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Recently, a teacher of one of the classes to whom I gave a workshop during my residency here in Korea asked me if I benefited from the visit as much as the students did. On that day, I gave a short talk in the exhibition hall, and the children drew, created their own games, and together we went through my studio upstairs. I suppose that for most people, these would fall into the category of Favors You Don’t Really Want to Do But Feel Forced To—”occupational hazards” that goes with the territory.

But as one who operates on interactivity, and one who is still in the “emerging” process, I think I actually need these visits. I’ve done three talks/workshops in Korea in the five months I’ve been here, and for one of those, I was actually the one who asked the program manager to find young people who would want to visit the studio. This doesn’t apply to all artists, of course, and quite a lot of my favorite artists prefer to be left alone, as I do most of the time. Creativity for me thrives on solitude, and anything that takes me away from my primary goals is an interruption.

But visits, particularly of the workshop-py kind and particularly from children, are special to me. (Personally, I prefer kids who are 12 years old or younger, and with at least one chaperone, thanks!) Giving a Keynote presentation is just 20% of the experience. The other 80% is about the conversation that goes on between them and me, between them and my work, and among themselves. Here are five reasons why I think I should make a conscious effort to get out of the confines of my studio and make sure I keep bringing people below five feet tall to see both process and finished piece.

1. Children bring me back to the essence of the work by asking the toughest questions.

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Thankfully, children do not ask me any pseudo-intellectual academic queries. I also know they probably don’t care  (at least directly) about the institutional strings that come with my work, such as the artist statement, the photos, the website, the design, the branding, the talks, the tweets, the blog posts, and all the administrative work I have to do in the background. Apart from the fun they have during those few hours, they will likely not care about my work or me once they step out of the studio—it’s just another day for them, and they have no ulterior motives. I think this is why they ask me questions that make me go, “Yikes, I didn’t think of that.” It makes me think more deeply and objectively about my work.

2. Children ask questions of themselves and of each other.

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When children use my projects as frameworks for self-discovery, it is incredibly rewarding. I remember telling a friend after one workshop that the peak of a project’s “happiness curve” (yes, I have that for all the things I have done) was that day, seeing excited kids jump on my work and doing drawings, instead of the exhibition that came soon afterwards.

3. Children are great prototype testers.

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…because they know what to do and they don’t even have to ask questions and it’s faster to get results and oh my god with adults sometimes you have to FORCE that window of childlikeness and wonder open with a metaphorical monkey wrench and geez at the end we’re both exhausted. Happy, but exhausted. With children, it’s just easier. There, I said it.

4. Children make me admit my mistakes without shame.

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This is something I had to admit to myself only after discussing my work a number of times to different people, but I discovered that with children for an audience, my intention is to delight, while with adults as an audience, my intention is usually to impress. Guess which one is a lot more fun?

5. I am forced to clean up.

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This seems like a silly thing to add, but it’s good to be forced to make sure the studio is tidy, that I have sensible presentations on hand, and that I am showered and presentable. Before, you know, I go down that rabbit hole.

 

In a new series, I create tape installations that allows the audience to create their own games.

Games have constraints, such as the boundaries created by tape. In this piece, The Grid I, I transformed an exhibition gallery using masking tape. One side has only parallel lines, while the other side has both parallel and vertical lines.

The Grid I (April 2013)

The Grid I (April 2013)

The Grid I
April 2013
installation
31 by 34 feet
masking tape, toys

The Grid I (detail)

The Grid I (detail)

Agents of play were also provided, such as a jump rope, game tokens (in this case, baduk, or the Korean version of Go), a stuffed die, and balloons.

agents of play

agents of play

In the past week, I invited two groups two play with this grid. They had to create their own game, with their own rules, and utilizing the agents of play if they wished. They had to answer questions such as, “How many people or groups can play?” “How can I score a point?” and “How can I win?” (if it was a game about winning).

The first was a group of teenaged boys (aged 17-18). Most wanted to be architect, while the others wanted to be painters. They divided themselves into two groups and created the following games:

1. No Bounds

Players stand in a circle, avoiding the tape, and kicking a balloon without letting it fall to the ground.

I - No Bounds (balloon)

I – No Bounds (balloon)

2. Avoid Baduk

A player rolls the die, and the number corresponds to the number of baduk tokens he takes. He throws the baduk pieces at the other players standing in a line opposite him, who try to avoid getting hit.

2 - Avoid Baduk (stuffed die, baduk tokens)

2 – Avoid Baduk (stuffed die, baduk tokens)

The second group I invited was a lovely group of 12-year-old children from a local elementary school. Here are the games they played:

3. Baduk Slide

Players slid the baduk pieces across the floor. The one who slides the baduk piece the farthest wins.

3 - Baduk Slide (baduk tokens)

3 – Baduk Slide (baduk tokens)

4. King

One player is the “king,” who is unknown to the others. They follow each other using the lines of the grid, whispering and finding out who is the king.

4 - King (just the grid)

4 – King (just the grid)

5. Tennis

Players used the plastic piggy banks as modified rackets and took turns hitting the balloon.

5 - Tennis (plastic piggy banks, balloon)

5 – Tennis (plastic piggy banks, balloon)

6. Volleyball

Players used the die as a ball, and the rope as a net.

6 - Volleyball (rope, stuffed die)

6 – Volleyball (rope, stuffed die)

I learned a lot about children’s creativity and ingenuity from this project, and I think the kids had fun. It was fascinating to see objects whose function was completely changed for the purposes of games they thought of. It was also interesting to see components of traditional games and sports (such as tennis and volleyball) be used.

I definitely liked creating a piece where the audience had to interact with it for the artist’s intentions to be fulfilled. I would love to keep turning galleries and exhibition halls into playgrounds. Critically, these are children who are overexposed to online games—I was happy to get them unplugged from their smartphones and computers and plugged into their imagination. I’m definitely looking forward to pushing this idea further.

Some behind-the-scenes images with the elementary school kids. (Photos by Kate Kirkpatrick)

Many thanks to Ms. Se-Hui Park of Shin-il High School and Ms. Ju-Eun Lee of Changdong Elementary School, their awesome students, and to the staff of The National Art Studio of Korea who assisted with organization and translation.

Last December 1st, I held my first draw-a-thon. (You know what a marathon is, right? It’s just like that, except that you’re drawing.) It was at the Museo Pambata (Children’s Museum) of Manila, Philippines, for their Children’s Advocacy Program. I brought in two of my projects, DrawHappy (a global art project on drawing your happiness) and Rorsketch (a visual perception project where you draw your interpretations of clouds). After showing them some current sketches and making them warm up their hands, we got to drawing.

Kids, I have to say, are not only talented and completely open to new experiences, but also insatiable when it comes to pouring their imaginations on paper. The terror of a blank canvas doesn’t apply much. Here are some of the sketches:

Rorsketch

DrawHappy

And some photos of how it rolled:

Then we had chocolate ice cream, fudgee bars, and grape juice. Oh, to be eight years old again!

Thanks so much to the Museo Pambata for hosting me! Visit them on your next trip to Manila. And do emaill me at theperceptionalist[at]gmail.com if you’d like to do a draw-a-thon in your school or organization.