Mindy Stricke's heard that line a lot this year, ever since the Toronto artist began bringing her collaborative art project, Play Passages, to events at home and in New York, and each time, she tells the folks who've sat down with a pencil and postcard to relax and trust their instincts.
"I really believe that everybody is an artist in some way," says Stricke.
"Adults think they can't draw. You pass a point and you're told you can't draw, so you just don't," she says, and her project, Play Passages, is a bit of an intervention for anyone who's suffered this unfortunate rite-of-passage — whether you've drawn her a picture or not.
A lot, I think, has been lost in terms of our connection to our own sense of play. We kind of forget how important it is.- Mindy Stricke, artist
But if you have, in fact, met Stricke while she's in action, she always has the same assignment for passersby: Share the story of your most vivid childhood memory — a time when you ditched the parents or the babysitter (or anyone else too old to doodle) and ran wild outdoors. Then, draw it.
From those accounts/drawings — and she's collected 75 of them over the last two years — Stricke creates abstract landscape photographs that look like the hazy scenery of a dream. Familiar, but never fully in focus.
The effect's not meant to be nostalgic, she says, but more of a reminder: it's not too late to get back in touch with your sense of play.
Here's one example.
Why do we press pause on play?
"I've been obsessed for a long time with children's free play, and how little of it they get," says Stricke. She's mom to two young kids, now aged 9 and 6, and when the artist began developing the idea for Play Passages, it was because she kept looking at how their reality — scheduled activities, mandatory supervision — compared to her own childhood in the New York suburbs. (One of her own memories, an afternoon quest to find a hidden rope swing by the river, features in two Play Passages photos.)
"As they started to get to the ages where I had had a lot of freedom as a child, it just started to bother me. It made me start asking questions," says Stricke. "I wanted to talk to people about their experiences — how it relates to how they parent, but also just how they think about childhood, and how they think about play."
"A lot, I think, has been lost in terms of our connection to our own sense of play." Kids at play are creative, they take risks. "We kind of forget how important it is," she says.
Just like the best schoolyard games, Stricke's project requires multiple players, and she recruited most of her collaborators at public pop-up events run through Earth Day Canada's Earth Play, a program that lines up with her personal interest in getting kids outdoors and having some off-leash fun.
On site, she collected stories from parents, getting them to jot down the details on one side of a postcard, and then draw a map of where the story took place on the other. (That's the bit that's blindfolded.)
After they'd coloured in their pictures (eyes open this time), Stricke pulled up the location on Google Earth, and they'd scroll through the satellite pictures together.
"It's virtual travel — and virtual time travelling in a way, too," she says. For off-grid locations, they'd dig up open-source images of the site.
Later, Stricke used the images to create photographs. She shoots her iPad screen with a macro lens, warping Google Maps pics into scenes that, ideally, nail the colour and feeling of each storyteller's sketch.
An art installation that doubles as a playground
June 24, Stricke will take the project back to the park, but this time, she's not gathering stories. Instead, she's turning Play Passages into a functioning "adventure playground" at Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods Park. Along with boxes and rope and other ordinary junk with the potential to become an in-demand toy — provided you're a kid with a smidge of imagination — she'll be installing 17 of her photographs, printed on large swaths of fabric. Kids aged 6 and up are totally welcome to play with those, too, and Stricke's not precious about whether they're worn as superhero capes or mixed into mud pies.
What was linking everyone's stories was a combination of adventure, imagination and freedom, for sure.- Mindy Stricke, artist
The stories captured in those 17 images are set all over the world — a farm in Ontario, a front yard in Kyoto, a bamboo forest in California — and the storytellers span multiple generations, from '80s kids to '40s kids. An audio track of each person sharing their childhood memory will be played to give some context to the scene.
"I think what was linking everyone's stories was a combination of adventure, imagination and freedom, for sure," says Stricke.
"The thing for me is for adults to look at this. [...] It's to make people think about their own relationship to play and creativity. Like right now. And how that relationship was formed by their own childhood."
"What happens when we don't take risks? What happens when we prescribe play? Or even, what we do as adults when we say, 'Oh, you can't do that because you're not good at it."
"Whatever happens, I hope that people just see the beauty of play."
Check out a few of the stories featured in Play Passages.
Jesús Torres Vázquez
Mindy Stricke. Play Passages. June 24, 1-5 p.m. at Trinity Bellwoods Park, Toronto. www.mindystricke.com.