Play is not neutral. From the toys of childhood to cutting-edge gaming technologies, a sense of play delineates our relationship to both leisure and labor throughout our lives. Freighted with gender stereotypes and capitalist imperatives, the systems and objects of play can condition our behavior, catalyze creative expression, and help us understand ourselves in new ways.
For generations, artists have come to this rich, loaded, and knotty topic from many angles. They have created, appropriated, depicted, dissected, and upcycled ideas and objects that poke and prod at play. From Surrealism to Pop and beyond, artistic practice has consistently intersected with play to address understandings of disposable consumer culture, class struggles, and identity with both gravity and whimsy.
At Play presents work by five women artists navigating and untangling the tensions of play, paying particular attention to the society expectations placed upon women through these systems. Drawing on methods ranging from material exploration to emergent technologies, each artist grapples with the cultural impact of play as it permeates and mediates everyday life.
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Header Image: Ellie Richards, Rake of Crayons from Play Hard series, vintage rake and used crayons, 6” x 18”, 2021