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Two shadows of hands. One held out flat, one in a fist.

Children’s Games, or Why It’s Important to Play Again


A collection of videos by artist Francis Alÿs reminds us of the importance of seeing life playfully and, above all, simply.

All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The English poet William Blake saw in children a most brilliant example of pure imagination; able to find greatness and eternity in the ordinary, they enchant the world over and over again. In a collection of videos titled Children’s Games, Francis Alÿs documents this ability. Through videos of children playing, the Belgian artist reminds us of the necessary capacity for wonder and metaphor that’s lost with the passage of time and that seems essential to recover.

The Alÿs exercise is simple: the artist films children at play and, without ever taking notice of the camera, they play as they do every day. Brief documentaries, they’re filmed in various countries around the world and show rather simple games: skipping stones across the water, jumping elastic bands, kicking an empty soda bottle, or building sand castles. The videos show children who don’t use sophisticated toys but simple objects; chairs, coins, sand, stones, plastic bottles, broken mirrors. These are transformed into imaginary objects that detonate in alternate worlds.

Watching the videos is an extraordinary and profoundly touching experience, one which brings back the sensations typical of childhood, and reminds us of the simplicity and imagination that transformed us, at some point, into the architects of the world (in the same way that the act of drawing can). A game becomes a sophisticated reflection of the reality of the children who, through their play, allow time to pass with an enviable lightness.

The artifice of imagination allows children who play, through the purity of their minds, to transform their stages into places worth visiting. As comforting as it is healing, this is especially true in a world where complexity floods our lives, a world full of prejudices and manufactured needs. Through Children’s Games, Francis Alÿs invites viewers to reclaim that most essential part of human nature: the urge to play with the very limits of reality.


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