Did a translation this morning of the Straatnieuws article. Still have to do the interview on the last page, also the do-it-yourself page that I am quite proud of, but here goes:

Streetnews special for June 2010

Take public space back – play on the street

Step out of your everyday habits and play!

Everdien Breken, artist with a mission, brings playfulness back to the street.

By Marcia Ottevanger   Pictures by Ilvy Njiokiktjien, Arie Langerak, Jaap van der Mei

Ilvy Njiokiktjien Spelen op Straat Jaarbeursplein Utrecht

Playing is not just for children! Everyone should play every once and a while! Artist Everdien Breken could shout this message from the rooftops. She misses the unexpected in public space, and wants to surprise people with small demonstrations of playfulness. Those who, in the past few weeks, met with chalked circles or even a complete path for hop-scotch knows it: these are occasions for play! At several locations in the inner city Breken paced out her games, meant for everyone wanting to take a small leap back to his youth. The games are her graduation project at the Utrecht School of the Arts, but above all her way to show the Utrecht people that being a little crazy every once and a while is allowed. Playing on the street for beginners.

At Janskerkhof students and buisiness people in suits and with laptops hasten from and to the city buses. A crowded place, filled with pressed-for-time grownups on their way to their next appointment. Under their noses something unexpected happens, something that does not fit in the daily routines at ‘their’ bus stop in Utrecht. On the pavement an artist, surrounded by boxes of chalks, is drawing a pattern for a game of hop-scotch. Blue, pink, purple, green, tightly drawn squares with a half-circle at the end to be able to turn and go back again. No room to sidestep this game, no need to either, because art student Everdien Breken (49) draws the game for all those hasty people passing by. It is her present for these people in a hurry, a way to rediscover  playfulness in a moment of having fun.

Dutch historian Johan Huizinga already signaled the importance of ‘play’ in the ‘30’s. In his book ‘Homo Ludens’ he describes play elements as an essential part of culture. To play is, according to him, not to pass time but to work with something essential. In 2010, this way of thinking is  far removed from daily reality.

This is what Breken notices more and more  in her daily life. “I remember visiting a museum with my little daughter, a few years ago. Her daughter enjoyed a brightly coloured work of art, and apparently did so too noisily. Another visitor  snapped:  ‘this happens to be a museum, you know! ‘  As if one can only enjoy art with a solemn look on one’s face!” Breken says indignantly. This small incident was one of the triggers that made play and games a central theme in her graduation work at HKU, the Utrecht School of the Arts.

About circles and commuters

The sun is out at one of these squares  in Utrecht where people always hurry. At Jaarbeursplein, commuters hasten from the central station to the office. The line marked out  on the pavement of the square  signals pedestrians to their place of destination as fast as possible. Very handy, very efficient, but for Everdien Breken this square is the apogee of a staged environment. A place where there is no room for the accidental, or for playing. And being so, it is the  perfect place for one of her street actions.

At the drawing table back home in Zaltbommel Breken has drawn her plans. “It is a difficult location, with a lot of information. The main walk-through goes from the escalators diagonally across Jaarbeursplein in the direction of the crossing at the other side. It is marked by a white line, an aid for the visually handicapped. This will be the starting point for the game”, she points out. Her drawing shows a criss-crossing of intersecting circles , circles that are meant to cover the square. An extra-large game of hop-scotch for adults.

At each new street action Breken is enthousiastic and optimistic. “I am always lucky – this is going to be fun”, she laughs. With larger-than-life crayons – 30 cm long, as thick as your arm –   she will attack the pavement on Jaarbeursplein, assisted by a couple of fellow students. Circle by circle, large and small, the square is filled up. Under the watchful  eyes of  policemen and garbage collectors a pattern appears bit by bit.

Fellow student Chrysoula is very enthousiastic. She herself is still thinking about her graduation project. “Good to see that Everdien has a very clear vision, and really goes for it, too. The good thing about her way of working is that she signals people that it is o.k. to play, and that she invites them to connect to public space in a different way. She opens up possibilities to step out of the everyday habits people have. And I also think this plants a seed in people’s minds to look differently at the world in future. So I really like to help Everdien with this project”.

Looking for action


Even though the weather is nice and the intention is good, it isn’t very easy to activate passers-by. Many people walk by with their heads in the clouds. Very often they do not even notice the temporary playground under their feet. This does not discourage Breken. “Of course not, things will start to happen. And there are no rules. People don’t need to jump, just look at the circles in wonder, maybe walk around them, is also a way of reacting”, she says. But the moment a businessman in suit starts jumping she is visibly pleased. The man jumps the whole course on one leg. “This is fun!” he manges to shout, while flying over the circles. His jumps produce startled glances, and fortunately also some applause. This is exactly what Breken is looking for. Action from the very few people that are free enough to play in front of other people, that are able to let their playful side come to the surface while  other people are watching.

The the determined artist tries out something else. She puts the super-big crayons on the path “just to see if someone picks one up.” It works. Even though some people only stumble over them, there are also people that pick up the crayons and draw. A few diagrams, some people writing their first names in between the circles. Things not going as planned, this is the playfulness Breken is looking for. She looks happy when saying “I didn’t expect more than a few skips. There were skips, so that’s o.k. The large crayons becoming an extra attraction is nice. It shows that playfulness cannot be planned.”

Game without rules
Every action is different from those that went before. This is proven by the game Breken made happen on a busy Saturday afternoon in the center of Utrecht. No hasty train passengers this time, but people shopping or just strolling around town. The alternative game that unfolds before them fits in with this atmosphere nicely.

Assisted by five fellow students she started drawing, using tens of boxes of crayons. The resulting game has  larger-than-life dice and is full of directions like ‘scream’ and ‘smile at the Dom tower’. “Many people just looked at it, it was very colourful. Others played the game from beginning to end” fellow student Chrysoula tells. Mieke from Odijk was such a visitor that saw a day’s shopping in Utrecht turn into an opportunity to play a game at the very doors of City Hall.  ”I liked it very much!. Strange, though, to play without rules. I missed elements like ‘go to jail” she laughs.
Everyone playing won a button. “But it was about playing, not winning, of course”, Breken states. And playing went even better than planned. “This time, we encouraged people to play. A tactic that differed from the hop-scotch games, where we left the initiative with passers-by. It went so well, we even started crayoning on the walls of City Hall”, she relates. Not a great success: this kind of playfulness went too far for the City Council caretakers. In no time, Breken had exchanged her crayons for a bucket and a mop.

“They were right. I want more playfulness in public space, but I don’t want more grafitti. I’m not out to bend every rule”.

More playfulness everywhere

Everything on the street can be a game or a starting point for a game. Everything, Breken believes. “Ever since play became such an essential element in my practice as an artist, I see play elements all around”. She is inspired by the work of Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck. He is the founding father of the children’s playgrounds as they are known in the Netherlands today. Nothing fancy, just simple steppinsg stones, climbing frames and sandboxes. The play furniture stands still, it is the child that moves. “ From the way my own children react to this, I can see that this functions very well. The newer play equipment they play with for five minutes. The stepping stones van Eyck made inspired them to play much longer. His objects invite to use the imagination. This is what I’d like grown-ups to re-discover” she adds. The circles and squares she draws in the streets or Utrecht are inspired by the designs of van Eyck.

Breken has many other ideas, as every household appliance (listed on unclutterer) can be made a little different and each everyday situation be transformed. An example: have poetry read while people are at the gas station, filling up their car.”Why not? It is a boring routine, adding a little surprise may be very useful there.”

Can’t do without rules

Now that she has tried out hop-scotch, circles and free-form games, Breken looks back at a mixed bag of experiences in Utrecht. “The thing I remarked most is that people keep looking for rules for the games. The circles may have looked more like ornamentation than like a game. The hop-scotch squares had a more instant appeal. When people pass by and see my squares, they have this instant recognition of a game they know, a game they can play by the rules. This encourages people to engage with a game” she concludes. “To get the average person to play, some rules may be needed, we may not be able to do without.”  Us pedestrians, that have the intention to walk on to catch a train or go to work, may need a little predictability in order to be persuaded to step into a game.

Full of ideas

Chalk is fun and easy to use for drawing a game on the street. But Breken’s head is full of other plans for making everyday life more exiting. “I will use these crayons more often. It is a great way to get people out of step for a moment, get them to play. But I’m working on a number of other ideas”, she says.

An example of this is her special table tennis table, where nothing is what it seems. The table is replaced by two television screens on which player’s actions are visible as seen from above. Players watch themselves, instead of looking at a green table. It is a game in which the conventions of the table tennis game are disregarded, making the senses come alive. “The fact that it is so confusing really works with people that have tried out the game already. Just playing the game becomes next to impossible, which makes one focus in a totally different way”.

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