Children’s Games

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Francis Alÿs, Children’s Game #12, 2012. Courtesy of the artist on Vimeo

Francis Alÿs’ immersive eighteen screen video installation, Children’s Games (1999-prsent), is an exceptional example of art as an uplifting expression of the human condition, specifically in relationship to our social, emotional and cognitive development.

Children’s Games conveys how play is a consistent universal human element across disparate geopolitical environments. To create Children’s Games, Alÿs traveled the globe to film scenes of children engaging in collaborative play. Each segment in the video is from a unique location in the world, however, the games are largely archetypal and should be familiar to nearly everyone, like musical chairs (Children’s Game #12) and rock, paper scissors (Children’s Game #14). The common thread between all of the videos is the artful manner in which the children imaginatively activate routine objects (like rocks, coins and mirrors) and embark on a whimsical collaboration with their peers and the surrounding natural and synthetic settings. The scale, composition and symbolism of Children’s Games makes an immediate impact on the viewer entering the exhibition space (most recently on view at Contemporary Art Museum of Montréal/MAC).

Children’s Games use of visual and auditory signifiers heightens our senses and prompts us to personally respond by reflecting upon how explorations and discoveries are transformed into insightful and informed meanings. The artwork implores us to bring our own experiences and cultural backgrounds into the interpretation and analysis of the piece. Familiar sounds within each video, such as the chirping of birds, shuffling of feet, whoosh of wind, smack of a ball and laughter, are all sensory qualities that have common meaning and significance in regards to constructing playful memories.

In his art, Alÿs frequently examines serious sociopolitical, economic and environmental turmoil by employing whimsy and cautious optimism. This is exemplified through the children of the world in Children’s Games, who utilize play to transcend the grim realities that exist within many of their communities. In times of intense worldwide disruption, whether due to politics or pandemics, it is important to retain an audacity of hope and exhibit empathetic connectivity with others. Serious problems do not necessarily have to be met with solemn and firm reactions. It might sometimes be helpful to apply the invaluable explorations, discoveries and insights inspired by play to address certain issues that do not always have a simple solution. Play gives us agency to construct sincere social, emotional and constructive experiences. When imagination is liberally applied to daily life, we start to realize that materials are everywhere and compelling subject matter is simply dependent upon our playful and artful interaction with each other and the environment.

References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Bélair, Suzanne. “Children’s Games Exhibition by Francis Alÿs.” Enviroart. 26 Dec. 2019.

Elkind, David. 2017. The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally. Boston: Da Capo Lifelong Books. 

Gray, Peter. “The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and Adolescents.”  American Journal of Play, v3 n4 p443-463 Spr 2011.

Londoño, María Wills and Johnson Maude.  “Francis Alÿs: Children’s Games.” Magazine of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, vol. 30, no. 2, Fall 2019. pp. 4-5.

Zucker, Adam. “Learning Through Play, Playing Through Art.” Artfully Learning, 10 Aug. 2018.

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