THE CHAIR PROJECT: co-creation through material play.
In the 1830’s Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) first proposed his building block “gifts” as part of pre-school education following a detailed consideration of educational methods (Froebel 18). These began as abstract forms (sphere, cube, and cylinder), and developed to include triangular prisms, and rectangles. This led in turn to the wood block becoming an integral part of childhood education and developed from simple forms to specific architectural blocks. In the twentieth century came even more specialised construction toys followed, such as Lego.
This tradition of play blocks influenced generations of creative thinkers, and has been cited as a factor in the works of many artists, including many of constructivism in revolutionary Russia, the Weimar Bauhaus, and De Stijl. However, while often referenced as an influence on form (Brosterman 1997), block play is also an excellent vehicle for exploring creative practice and material thinking, more in keeping with Froebels original intentions. Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) had renewed discussion of play methodology in the 1950’s and these ideas are currently receiving serious academic attention (Ryall, Russel, Maclean 2013).
As an example of this emphasis on play as methodology, this paper considers the1999 Chair Project originally proposed as part of the Art Links events marking the opening of Dundee Contemporary Art. Through the playful manipulation of small chair shaped wooden blocks children were invited to explore the spatial relationship of things and how these arrangements might open up a discussion of ideas of place and community. This playful methodology was proposed as a tangible demonstration of the exploratory nature of creative practice. The project was applied in Aberdeenshire schools for the making of two public art projects, at Tyerbagger and Ellon. The project also engaged others in multi-generational co-creative practice and continues to be used in educational workshops for understanding architectural design.