• Jen Crawford, Bethaney Turner and Cathy Hope

‘[P]lay is the laboratory of the possible. To play fully and imaginatively is to step sideways into another reality, between the cracks of ordinary life. Although that ordinary world, so full of cumbersome routines and responsibilities, is still visible to us, its images, strangely, are robbed of their powers.’ (Henricks 2006: 1)

Play evades and escapes our attempts to define and delimit. It has variously been positioned as benign, crucial, intractable, frivolous, developmental, wasteful and subversive. While it may occur ‘between the cracks of ordinary life’ (Henricks 2006: 1) and be denoted by a ‘feeling of Otherwise’ (Shields 2015: 300), it is the very everydayness of playful engagement that captures our attention in this issue of Axon. As the papers and works brought together here attest, it is hard to imagine creativity without play. Play infiltrates and enlivens creative practice research. It allows us to think and to be otherwise in the academy.

Play, at its heart, escapes orthodoxy. It enables the generation of alternate ways of being and doing in and of the world. As Haraway notes, ‘[p]lay makes an opening. Play proposes’ (2008: 240). While games may require rules and, indeed, we identify something is ‘in play’ when the rules of the game appear to be agreed to, playful experiences exceed conventional systems of functional interaction and knowledge creation. As Henricks writes, ‘playful behavior is… a protest against orders and orderliness’ (2006: 209). Haraway echoes this when she observes that the joy of play rests in its ability to ‘breaks rules to make something else happen’ (2008: 238).

This generative relationship between rules and rule-breaking is addressed through a game of substitution in Julienne Van Loon’s contribution to this issue, which proposes a resituation of the relationship between play, knowledge and creative practice within the academy. If such relationships are to be ‘in play’, then we must take risks. For Peta Murray, Mattie Sempert and Stayci Taylor, ‘creative and intellectual risks’ are enabled by, and manifest within, their development of the form and concept of the ‘playpen’, a new imagining of conference panels that allows unsupervised play.

Play pushes beyond what is circumscribed as the ordinary, and beyond concern with individual bounded entities, to focus on relational entanglements full of alternative possibilities. It is this capacity to have ‘something else happen’ that makes play identifiable and creates implications beyond the specific moment of being ‘in play’. This can be induced in a multiplicity of ways as we will see throughout this issue. Kelly Malone gives us writing as performance, in which the cutting and remaking of her handwritten texts produces new textures and contexts, and new experiences of the programmatic rules of language. Robert Reid’s discussion of the live games coordinated by Pop-Up Playgrounds shows us play used to expose and question the malleability of the rules at work in social space. Play, in all of the works presented here, is induced by ‘the dynamic relation between a myriad of charged particles’ (Rose, Cooke and van Dooren 2011: 334). Each entity entering into material-semiotic fields may have its own charge, but it is only in interplay that play both enacts, and is enacted. As such, as Rose, Cooke and van Dooren write, ‘play does not only happen within a field of interactions[;] in an important sense it is also a charge which generates that field and the relationships that comprise it’ (2011: 337).

Play requires action. It is a doing that is only enlivened when players are in play. The charge of play is not simply a mystical entity beyond our grasp. In fact play is, as Kane asserts, ‘a deep, natural and lasting resource’ that can be enlivened through the creation of particular conditions (2004: 39). While it is not explicitly goal-focused, play can be mobilised to encourage new, potentially more productive, engagements with the world. To do this it seems to require certain clusters of conditions and an imaginative use of available resources. For poets, as Monica Carroll and Jen Webb explore, ‘play is a mode of being’ that enables the stretching of poetic forms beyond the page to infiltrate modes of encounter with the world, particularly with other poets. Similarly for Ashley Haywood, being in the intensities of imagistic play, along with time and responsiveness, enables the movements and shapes of the ‘cell of her art’ to emerge. Mez Breeze’s images and account of sketch-sculpting in a Virtual Reality world give us very visual traces of play as active immersion, opening questions about what happens when technology partners our thinking. Alex Raichev extends the potentiality of such partnered play to all of us, through an invitation to play a game of Markov poems, using a mathematical process and automatic generator to make a melded source text with curiously liquid syntax. Ya-Wen Ho and Roman Klapaukh take a different direction with their AI séance oracle, offering a responsive interaction with a restless entity who unseats conversational rules while beguiling us to engage again and again.

Play is ‘in play’ in all of the works encountered in this issue. If you are willing to enter into risky relations, we ask you to play with us, the works and the ideas. Who knows where this will lead? After all, play, as Haraway writes, is ‘one of those activities through which critters make with each other that which didn’t exist before… Play makes possible futures out of joyful but dangerous presents’ (Haraway 2015: 234).

The Editors of this issue would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people as the traditional owners of the land on which Axon is produced.


Works cited: 


Haraway, D 2008 When species meet, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Haraway, D 2015 ‘Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulhucene. Donna Haraway in conversation with Martha Kenney’ In H Davis & E Turpin (eds) Art in the Anthropocene Encounters. Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies, London: Open Humanities Press

Henricks, TS 2006 Play Reconsidered: Sociological Perspectives on Human Expression, Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press

Kane P 2004 The play ethic, London: Macmillan

Rose, DB, Cooke, S, & van Dooren, T 2011 ‘Ravens at play’ Cultural Studies Review, 17 (2), 326-43

Shields, R 2015 ‘Ludic Ontology: Play’s Relationship to Language, Cultural Forms, and Transformative Politics’, American Journal of Play, 7 (3), 298-321