Written by Dani Abulhawa

I’ve been thinking about these terms a lot recently. They relate to my research on gendered play in the public built environment. For the past six years I’ve been engaged in a practice-as-research project that involves me going into town and making playful use of street objects, paving, railings and other things. I have performed this work in places where there are no people around and where there are lots of people. I have performed in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Chester, Rugby, London, Bristol and Sheffield.

For this practice I wear a dress, which has developed over time, but is best described as something in a style that is reminiscent of fictional girl/woman characters. It is a sort of fairytale dress with puff sleeves and a full skirt. The fabric of this costume is grey cotton, referencing the generic outfit of city workers, and having connotations with uniformity, blending in, and the seriousness of a work environment.

I play ‘like a child’, but I avoid this identification because the activity is really a reclaiming of the act of play for an adult, and a woman. We human beings are players. Simple, improvised, spontaneous play is not merely something that children should do.

For me, the city is a social forum, a place that has been built by people and in which people’s lives play out. Practices of this urban place are like flows of social information; what people wear, how they move, and how they behave speaks to you. It is a flow of telling what is expected, what you can do and what you can’t. And the flow of information coming from the city is increasingly commercial. Our movements in the city are focused around the smooth transacting of money or the productive movement of workers to and from places of work.

My performances are an interruption. They aim to disrupt the flow of dominant social information. I am an interruption as a woman who plays, and I am being unproductive and non-commercial in this space. I don’t invite participation, but sometimes people join in with me, talk to me, and shout things at me. They interrupt or modify my flow in their own ways.

I always liked the idea of interruption because it doesn’t imply any kind of fixing of a problem (like intervention does) and the necessary privilege and authority that goes along with that. It simply points to another possibility or perspective, representing a different voice in the milieu of social soliloquies.

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Image credit: Dani Abulhawa