The Playmakers Exhibition Celebrating Birmingham MAC’s 50th Anniversary.
From Renaissance pantomimes and festivals, to the ‘happenings’ of the 50s and 60s, guerrilla street art/theatre of the 70s and 80s, 'impromptus', pop-up galleries and raves of the 90s, to the Secret Cinema of last month, there have been many names for ‘performance art’ or as they are more popularly called currently ‘interventions’. On 10 July, Dr. Viv Golding and I attended an artist talk, ‘Game On’, hosted by The Japan Foundation in London. The seminar/talk featured the work of interventionist artists Takashi Tsuchiya and Chishino Kurumada, and their most recent collaboration exhibit project with Birmingham’s MAC (Midlands Arts Centre).
Takashi Tsuchiya and Chishino Kurumada are a husband wife artist team that create ‘interactive opportunities’ based upon ‘mochitisu motaretsu’ or the ‘give and take’ fostering of community spirit. They consciously manipulate, rearrange and re-envision the practical structure and social use of spatial environments to encourage the development of human interactions and wellbeing. It was a fascinating seminar that reaffirmed the importance of visceral experience and I think inspired everyone in attendance to go to visit the exhibit in person; which is precisely what a few of us from Leicester Museum Studies subsequently did.
The MAC itself has a cozy-yet-exotically-labyrinthine quality about it; not unlike what I imagine the isles of the lotus-eaters would be like. The MAC’s ‘Bridges Café’ serves pleasant food while vestiges of previous MAC projects whisper from every corner, telling stories of an active, delightful past. Time ceases to have any importance; the Centre is enchanting. Fortunately for Amy, Trina and I, research museologists are, upon induction into graduate studies, inoculated against such charms. We were women-on-a-mission, not to be trifled with, nor be swayed by the wiles of red velvet cake and tea.
(We were perhaps momentarily ‘delayed’—but not ‘swayed’. Weakened by the brisk forty-minute walk between the rail station and MAC, we reasoned that in order to do justice to our work, we needed a bit of fortification before continuing almost immediately ‘onward and upward’ to review ‘The Playmakers’ exhibition, where through happenstance, we were fortunate enough to visit with Craig Ashley, the Visual Arts Producer for MAC.)
During a brief conversation, Craig Ashley intimated that the choice of the artists, and the outcome of ‘The Playmakers’, could not have better fulfilled expectation. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the MAC, the display honours the history of the MAC by paying thematic homage to the founders and to the children’s theatre, fine art and puppetry that composed the early purpose of the MAC.
The exhibit in its production process also brought the community together. Pointing to the shapes strung from the gently turning overhead mobiles, Craig reminded us that these works were based upon drawings by local children—young participants that may, just as their parents brought them to the MAC to take part in this project, perhaps eventually bring their own children and grandchildren to the MAC fifty years from now.
Standing in the midst of Playmakers, the visitor is completely surrounded by the imagination of the artists (and the community children) that produced the exhibit. It is difficult not to be amazed. Giant puppet effigies of the MAC’s founders are brought into gesticulation through the physical interactions of visitors. Lights cross the shapes of the mobile characters, casting the shadows against the walls in all directions. Large counterweighted pulleys cause dancing movements in various elements of the displays on opposing sides of a large bridge slide that divides the exhibition space. The entire exhibit was a joyful invitation to play!
Walking away from the exhibition itself however, the intellect begins to consider the inherent analogies of interpersonal relationships insistent within the dynamics of the exhibition space—of how we all have an impact upon the world around us. We may not always realize the impact of our actions; we don’t always know who or what we are changing through what we do—or don’t do; through the strings we do or don’t pull. Often, we have to learn through trial and error.
‘The Playmakers’ potentially reminds the visitor that each of us are intimately connected with others, based upon the interactive choices we make. Additionally, with its references to the origins of the MAC itself, the exhibit also reminds the visitor that the world we know now, was created by people and events that have gone before us—just as we are creating a world for those not yet born. This truly extraordinary exhibit continues through to the ninth of September.
For more information please visit MAC’s The Playmakers exhibit site: