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Revisiting the Magic Gardens

Taylor Milne's picture

            When thinking of critical and deep play, I always come back to the mosaics created by Isaiah Zagar, and the playfully creative impact they have had on the world. They redefined mosaics, and have fabricated one of the most creative outlets of street art. All along South Street his mosaics glimmer in the sunlight, illuminating the numerous fragmented mirrors, reflecting light all around. Words written forwards, sideways, backwards, with many of them relaying powerful messages. The art that Zagar has dedicated his life to is as playful to the onlooker as it is to the creator.

            Although I cannot make assumptions on Zagar’s experiences in creating the mosaics, I would hope that through the years of his creations he has had moments of deep play. Explained by Diane Ackerman, “In rare moments of deep play, we can lay aside our sense of self, shed time's continuum, ignore pain, and sit quietly in the absolute present, watching the world's ordinary miracles.” When looking at some of the mosaics that Zagar has created, his passion and playfulness is unmistakable, and allows the viewer to have the same playful and deep experience when viewing his life’s work.

            The nature of a mosaic is chaotic and fragmented, but somehow they all work together to create a piece of art that evokes emotions that are original to each and every viewer. Mosaics are abstract in that they are open to every person to create their own interpretations, and I love that everyone who was in the Gardens with me was each having a unique and original experience, although we all occupied the same space. This is the magic of the Gardens; they allow each person to play individually within the playground of art and broken pieces.

            Although the Magic Gardens was only the second trip into Philadelphia, this visit to the city was to the most impactful and playful to me, and was my initial look into the world of critical and deep play. I remember walking through the gardens, overwhelmed by the grand quantity of fragmented trash, ceramics, mirrors, and colors that interacted with one another to create a chaotic whole. The art created by Zagar is boundless and distinct from any form of traditional art in that it can be contained to one singular piece of broken ceramic, and can likewise expand to fill a 360-degree space. Each mosaic able to tell its own story, and induce different emotions in its observers, creating a playground from the youngest child to the oldest intellectual.

            In looking at the Magic Gardens as a result of critical play we can see the inherent non-linearity that Mary Flanagan describes in “Critical Play,” Zagar creates no set patterns or rules to his art, but rather lets it develop as he works, letting it create itself, allowing for change. The playfulness that is present in his work is an effect of his casual creations that are not meant for critical interpretation. Zagar is “making for making’s sake,” as Flanagan describes critical play artists, and this allows the viewers to experience the mosaics with the same playfulness in which they were created.

            I would not go as far to define my experiences viewing Isaiah Zagar’s work as “deeply playful,” but I could see how a deeply playful experience could be derived from his work. It encourages its viewers to think, but not criticize. We accept the art for what it is, and move on to thinking about the emotions this art makes us feel, and the messages it is telling us, whether through words or through images that Zagar has created. This door to an endless variety of thought leads me to believe that at least one person has had a deeply playful experience in the gardens, even if they do not realize it.

            The power of Zagar’s work is in its playfulness. Although the art is created through a unique skill, I would not categorize it as art that contains the same meticulous details of a realist painting. This is what makes it special though– it is free and open to more creation. The beauty of his work is that it is unbounded and appears in the oddest of places, always bringing a smile to my face when I see them pop up around a street corner. This playfulness is what makes Zagar’s mosaics special. As I travelled within Philadelphia for the remainder of the trips I always found myself playing in new and unique ways, but whenever I look back, I always regard my trip to the Magic Gardens as the most special. It made me think and taught me how to play meaningfully, impacting me in such a way that I hope to execute the same powerful playfulness in my life.