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July 16, 2018

Hello, World! | William Samosir, BFA Sculpture 2018

by wsamosir

The Strong National Museum of Play is a grand confluence of colors, historical toy artifacts, interactive playthings, and of course, children who are brimming with summer energy! Inside the cuboid exterior of the architecture, there are sinuous hallways that weaves many different themes, forms, and eras of play into an organic and interconnected collection. Here you can find things ranging from a towering, kinect-operated interactive screen to a glass-display of the first ever, pre-Parker Brothers monopoly board. Rows of vintage dolls and miniature houses; multicolored rows of the most eccentric video game consoles; indoor playgrounds—you name it. By appropriating Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence as an exhibit guideline, the museum ensures that alongside the provision of historical contents, all sensory aspects are catered to in its design. All in all, it was a pleasant task to get myself lost in the museum, simply because the curation lends a visitor the opportunity to revel in a space of childlike imagination, and thus view the world anew through the lens of play.

For this Maharam internship, I am incredibly fortunate to have JP Dyson, the vice-director of exhibit, as my internship supervisor. He had given me a comprehensive tour of the main space as well as different behind-the-scenes operations of the museum. One of the highlights in the tour is the cool-temperature toy collection vault, in which there are rows and rows of artifacts and archives of play, obtained through collaborations with collectors and donators. This space serves as a research archive and a conservation space, and at the same time it confers credibility to the museum’s dedication towards play.

Additionally, JP has also been incredibly generous with imparting information about the museum’s history, trajectories and latest projects. This summer, the museum is undergoing a 100,000 ft. expansion, and recently, in partnership with Rochester Institute of Technology, it just opened an exhibition called Rockets, Robots, and Raygun. This exhibition looks specifically into the ways in which science fiction toys, books, and video-games have captured and influenced people’s perceptions of the future. Not mentioning, there’s a theremin in there too! One of my favorites however, is inside the museum’s permanent installation. It is a physical simulation of a grocery store, where children can play the role of being customers or cashiers—in either cases, handling incredibly convincing pseudo-grocery objects.

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This summer, I am super excited to be performing the role of an artist-in-resident. The main drive for enabling this role is to pilot-test an experimental approach within the not-for-profit framework of the museum, and evaluating its feasibility. Since this type of program is actually the first to ever be carried in the museum, there were several things that had to be rethought and realigned in the context of this program. These include intellectual property rights (who will own the IP rights to the artwork/experiments made in the museum?), a more fluid protocols for safety in between different work spaces, potentially investing in rapid prototyping tools (such as 3d printers), as well as the possibilities of housing an experimental/pop-up type of play installation. While many of these questions are up in the air as of now, it has provided me the challenge of infusing bureaucratic and pragmatic concerns into the experimental practice that I am already familiar with.

All that said, and even though I am filled with excitement to start working alongside the amazing interns and museum teams, unfortunately my post-graduation work authorization has not been approved. And so I was not able to start working just yet. With the outlook of the delay, I am looking to start somewhere mid-July to early August. However, I still conduct weekly hour-long meetups with JP to continue discussing different logistical concerns and experimental possibilities—we talked about the novelty of Johann Sebastian Joust, balancing physical and meditative play, and some of the awesome places for me to check out in Rochester. Alongside that, I started doing a little bit of an off-site research.

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For about a week in June, I delved into the museum’s online publication called the American Journal of Play—something which I think would be a great resource in art schools, if not already; or for anyone interested in play for that matter (also while you’re at it, check out this comprehensive online toy archives and collection provided by the museum!!). Typically, the journal houses interviews, essays, as well as reviews of play-related books. In particular however, I was drawn towards the papers written by play scholars. Three topics piqued my interest, and each one of them deals respectively with green/red play (green as stability and continuity, red as change and disorder), the history and nature of pre-D&D role-playing in the children’ literature the Egypt Game, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of affordance in visuo-spatial constructive play objects (VCPOs, think Legos, Mega Bloks, or Timber Planks). These three concepts intersect each other at many points, but I was specifically drawn to their potential linkage to the language and building blocks of computation. Specifically so, in finding the place for risk, pleasure, collaboration, and play in computation. This non-comprehensive schematic is an abstraction of my hazy thoughts:

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pardon the handwriting! 

How can concepts of world-building also exists in the culture of computation? How can coding afford green and red play? What is playful and imaginative function-making; can you throw and spin a parameter of a function? While I initially planned on making toy objects, this preliminary research and consultations really drove me to investigate the possibility of designing constructive modules that manifest in the form of costumes and wearables—something that honors and occupies the body, and therefore performs a type of role; an identity. But what kind of form and function will the role-playing wearable takes? I am hoping to be able to give a possible answer when I finally start doing my research from the museum’s Playthings magazine collection, researching on the history of pre-computer wearable and role-playing toys. This is where I am going next for my first research:

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A corner dedicated to a compilation of Playthings magazine, all the way from the 1900s!

And thus, I once again return to the awaiting of my work authorization—which will hopefully be approved soon! Apart from all that, it has been a great start here in Rochester. It’s been very warm (but then again where isn’t), but everyone has been very welcoming and friendly, and I have been getting the best suggestions of places to go. The R Community Bikes in Rochester is a great volunteer-operated bike store initiative that helps distribute bike ownership to people who are in need; free lottery-style giveaways and free repairs to those who qualify. The 6×6 Contemporary Art Center provides an interesting business and curatorial model for a more egalitarian representation in art-making—all of the artworks in there is in the format of 6 x 6″, and sells for a flat price of $20. Rochester Jazz Festival had just recently ended, and two days ago I dropped by the Rochester Corn Hill Festival. The festival took place in Corn Hill (the area in which I am currently living in) and they basically just closed off the whole area of the weekend. Bazaars, food, and music! My roommates and I celebrated 4th of July by staying in, cooking food, and playing video and board games. Wegmans grocery is great, Java’s coffee is the hip coffee place in town, and the river bike trail by Corn Hill (the area where I live) is such a nice bike trail to take in the late afternoon.

To top it off I just finished building a new self-assembly 3d printer, and so I might be a hermit in my room for a while to make some fun and weird prototypes. This is a first rendition: a 3D color picker that is eventually going to be a glove/hand-operated type thing. Anyway! Will be posting more updates soon—keep a lookout! :^)

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Hello, world!

-Will

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