communal park

The theme for 1998 was ‘the body in play with the environment’.The prefectural government of Niigata had initiated a plan for regenerating the grounds of the abandoned school by turning them into a communal park.The Kawanishi administration wished to revise the initial plan by devising a process that would allow local identity and local needs to be reflected in its design. In doing so they hoped to capture the interest and attention of the villagers.The message was:‘This is a park which need not be sophisticated, but could only be possible in Koshirakura’.

This year we decided to work directly, using the school grounds as our drawing board, our shovels, pickaxes and spades as our pens and pencils, and our buckets and wheelbarrows as our erasers and scalpels.The school grounds are the largest area of flat land in the locality. Hidden by a hill, they appeared to have been forgotten since the school closed. We inscribed relationships between the body and the landscape. We mapped ground conditions according to the softness and wetness of the land:the north is an exposed hard clay surface, the south a compound ground that is soft and soggy. At the edges, along the hillside, the land had become a shallow swamp of stagnant water that smelled of rotting plants.

The mappings of previous years allowed us to rethink the location of the grounds. Lines were cut into the ground to mark the way towards key locations: two viewpoints from which the whole village can be overlooked, a 300-year-old cherry tree that features strongly in the awareness of the villagers, and the point at which the sun sets on ∂5 September (when it is supposed to be most vivid). These lines had to be distinct enough to be identified from the points to which they refer. Readings of the saturation of the soil and the direction of the slope also influenced the articulation of the cuts. Functioning as a small irrigation system, these incisions drain off water so that textural differences can be established (this is analogous to the cultivation of the terraced rice field using the mabu earth-cutting technique).

Children develop their relationships to the outside world through encounters with objects – ‘toys’ (for them any object can serve as a toy). By playing with toys they shift from the imaginary to an idea of reality. Having borrowed this idea of the transitional object from psychology, we considered how we might apply it to the relationship between the transitional body of the land and the stages at which objects emerge as agents enabling us to transform our idea of place. Was a reversal of this transition possible? How might the real ground be transformed through the imagination (or lack of memory) in a child’s mind?

We began by making ‘fictional’ toys, borrowing ideas from traditional agricultural tools or domestic appliances. We played a game, taking the series of toys made during the first week of the workshop and improvising a logic to link and position them. We arranged ourselves into six teams, to develop and construct full-scale models of the ‘body in play with the land’.The names of the structures (which also became the names of the teams) were invented through games:Slow Window, Harmonious Local Materials, Quiet Stone, Weather Accommodation Deck, Wet Projection, Clear Viewing Structure.

Four lines, six structures of behaviour and maps from previous years became objects to be drawn, inscribed and constructed on the face of the school grounds. It became a playground where, under the summer rain, we played hard in the mud. Some structures were completed then and others were prepared for future evolution.