Holding the play space open – a ‘rite of restoration’

Free-PLayIn thinking about 53 Million Artists, we might usefully draw on expressive arts therapy (Knill et al. 2005) – a form of therapy that specifically adopts art as a central medium of its practice – to explore a ‘rite of restoration’ and what it could mean in this everyday context. The general goal of interventions in rites of restoration is the increase in the range of play. What is being ‘restored’ here is the space to play with art, or as an artist; this is a form of restoration that restores “broken or separated cultural bindings, reconnecting with a sense of cultural identity, and most importantly, the possibility of becoming.” (Wilson 2014: 219).

Three aspects of this rite of restoration have been identified (Knill 2005: 83). The first is a process of decentering; the point of this is to “move away from the narrow logic of thinking and acting that marks the helplessness around the ‘dead end’ situation in question” (Knill 2005: 83). As Levine notes, “in order for therapeutic change to occur, there must be a process of destructuring in which one’s old identity comes into question and is taken apart” (Levine 2005: 45). The second is the provision of an expanded play space; here, it is important to note that play is “imagining what is not present” (Kimmel 2000: 198). Kimmel observes that play “is the subjective capacity of the human being to disengage from the pervasive presence of an existential and operational modality – the otherwise inseparable unity of time and space – which makes possible a representation and projection of an ‘objective world’” (Kimmel 2000: 198). Third is the process of holding the play space open.

In terms of 53 Million Artists, the first aspect is framed around the mission of the social movement and the doing of creative challenges, regardless of background, creed or ability. The expanded play space is provided through 53 Million Artists’ web presence and its developing public conversation about art and artists. This provides what might be thought of as a ‘ritual container’ (Knill 2005: 83). The focus in the research of this project is more in terms of the third aspect – holding the play space open. For this to happen requires the engagement of a range of “ordained or graduated” individuals or “change agents” (Knill 2005:77).

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