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Confined Randomness in Play

nightowl's picture

When people play in the city they naturally and serendipitously get blocked and fall into the critical structure and concepts of our society. Asking why something is in a certain place and looks the way it does, and what knowledge is conveyed to us in the city traces us back to the past.

The past is an abstraction that people live with the effects of. The minor details of the past are too extensive to record. People cannot record or remember every word, thought, gesture, tile, or perspective of the past. When I went on The Ghost Tour of Philadelphia, I paid to hear stories of the past and to possibly get scared. One of the first stories of the tour was about a housekeeper who saw Benjamin Franklin’s ghost in the American Philosophical Society Library. Besides this story being entertaining, it left me with vague images of that scene and wondering if the housekeeper had seen something that night. It led me to the questions of, “What was the housekeepers name?”, “What were her motives for reporting the ghost?”, “What time of day was it during the citing”, and “Where did she come from?” The answers to these questions were too broad and trivial for the purpose of the tour and the details were therefore lost on us. However, their result is partly why we heard the housekeeper’s story when we went on the tour.

Lots of the details in Isaiah Zagar’s art can be lost on a viewer of his Magic Gardens. Zagar had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for a time, but was not medicated under his wife’s advice. I imagine that Zagar views his art as a type of therapy that helps him make sense of his past and present, as he says, “I’m just somebody who wants to do what they need to do, what they need to do in their life…I need to embellish.” (Zagar, 2007) As Isaiah says his artwork, “does not start out as art but becomes art,” (Zagar, 2012) and “I love trash,” (Zagar, 2007) I think he takes what is around him, plays with its structure randomly, and then lets his thoughts meditate on it. Depending on the day, Zagar may learn something new about what the gardens are, as this quote demonstrates, “This particular garden you could say is a sculpture garden, but on Saturdays and Sundays It is certainly a garden of people, where they look at each other in many ways as you would look at flowers.” (Zagar, 2007) The location of Zagar’s Magic Gardens is not by happenstance, as he says there is, “No room in the galleries for me, but there is lots of room in the world for me.” (Zagar, 2007) Galleries originally rejected his artwork, so he took it to the streets. Zagar got permission to make his mosaics where the Magic Gardens are located, and later had to defend them from being torn down.

Note that almost all of my previous statements have been opinions while talking about Zagar’s work. This is partly because I am inferring, but it is also a result of Zagar leaving his art largely open to interpretation, allowing people like me to take what they want from him and his work.

Zagar’s work relies on what is around him, what he has found, and whatever building’s structure he is using as a canvas. His art questions the definition of art and trash. It plays off the structure of the city. When Zagar is making his art, there is a continual pattern of randomness in confines. He spreads the cement particles and fits them randomly in between the tiles, he breaks tiles randomly and uses their jagged structure to form shapes on the wall, and then the wall demands that the art end. Therefore Zagar has playful aspects of his work within confines. He is an artist who is playful and serendipitously plays critically.

The way Zagar makes his work and how everyone interprets it is confined inside of a certain amount randomness. Zagar has his materials and ideas and everyone else has their own experiences and the art to work off from. This is the same for my experience when finding The Ghost Tour of Philadelphia. When I searched for the ghost tour, I started looking in a newspaper, which led me to a column called, Today in Philly, and searching through this column online brought me to a link of the ghost tour. I was predisposed to look in the column because I was looking for something fun to do and I chose the ghost tour out of my love for October, my birth month. My experiences with the city combine randomness, predisposition, and the past. Like calculating derivation in math it could only deviate by a certain amount. It was confined randomness within play.


1. Zagar, Isaiah. Unknown interviewer. March 24th, 2012.


2. Zagar, Isaiah. Unknown interviewer. March 27th, 2007.


Everglade's picture

Nightowl places people who

Nightowl places people who think they are playing into structured blocks, challenging the status quo. As a result, I start to rethink my trip in the city - was I able to go anywhere and do anything as I wish? Was there any restriction that killed some fun or accidentally created a serendipity? And then she plays with time. Indeed the details in the past are often left out yet crucial for understanding. I was into her play and felt like dragged to the past but paused in the middle, waiting for a story to begin.

Clairity's picture

Nightowl begins her essay in

Nightowl begins her essay in an unusual way. Rather than talking about the positive results of playing the city, she introduces the negative effects that city imposes on us. Then she continues by proposing some questions that people ask and lead the topic to the past. It feels like a new idea to me, because i've never thought about it this way. She plays by pointing out people's experience in the city and by proposing questions.