Oblique & Otherwise: An overview of the usefulness of doubt (Part 8)


Let’s go down a hole briefly, and look at Sonia Boyce’s Gulp, where Sarah Cole retells a story she presented at the On Not Knowing conference. When she retold the story she used water as a prop that she drank, gurgled, and dribbled.66 Cole was working at a primary school and encountered a story while she was investigating play with the kids there. She was asking several questions, including “how do we understand play?” and “how can play offer risks and test the boundaries of what is allowed in a playground?” {dribble} but also to sort of respect and understand that there are boundaries for different reasons, to understand what they are and why they’re there.”67 What she found out was that the kids dug a hole in an area of the playground they weren’t normally allowed to play within. In order to do this, they smuggled mouthfuls of water from the drinking fountain to the bit of flowerbed during recess. After 8-10 mouthfuls the hard soil was soft enough to dig. These kids wanted the chance to get dirty. Whose idea was it for a hole? Who decided the hole was big enough? They took turns concealing their child-sized mouthfuls across the playground past those supervising them. Were they excited by the risks? Probably. It was a collaborative effort, a form of playing a game of us versus them. Perhaps one of them set up the framework of “let’s dig a hole” as a way to play in the dirt, but once that was established, it was cooperative play. Each, in turn, taking risks and uncertain of when, or why it would stop. Part of the play was rule-making and rule-breaking.

One of the themes that underlies the works we discussed is this testing of boundaries, risks, and play. This “making a game of it” comes from the artists themselves being unsure where the boundaries lie and noting that it is worth investigating. Unknown to those artists is whether or not society wants to play, or how they want to play and whether the ideas that the artists use to kick off the conversation are worth investigating. What happens when they push at the boundaries? Perhaps there is a space created for a fight to happen out on this playground. Is that part of the rule-making and rule-breaking activities of creation?

These artists create a playground of sorts outside more traditional spheres of exhibition. Are these playgrounds the worlds Deller talks about?68 Artists who participate in this specific type of social engagement are creating a game in the playground and asking us to play. Are Deller and Cross engaging us and asking: “Do you want to dig a hole?” If so they squat next to us scratching their uncertainty along with us in the dirt, wondering what defines a hole and whether we will discover that before someone outside steps in and makes us stop.


66 On Not Knowing (pg 146)

67 GULP is a video that came out of the On Not Knowing symposium. The story, told by Sarah Cole, is a recollection of a practice she encountered whilst working in a primary school. Having heard the story, Sonia Boyce asked Sarah to repeat the tale on video, some two years later, whilst standing [with water bottles that she drank, gurgled, and dribbled] on the roof tops of the former Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design building in Charing Cross Road. This [section] is a transcript of Sonia’s video, made with Sarah, Trish Scott and Dan Scott in 2011. On Not Knowing (pg 146-148)

68 (Deller, Jeremy; ‘Situations Bristol’)

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