PLAY! A tribute to the Homo Ludens

Patrick Ronse & Hilde Teerlinck

PLAY is a headstrong city festival organised from 23 June to 11 November 2018 that will take over the centre of Kortrijk with contemporary artworks. You can immerse yourself in the unique world of national and international visual art at diverse indoor and outdoor locations in the city. During PLAY, the city not only serves as a canvas; bit by bit the festival simultaneously dissects our relationship with ‘play’. How does play influence our social behaviour ? How does ‘play’ reflect the evolution of our society ? How important is play for our motor and cognitive development?



For the Belgian city of Kortrijk, we have curated PLAY: an urban festival in which forty international contemporary artists present a series of spectacular interactive outdoor and indoor interventions.

The concept of the project is based on Homo Ludens (the play-ful man’), a seminal book by the Dutch anthropologist Johan Huizinga (1872-1945). In this treatise, Huizinga explored the evolutionary significance of play’ and analysed how it turned ‘man the worker (homo faber) into a more creative and intelligent being. Huizinga was not the only scientist to be fascinated by this phenomenon. Many other psychologists and sociologists have followed in his footsteps and developed their own definitions of play, describing it variously as a ‘free, voluntary activity’ (Neuman 1973), one that is ‘invented and personally directed by the child or adult who executes this action’ (Hughes 1996) and ‘not necessarily linked to a precise purpose or aim to create an overt benefit’ (Koestler 1964).

Dr Stuart Brown, the American founder of the National Institute for Play, prefers to keep the concept open and points, instead, to the old adage that ‘one man’s pleasure is another man’s pain’. What is evident, nonetheless, is that improvisation, inventiveness and playing are fundamental aspects of human behaviour.

In Homo Ludens, Huizinga defined play as a human activity that is based on absolute freedom as opposed to social rules. While a game can be entertaining and should never be taken too seriously, it will often have the capacity to completely absorb the participant’s attention. Games are guided by their own logic and, while not intended to be based on rewards, they can also be a source of happiness and satisfaction. It is evident that playing is healthy for the mind, the intellect, the senses and the body. As an activity, it is a key factor for the development of our

locomotion, cognitive evolution (absorbing and transforming information), emotional well-being and social development, and this holds true for both adults and children alike.

An absence of play has been scientifically proven to trigger asocial behaviour, stress, hypersensitivity, emotional dysfunction, aggression and depression. It is for this reason that games are considered vital for our evolution as human beings. Playing not develops and our brains but is the secret behind our intelectual evolution and survival. One of the biggest advantages of our ability to play is that it has a positive influence on both

individuals and groups; it helps us to create a better, more human and tolerant world. Notwithstanding the advantages, society has witnessed a marked reduction in the time available for free play, which is generally perceived as being unproductive. Between personal and professional responsibilities, a hurried lifestyle and the increased attention paid to academics, there is no time for games. This is why we believe it to be the

perfect moment for an art project that invites the visitor to PLAY.

Nowadays, many people are preoccupied with maintaining a healthy lifestyle. We all want to live happier, longer and stressfree lives. Magazines are brimming with ideas for recipes, drinks, travel destinations and health-related activities but few speak about the oldest, cheapest, most efficient, accessible and simplest remedy of all: play.

In 1931, Carl Theodor Sørensen (1893-1979), a Danish landscape architect, was gripped by the idea that children needed spaces where they could freely create, invent and reshape their own environment. This would lead to better risk management in everyday life, he believed. Hence, with scrap material, Sørensen constructed the first adventure playground where you could climb a tree, make a fire, construct your own shelter, and so on. The playground is an invention of modernity. It emerged as a safe and adapted space that keeps children away from the streets. Although Sorensen’s adventure parks seemed riskier than the more traditional kinds, studies proved the very opposite to be true. It was not only landscape architects who believed that our cities should stimulate a free and a creative life. The architect Constant Nieuwenhuys (1920-2005), for example, developed the utopian project known as ‘New Babylon’. His designs for cities were destined to be built for an advanced species, the homo ludens (‘the playful man’).

These are just some of the thoughts that inspired us to create this exhibition. It is more than simple entertainment or an interactive experiment. The project aims to raise awareness of the fact that playing is a crucial component of our society. PLAY Kortrijk features several indoor and outdoor installations by international artists with a specific interest in the interaction between object and spectator. The artworks they present seek to establish dialogues with the public space and urban life. All of the artists are intrigued by how people engage with art, both physically and in terms of location. Experiencing these artworks will provide the viewers with an opportunity to observe how personal actions are informed by the structures that implicitly underpin our wider social orders.

The artists use humour to draw attention to the gaps and discrepancies between codes, social conventions and preconceived ideas. Through their installations and interventions, viewers will be able to develop a new, more precise and critical vision on the world of games. In the guise of ‘accidental tourists’, the exhibition will allow them to discover the hidden corners of Kortrijk and to look behind some of the doors that, in usual circumstances, would be closed. The borders between art and urban planning are becoming ever more blurred. Both disciplines nowcontribute to the reformulation of our urban space through play, staging and participation. PLAY Kortrijk will allow us to rediscover the city. Furthermore, it will demonstrate the ways in which our urban environment can become an active part of our lives, while also offering us a myriad of opportunities for

experiencing hitherto unseen types of entertainment.

Undoubtedly, it will also show the public that playing is not always about what we do, but why and how we do it. As a physical activity, play is good for our bodies; as an intellectual pursuit, it liberates our minds. A trip to Kortrijk will be a true adventure the fake casino by Guillaume Bijl, punish yoursef by sitting in Leo Copers’ voluntary prision cell, take a jump from Piero GOlia’s ramp, dance with hula hoops, ride Gavin TUrk’s colurful art-bikes or watch TV in Pipilotti Rist’s living room where you will feel like Peter Pan… because once you enter the game, you’ll notice that magic forces are at play!