either just accepted their environment, or seen playing in these unsafe sites as a challenge with a bit of a thrill. Some, if not all, look to be working class kids who had next to no money in their families. After the war, people across the globe decided enough was enough. For children, play became a human right. Between the very late 1940s and 1980’s, adventure playgrounds were designed so they had free reign to have fun, experiement, work together, make friends and overcome fears. In the photographs, some places looked to be rather dangerous. To highten to sense of danger, many of the photographs were taken from ground level, so we stare up at the children, perhaps feeing a little uneasy, while they look down on us, top of the world.
On the Baltic website, it shows the many landscape architects, activists and artists who have contributed their work to this exhibition. Marjory Allen (Lady Allen of Hurtwood), Assemble, Joseph Brown, Riccardo Dalisi, Richard Dattner, Aldo van Eyck, M. Paul Friedberg, Michael Grossert, Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, Alfred Ledermann, Yvan Pestalozzi, Group Ludic, Egon Møller-Nielsen, Niki de Saint Phalle, Mitsuru Senda and Colin Ward are the main contributers.
In a documentary from the 1970s, Lady Allen of Hurtwood said on the subject of adventure playgrounds “Here, they can play with very dangerous tools, they can create their own houses, their own climbing frames, they can take really dangerous risks and overcome them, and above all it’s a place where they can meet their friends, where they can make new friends, in a very free and permissive atmosphere.” With no online video games or social media, these kids made friends through having fun and shared experiences, not by “adding” or “following” each other on Facebook and Twitter. They sought adventure and connection outdoors, offline, but connected.
Right now, parents are being accused of molly coddling their children. Nowadays schools have banned popular playground games such as hopscotch, patty cake, tag and skipping for fear of children getting hurt. In my opinion that’s just silly. Of course they’re going to get hurt, but that’s the point! It’s how you learn. It’s best to get these things out of the way as soon as possible. Being an overprotective parent only breeds fearful, dependent and vulnerable children, not strong adults. That is frightening.
Guardian writer Helen Pidd highlights this fact in her article The playgrounds that would give ‘elf and safety’ a heart attack “for most parents, the playground is a place to sit on a bench and fiddle with their phones while occasionally glancing up to check their children are still intact. Nothing can go too wrong, anyway: all the equipment is designed so there are no hard landings, jagged edges or dark hiding spaces.
The playground exhibit is targeted at adults, as well as children. Play is shown to relieve stress, conquer fear, spark creativity, and teach us how to focus, kill boredom and improve connections to people and places for adults, as well as children and teens as it happened.
The exhibit had interactive features to it, so we could play. We suddenly became a part of the exhibition, not just people viewing old photographs. We played, we ran, we paid no attention to signs. Some of us became subjects of new photographs. The exhibit caught the attention of us teens, who for a moment stopped compulsively checking their phones and had some fun.
People took risks. It was wonderful to not only witness children and their parents enjoying themselves playing together, but also to be able to play there too… with my friends. No one looked fearful. People were in the moment. People made memories and they captured them in photographs on their digital cameras and smartphones. People then became moments, moments within a bigger moment in time. Maybe someday they will be part of another exhibit? We shall see. We shall play again.