Play / Ground

With Karen Logan, we invited people to revisit familiar local ground with us, accessing together a child-like sense of delight, belief and adventure in two complementary outdoor workshops designed to harness the power of the playful imagination.

Participants were urged to bring stout shoes, an open mind and a sense of humour.

In March, I met up with Karen, whose work I admire enormously, to invite her to do a walk for the Arts Trail this year. We got talking – about the forest, creative process, play and exploration – and the idea for Play / Ground was born.

We created two outdoor workshops that complemented each other, running on consecutive Sundays.

Mine was called Curate Your Own Imagination and took the form of a tour of various hidden and forgotten sites within less than a mile of my home; I worked on the basis that the familiar is often over-looked and almost anywhere can be fascinating when considered anew.

Starting at the central meeting point of the Quaker Meeting House (where various Trail events were being held), we made a loop through the surburban woods where medieval Epping Forest meets the plains & playing fields of Wanstead and Leyton Flats, covering gound that feels like the very edge of London.

By researching off the beaten path, I found numerous sites of interest – holly groves, veteran trees, antique graffiti, a lost pond and abandoned artwork.  We finished on Leyton Flats opposite the Hitchcock Hotel, where we lured a murder of crows to join us.

As we had labelled the event a “workshop”, and in an echo of local / international artist Bob Smith, I titled it Curate Your Own Imagination, offering a demo tour of my curatorial imagination.  I invited participants to the kind of conversation we might have in a gallery, considering and speculating on the spaces and artefacts created by largely unknown people working with and against nature. I curated the walk as a narrative arc – from entering the smallest and least impressive space on the boundary of the forest / main road – through a succession of more impressive spaces and sights – to the hoped-for Hitchcockian finale.

We carried out some activities en route – a listening ritual on crossing the liminal threshold to the forest, a mapping and wishing exercise in the grandest space, and came up with some spontaneous ones as a group.

The central themes were – most obviously – exploring the local and overlooked, being local, group dynamics and collaboration, and, as a subtext, belief.

Walking the path as a temporal metaphor, we talked of the real and the imagined, considered ritual and superstition with our modern minds, entertained ideas around fear and the forestly uncanny, and finally – with some persistence – transcended the dark symbolism of the crow in a rather joyful collective experience.