Conference: The Art of Play work

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

A day of talks by artists, play workers and play experts, exploring the art of working with playing children, and the creative common ground shared by artists, playing children and play workers.
This event is part of the public programme for Tŷ Pawb’s Play-Work exhibition (10th August – 27th October) which has seen the gallery transformed into an interactive playscape, including documentation of radical play work in Wrexham since the 1970s, Assemble’s film ‘The Voice of Children, ‘Eden’ - a new and interactive commission by artist Morag Colquhoun, and pushcart artworks inspired by artist Gareth Griffith.

Speakers include artist Nils Norman, Penny Wilson of Turner Prize Winning Assemble, Artist Morag Colquhoun, Play Worker Colin Powell and Mike Barclay/Ben Tawil of Ludicology. Additional speakers and details to be announced.
Ticket price: £30 (includes lunch).


Morag Colquhoun

List of Talks

Eden: Tropicália, art and playwork in Brexit Wales

Morag Colquhoun presents her installation Eden, commissioned for PLAY-WORK as a new space of improvisation with children and playworkers from Wrexham’s adventure playgrounds. Eden responds to (or even tests) Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticia’s ideas around cre-leisure and the supra sensorial. Oiticia described his installations as a kind of map – a map of the imagination ‘that you go into’ but most importantly as an environment that people experience for themselves.

Following the ethos of playwork, Eden was made for children to freely disassemble or reuse during the course of the exhibition. The artist documented this process  - wherein her own ‘map of the imagination’ met those of the children. She considers if or how Eden - along with the play infrastructure provided by the professional playworkers - succeeds in fulfilling Oiticia’s proposition for a ‘feeling-participation’ or ‘making-participation.’ And if so, why does this matter? And what intersections between art and playwork might it reveal?

The new City(play)scape

The British anarchist writer Colin Ward's provocation that ideally cities should have no playgrounds at all seems today – in our car clogged streets – naive and quaintly nostalgic. But looking closer at cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen (two cities with a strong bike culture) maybe this dream is becoming a reality. Not by getting rid of playgrounds but by merging public space and playgrounds to create a continuous city-wide playscape.

Nils Norman will discuss the history of the playground and will present contemporary design examples from cities that are trying to create more open and continuous playscapes that merge seamlessly with the public spaces around them.

Nils Norman

Playwork in Wrexham… and playing in the gallery

Colin will give a historical context to play work in Wrexham since 1978, including the development of the three adventure playgrounds the Venture, Gwenfro Valley and the Land. He will also give a first-hand account of developing a playable space and delivering play work provision in the gallery at Tŷ Pawb.

Colin Powell

Sharing Memories of Adventure Playgrounds: the art of mapping memories

In 2015-2016, the play team at the University of Gloucestershire carried out a small scale project to share adults’ memories of their experiences as children, staff, families and communities on adventure playgrounds in Bristol and Gloucester. Articulating the value of adventure playgrounds has always been tricky: often advocates have to talk about how they help meet social policy agendas to ‘mend’ wayward children and create future citizens; playworkers have intuitively and passionately resisted this in their work.

Working with memory complex and messy. Memory is traditionally understood as an internal store of experiences, a kind of mental library of fixed events ready to be recalled, or with time forgotten. We took a different approach, recognising that memory is always relational — it emerges in an ever-changing form from an embodied and embedded relationship with the world. We are always mixed up in a tangled web of connections and disconnections: places, feelings, histories, the here-and-now, other people, material objects and so on. 

Given this, we wanted to use methods that would bring these memories to life to show how much these spaces mattered to people, and still matter. This presentation will explore the range of creative, more-than-representational methods we used to gather, record, analyse and present those memories, and will include showing the short video.

Dr Wendy Russell


Penny currently works with Assemble delivering play service in the rather swanky Kings Cross development in London. Her talk will outline this project, Playkx, reflecting on how the team developed this play delivery model, and how it’s working out for everyone and thinking about what comes next.

Penny Wilson

Speaker Biographies

Morag Colquhoun

Morag Colquhoun is an artist based in rural Wales. She works site-specifically with communities in environmental contexts and is interested in developing work that emerges from a zone of uncertainty, exchange and dialogue. She has a wide experience of developing co-production projects with young people, including the Wales-wide Lead Creative School scheme and the Illumine digital art project for Peak Cymru. Her project Trofannolismo is a planetary re-imagination of the 1960s Brazilian Tropicália movement from a perspective of rural Wales. Tropicália (or Tropicálismo) fused political resistance, modernist, avant-garde, indigenous and popular culture.

As a PhD researcher in the Art Department at Goldsmiths College, she is currently working with Welsh communities while focusing on communities in South America that are known to her. This reveals common issues, including touristification, local production, water resources and climate change. Her recent installation, Eden was commissioned for Tŷ Pawb’s current exhibition PLAY-WORK, celebrating play and Wrexham's radical adventure playgrounds in North-East Wales.

Ben Tawil and Mike Barclay work together as Ludicology, promoting a better understanding of children’s play and ways in which adults can support it. Together they have many years experience of working with and on behalf of playing children from community based provision to strategic development at a local and national level.

Ben and Mike, working with Jo at Tŷ Pawb, provided much of the operational planning for the Play-Work Exhibition. This included facilitating meetings with partners and stakeholders, developing final designs from concept consultations, costing and budgeting both build and staffing requirements, collating archival images, providing policy advice and guidance by way of a detailed operational plan, producing post installation risk-benefit assessments, curating text for the displays and supporting and overseeing the actual construction process. Ben and Mike will lead two panel discussions and give closing remarks for ‘The Art of Play Work’ conference.


Nils Norman is an artist living in London and Amsterdam.

He works across the disciplines of public art, architecture and urban planning. His projects  challenge notions of the function of public art and the efficacy of mainstream urban planning and large-scale regeneration. Informed by local politics and ideas on alternative economic, ecological systems and play,  Norman’s work merges utopian alternatives with current urban design to create a humorous critique of the discrete histories and functions of public art and urban planning. He exhibits and generates projects and collaborations in museums and galleries internationally.

He has completed major public art projects including pedestrian bridges, small playgrounds and a landscaping project for the City of Roskilde, Denmark. He has participated in various biennials worldwide and has developed commissions for SculptureCenter, Long Island City, NY; London Underground, UK; Tate Modern, UK; Loughborough University, UK; Creative Time, NYC and the Centre d’ Art Contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland.

He has designed a playground for the St Fagans Museum of National History in Cardiff, created a new library design for the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam; and has created a new theatre curtain for a primary school in Bristol. He is the lead artist for the city of Cambridge’s project to redevelop part of Trumpington, an area on the city’s southern fringe - developing play elements, 4 pedestrian bridges, bird screens and wayfinding and has recently completed a collaboration with 6a Architects and artist Gareth Jones on the redesign of MK Gallery Milton Keynes, UK. Designing the building's interior and exterior spaces, facade and landscaping.

He is the author of five publications:

Propuestas Para Una Plaza. Proposals For A Plaza. Editorial concept Fritz Haeg, Kit Hammonds and Nils Norman. Museo Jumex, Mexico City, Mexico. 2018; Edible Park, Nils Norman. Eds. Taco de Neef, Nils Norman, Peter de Rooden, Astrid Vorstermans. Valiz, NL. 2012; Thurrock 2015, a comic commissioned by the General Public Agency, London, UK, 2004; An Architecture of Play: A Survey of London’s Adventure Playgrounds, Four Corners, London, UK, 2004; and The Contemporary Picturesque, Book Works, London, UK, 2000.

From 2007-2017 Nils Norman was Professor at the the Royal Danish Academy of Art and Design, Copenhagen, Denmark, where he led the School of Walls and Space.

He now works freelance as a guest lecturer and speaker in art schools and academies in the UK and Europe.

Nils Norman

Colin Powell has been a play worker in Wrexham for 40 years contributing to the development of both The Venture and Gwenfro Valley adventure playgrounds. Colin was a Wrexham Councillor for 9 years and has been a Community Councillor for 20+ years, throughout his time as a politician Colin has been champion for play and play provision across the county borough and beyond.

Colin has been the lead play worker for Tŷ Pawb’s exhibition Play-Work, spending three months facilitating play for children and young people, and engaging visitors to the gallery in dialogue about play work, its history and the current conditions for playing children in the UK.

Colin Powell

Dr Wendy Russell first discovered adventure playgrounds in 1975 and was smitten. She has worked in the field of children’s play and playwork ever since, as a playworker, trainer, lecturer, researcher, supporter, advocate and would-be disturber of common sense thinking.

Dr Wendy Russell

Penny Wilson stumbled into Playwork after leaving Art school.  She worked for several years on Chelsea Adventure Playground, one that Lady Allen of Hurtwood designed and built. This Adventure Playground was gloriously inclusive and was described by one of the playworkers as being ‘A bubble of how the world could be.’

She was a Playwork Development Worker with Play Association Tower Hamlets, developing and delivering many projects, designing playable spaces and play based community schemes. For several years she traveled throughout the USA with Joan Almon and The Alliance for Childhood. Penny has been in some films  about play and did a TedX talk.

She has written a few books and a few chapters in other people’s books, some articles and illustrations of Playwork ideas and stories.

Penny Wilson