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Life, Death, and Play

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Life and Childhood

Throughout the freshest years of our childhood, we are considered to be most malleable, most receptive, and most innocent. It is this abundance of life, this excess, that begins to pool at our feet, creating the orb of naiveté. We are denizens of inexperience, but within the freshness, the newness, we, too, find spaces in which meaning can be created. The “living” done within childhood is deemed sweet, untainted, and inherently good. This is the beauty of it-- its assumed purity. Youth is symbolic of life in its rawest form; babies are seen as blessings to their adult relatives, children are envied for their blissful ignorance, worry-stricken adults obsess over the dangers of children “growing up too fast.” These societal practices are grounded in the notion that children are representative of life in its simplest form, that they are the physical embodiment of death’s antithesis.

Death and Dead Spaces

In Haabibi’s recollection of childhood, she alludes to the breadth of play, and the role of industrial spaces in such play. The void, concrete parking lot acts as playing ground for her and her friends:

"Even though it looked like we were playing in a dull and dark concrete-made parking lots, in our perspective, the parking lots could have never been more   flourished with laughter and excitement over making our own little spaces that we had ever dreamed of."

Industrialized spaces often act as, what I call, “dead spaces.” These environments are inanimate, and usually void of meaning beyond the teleological. What is the implicit significance of these spaces? What is the role of “dead space” in a productivity-centered society? Haabibi begins to unpack these lofty questions through grounded narrative. The juxtaposition of life and death within her story echoes the greater complications of children occupying spaces not made for them. The parking lot’s value is predicated on its purpose, so when that purpose is removed, or inherent meaning is imposed upon it (i.e. children using an empty parking lot as a play space, housing imagined objects), it becomes a “dead space;” however, the injection of said meaning is the introduction of a striking dichotomy.

Animating the Inanimate

Within highly industrialized and urbanized spaces, children become agents of exuberance; the liminality of life and death is rooted in the collision of play and industrialization. In their chapter “Playing in Industrial Ruins,” Tim Edensor and others describe the enchanting properties and possibilities of industrial spaces:

"The transformed materiality of industrial space, its decay and the distribution of objects and less distinguishable matter, provide a realm in which sensual experience and performance is cajoled into unfamiliar enactions that coerce encounters with unfamiliar encounters with unfamiliar things, and encourage playful and expressive performances (3)."

There is most often an inherent sensuality of an environment that gives way to sensory experience of the occupier, but in this case, the lack thereof, allows for children to introduce their own conceptions of significance, memory, and symbolism (Edensor et al.). The imaginative faculties of youth create matrices of meaning.

Both Haabibi and Edensor et al. bring to view the subliminal importance of play and its spatial implications. In the green of youth, the tender-headedness of it, the brightness of it, we may, indeed, find ourselves in obscure places, and spaces. Constructing our own atmospheres allows for a fluidity of experience that otherwise is discouraged, and barred by the looming presence of boundary lines, purpose, and the explicit. In the industrial context of a parking lot, this freedom is grounded in the inanimate, the “dead,” urban spaces that contrast the transitory nature of childhood. In these moments, we are playing with stagnation, toying with the paradigm of life, death, and play; we are exploring the fullness of life grounded in that which is without.












Works Cited

Edensor, Tim, Bethan Evans, Julian Holloway, Steve Millington and Jon Binnie. "Playing in Industrial Ruins: Interrogating Teleological Understandings of Play in Spaces of Material Alterity and Low Surveillance." Urban Wildscapes. Ed. Anna Jorgensen and Richard Keenan. New York: Routledge, 2011. 65-79.

Haabibi. “Playing in Parking Lots.” Changing Our Story 2015. Serendip. 21 Sept. 2015. Web. 25 Sept. 2015