Art & the Ethics of Play

Vilhaeur’s writing on Human Play was something for great consideration not only in the context of teaching in the context of the art university but it also made me think deeply about the connections to my practice in museums and galleries.

I started to consider how within the arts we are encouraged to explore and test boundaries which all stems from the idea of play and how we develop into adulthood. I carefully considered how as children, humans lack fear and play as a way of informing and navigating their way around the world – again this is a method of testing boundaries and we start to formulate our ideas.

I then wondered what is so different in adulthood? do we cease to play the game or do the rules simply change? The latter in fact is much more accurate. As we age the concept of play becomes deliberate and therefore more calculated very often with the rules being heavily enforced acting as a constraint which opposes the original concept of play being a form of freedom.

The idea of participating in ‘the game’ which can be akin to the university experience builds a certain level of resistance. as with the introduction of new rules and characters, there is a challenging and stretching which causes a constant re-evaluation of self which is critical to development. in acknowledging the players part we equally acknowledge their autonomy which speaks further to the ideas of where the player places themselves and their ability to be self-critical by observing from the outside whilst still participating. It is thought that it is not possible to have awareness of both perspectives as it takes the player out of the game – does this truly stop the player from being entirely engaged?

On Gender

Gender Diversity at UAL

Working with students who fall within the Culture & enterprise programme it is imperative that they understand a wide range of view points. Their studies are mainly focused on historical facts which is often painted as objective but is regularly characterised and enhanced through the revelation of personal and more subjective histories which draws parallels with the ability and more importantly freedom to as ones desired gender. I would be inclined to approach exploring a subject such as this through the use of an activity to explore empathy. However an important takeaway from must be to never make the assumption of how another group may feel but to simply get into the habit of listening more.

My personal practice often surrounds exposing hidden narratives of groups that for so long have been oppressed by dominant cultures and groups through the initiation of dialogue and the staging of other interventions.

A consideration: Understanding Patriarchy

The extract is explosive and instantly the first line drives home the urgency for breaking down patriarchal systems within society.

Point one: Gender roles are learnt/taught/forced and not innate

Hooks describes perfectly the widely accepted gender roles within the western society which have for so long been actioned in homes, religious institutions, educational establishments and work environments with the use of a personal anecdote. The description of the unfiltered emotions surrounding an interaction she had with her brother demonstrate that traits such as competitiveness and aggression were not reserved for boys/men and on the contrary very natural emotions to feel in said context. Although she acknowledged that her story of being beaten into submission by her father wasn’t isolated, unique nor special it is poignant in mirroring the way in which those same traits and more are seen us undesirable in women in wider society with judgements often being made on their home life, relationship status and character impacting negatively where the same traits would be praised in men and seen as a sign of (false) strength as pinpointed in the text

Point two: Desire can override repulsion and morals

Although many of us within society are aware of the devastation or as Hooks puts it the “life-threatening” nature of patriarchy there will more often than not be a tendency to openly display patriarchal behaviours. The cyclical nature of patriarchy being reinforced in homes within each generation sees a pushing away from associated behaviours because of the internal moral compass or one being on the receiving end of these systems. However, when the desires of an individual are suddenly within reach it is often easy to bypass previously held views when it becomes evident that patriarchy is rewarded and may accelerate your efforts.


Question/provocation: Are we indirectly feeding into patriarchal systems by blaming women and mothers for reinforcing patriarchy in the socialisation of their children/friends/family as ‘traditional caregivers’ when in fact they are most oppressed?

A reflection: Pay it No Mind – The life and times of Marsha P. Johnson

Image source:
Marsha P. Johnson

Watching Pay it No Mind – The life and time of Marsha P. Johnson was not the first time I had encountered the iconic smile as through watching similar docufilms such as Paris Is Burning which came after led me to other footage/videos where I had become aware of Marsha’s work within the LGBTQ community. It’s strange because watching the film felt like ‘home’ in the sense that Marsha’s warmth radiated through the screen. In a way, it seems like a total contradiction that someone who had experienced such brutality from constantly being othered was still able to be so selfless as the countless anecdotes of Marsha’s close friends and non-biological kin attested.

As I think back to watching the film with a great degree of interest the thing that stood out to me the most is that although all of the people within the film appeared to be singing from the same hymn sheet whilst talking about Marsha’s vibrancy and sometimes outrageousness which made Marsha so well loved, there was never quite a consensus amongst all these narratives on Marsha’s identity. The interviews flittered between referring to Marsha as ‘he’ and ‘she’. I was left wondering about the fluidity of Marsha’s identity and whether or not the reference points made by her friends and non-biological kin really did Marsha justice as it seemed that Marsha’s drag was no longer a performance but an integral part of a built identity which enabled a life lived in truth and to the fullest.