Imagination, play and materiality

“And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose to play.”

Exodus 32:6

What if, contrary to Charles Bradley’s song, ‘No Time for Dreaming,’ we do need to spend more time dreaming? Author Rob Hopkins of ‘From What is to What If’: Unleashing the power of imagination to create the future we want’ and founder of Transition Towns, says that the decreasing trend in the use of our imagination is having a detrimental effect on our lives. It prevents, for instance, the ability to solve social inequality and address issues such as the climate crisis in any meaningful way. We have replaced idle time, a visit to the library, lighting a campfire, talking to a stranger, spending creative time in the kitchen or going for a walk with a constant plug to the device in our hands. The time lost in connecting to our imagination and ‘playing’ not only affects the future ahead of us, but is also contributing to the pandemic of loneliness and a feeling of disconnection between each other. Our access to finding an answer online, seems to be perpetuating a potential pandemic of ‘What is the meaning?’

So what can we do to reignite our imagination deficit? One possibility is through unstructured play. We all have memories of childhood games, but new research by The School of Life shows that they are an indication of what intrinsically holds interest for us as we grow into adulthood. We maintain that sense of play as we become adults, and researchers argue that it is this that makes us individual as a species. Our ability to be creative and come up with new innovations is what sets us apart from the animal world.

Is it just in the Western world that we have lost our sense of playfulness? Within the Thai language, a happy heart is described with an innate connection to playfulness. Translations include, literally, to be of a, ‘blooming heart’, ‘being full in the food sense – in the heart’, ‘and invoke a sense of delight, joy and being lighthearted. How can we too reintroduce play into our otherwise so uncertain and responsibility laden adult lives?

One of the simplest ways is by looking around us at nature. There is, of course, an innate playfulness throughout the animal kingdom, you just have to throw a ball to a dog, to see the eager anticipation and the endless repeated, endless joy of the ball going back and forth. There is a playfulness to the way a squirrel stops in it’s tracks, looking around furtively as if we might think it invisible before darting off.

On a brief lunchtime walk, I was pulled out of my thoughts by a child in a primary school, leaning through the gate and asking me my preferred footballer from a choice he gave me. This playful exchange conjured my imagination, and pulled my mind away from the thoughts and concerns of that day. This is an everyday occurrence for animals and children, who are so ready to play, not constricted by time or place. There is a kind of openness against the burden of efficiency to creating new pathways to think about something and maybe just smile!

Of course, as adults we may receive some strange looks, if we engaged in such acts as dancing down the street, or playing catch with dogs! But there are many other ways we can engage with our playfulness. One simple way is through food and cooking for others. If we aren’t regular cooks, this can seem like a task that we have to gear ourselves towards, but we can take some inspiration from Mary McCartney’s book ‘Feeding Creativity.’ In this book, she cooks with her interviewees and recounts playful, rather than perfectly choreographed, food scenes. In one particular example, with David and Catherine Bailey, she says “using Catherine’s electric hand whisk to whip the cream, it soon became a chaotic scene, I managed to flick cream all over myself and kitchen. So instead I resorted to my back up squirt can whipped cream. The trifle looked perfect. We sat together, spoons in hand, and tucked in. It had been a while since we had spent time together, and it was a reminder of how much I enjoyed making this book. It’s been an opportunity to catch up with loved ones, even the grumpy ones I adore!”

Part of our ability to be playful is stored within objects that we might normally view as inanimate. Studies by psychologists say that, whilst objects are not human, they are part of a representation of the dialogue within the environments we inhabit.

They contribute to our cognitive function. We might be able to consider this idea on a simpler level with the Thomas Heatherwick campaign on observing ‘How buildings make us feel’. Taking this to our interior environments, we can gauge a change in mood from the way a room is lit, or the glowing warmth of a fire after a long day, giving us, through the dancing flames, an opportunity to reflect, pause and simply be in the moment. In that moment, we are allowed to engage with our imagination and feel the playful joy of what surrounds us.

Another way of finding our imagination is through colour. Design Studio Raw Netherlands hosts the podcast ‘Conversations in Colour’, which always begins with the question, “If you were a colour, what colour would you be?” Most answers relate to emotion, season, lighting, personal energy and geography. Undeniably the common thread is that colour brings you into a focussed moment, where the mind can be quieted for a moment. Through our Vlaze worktops and kitchen surfaces, we offer both a textural and colour palette that invites you to use the surfaces for simple acts such as kneading dough or chopping vegetables. We hope to bring a warmth of joy to your culinary adventures, inspire some time for everyday dreaming.

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