Re-enchanting urban play-parks


In the secular, rationalistic worldview, ancient ideas of magic and enchantment are seen as primitive illusions. Banishing magic and mystery from the cultural tradition leads to the disenchantment of the world. It can be argued further that the world's disenchantment ultimately manifests as disengagement, boredom, apathy and depression. The concept of re-enchantment suggests a countermove to the process of disenchantment. What are the practical methods of re-enchantment?
In 2018, I worked as a community artist in Helsinki City Play-parks. In my work, I conducted a series of art projects with children that focused on imagination and material play.
The artistic process is not confined by the borders of the rational mind but advances through imaginative and intuitive insight. Working artistically with images, sounds, and movements opens us to the creative life forces. Communal art allows us to become the active creators of our collective environment and may lead to the re-enchantment of our lives.
If the dominance of the rigidly rational mind is the cause of disenchantment, re-enchantment must find new ways of acting beyond the rational. The origin of the word enchantment suggests a casting of a magical spell through chanting. From the perspective of deep psychology, the spellbinding effect of enchantment can be seen as an unconscious projection of mental or emotional energy to a person, object or idea.
My research draws upon the work on imagination done by Carl Gustav Jung and Gaston Bachelard. Jung developed the idea of the archetypes that are expressed in the images of the collective unconscious. Bachelard's work on material imagination reveals how poetic and artistic imagery rises from our relationship to different states of matter. The paper shows how the activation of the imaginative unconscious can lead to a re-enchanted view of ourselves and the world around us.

Dans la vision laïque et rationaliste du monde, les vieilles idées concernant la magie et l'enchantement sont considérées comme des illusions primitives. Bannir la magie et le mystère de la tradition culturelle conduit au désenchantement du monde. On peut également affirmer que le désenchantement du monde se manifeste finalement par le désengagement, l'ennui, l'apathie et la dépression. Le concept de ré-enchantement suggère un contre-mouvement au processus de désenchantement. Quelles sont les méthodes pratiques de réenchantement ? 
En 2018, j'ai travaillé en tant qu'artiste au service de la communauté dans les parcs de jeux de la ville d'Helsinki. Dans le cadre de mon travail, j'ai mené une série de projets artistiques avec des enfants, axés sur l'imagination et le jeu ancré dans la réalité matérielle.
Le processus artistique n'est pas limité par les frontières de l'esprit rationnel mais existe grâce à l'imagination et à l'intuition. Travailler artistiquement avec des images, des sons et des mouvements nous ouvre aux forces créatives de la vie. L'art communautaire nous permet de devenir les créateurs actifs de notre environnement collectif et peut conduire à un réenchantement de nos vies.
Si la domination de l'esprit rationnel rigide est la cause du désenchantement, le réenchantement doit trouver de nouvelles façons d'agir au-delà du rationnel. L'origine du mot "enchantement" suggère un sort magique jeté à l’aide de chants. Du point de vue de la psychologie profonde, l'effet envoûtant de l'enchantement peut être considéré comme une projection inconsciente d'énergie mentale ou émotionnelle sur une personne, un objet ou une idée.
Ma recherche s'inspire des travaux sur l'imagination réalisés par Carl Gustav Jung et Gaston Bachelard. Jung a développé l'idée des archétypes qui s'expriment dans les images de l'inconscient collectif. Le travail de Bachelard sur l'imagination matérielle révèle comment l'imagerie poétique et artistique naît de notre relation aux différents états de la matière. L'article montre comment l'activation de l'inconscient imaginatif peut conduire à une vision réenchantée de nous-mêmes et du monde qui nous entoure.



1. Re-enchantment through imagination

What is enchantment? The etymology of enchantment implies the idea of casting magical spells through chanting. We all know from fairy tales and products of popular fantasy that if a person, object or space is enchanted, it is charged with a magical force or a spirit. Enchantment belongs to a magical view of the world.

With the advent of the modern, rationalistic worldview, ancient ideas of magic and enchantment start to be seen as primitive illusions. The way of progress is guided by physical analysis and materialist reduction of the phenomenal world.

Consequently, as the rational and mechanical view of the world becomes dominant, many thinkers start observing an alienating change in the modern man's mentality. The rational world devoid of magic and enchantment is easier to manage and exploit, but also empty of soul and emotional echo. The world is becoming disenchanted.

Naturally, as the symptoms become more noticeable, the growing number of people start to consciously resist the world's disenchantment. Many artistic movements of the modern era, the first of which were the romantics and the symbolists, call for a revival of wilder, more holistic, more innocent, more magical cultures of the past. When the rationalistic worldview can not fulfill the need for the miraculous and the transcendental, interest in the various religious traditions of the West and the East starts to increase. Simultaneously, the explosive rise in ecological catastrophes reveals the unsustainable dead end of the modern way of life and technological abuse of natural resources. The indigenous wisdom about the natural world, labeled as primitive by the colonialist cultures, seems to offer an alternative way of living in harmony with the environment. We can see all these movements as parts of a larger attempt in the re-enchantment of the world.

Today, in the third decade of our hyper-commodified, post-industrial third millennium, the re-enchantment of the world seems more necessary and appealing than ever.

So, how can one approach the idea of re-enchantment on a practical level?

There is an area of human experience, common to all, where the enchanted worldview has always remained alive. This is the realm of the imagination.

The imagination is usually taken as synonymous with the unreal, the non-existent, a tool of self-deception. It is, however, quite impossible to distinguish our understanding of the “real” world from what we imagine about it. Firstly, the world is never present to our senses as a whole. We simply have to imagine that there exists something that is beyond our immediate perception. Secondly, it is obvious, that imagination plays a big part in the process of perception or at least in the interpretation of the sensory input into a coherent image of the physical reality. Thirdly, the imagination may produce models of things that do not yet exist in the physical world but can be realised with actions guided by the imagination. In doing so, imagination actively forms something that is unquestionably real.

There is also a way in which the imagination works within us quite independently from our conscious intention. Dreams, visions, mystical revelations and other autonomous products of the imagination reveal an immense, mysterious source of creativity which lies beneath our rational mind. Often these products of the autonomous imagination seem to deliver deep insight into ourselves and our relationship with the world around us.

In the creative activity of the imagination, we find again the ancient idea of enchantment. When we charge the world with the power of our imagination, we are enchanting it with transformative forces. We, as the magicians of our imagination, are the enchanters of the world.

As an artist, I have always been interested in activating the imagination through creative practices. Through my artistic work, I have come across themes and archetypes that seem to point beyond the apparent dualisms of mind and matter, human and non-human. The combination of art and imagination has had a re-enchanting effect on my own life.

In 2018, I was hired as a community artist for the Helsinki City play-parks. My job was to conduct art workshops with children aged 4 to12. Rather than merely teaching the children different techniques and mediums of art, I wanted to activate the artistic imagination in them.

The atmosphere in the public play-parks is restless. Even getting the children to stay in one place for more than five minutes might be challenging. I had to come up with themes and methods with direct, hands-on and material pathways to the artistic imagination.

In this article, I explore some of the themes and methods I used while conducting the workshops. I attempt to show how artistic creation involving the imagination can bring re-enchantment into the play-parks of highly populated, urban areas.

Firstly, I would like to look a little deeper into the autonomous productivity of what is known as the unconscious mind. I will also explore the work of two thinkers whose views on imagination have informed my work: Carl Gustav Jung and Gaston Bachelard.

2. Imaginative unconscious

Where do the wild, imaginary creations of the human mind like dreams, visions and myths come from? In many societies, the visionary imagination is explained by the possession of spirits and gods. When the modern, scientific worldview rejected the spiritual and supernatural causes, the idea of possession became insufficient in explaining the visual splendour of the imagination.

In his book The Discovery of the Unconscious Henri F. Ellenberger traces how new observations of the human mind lead to the concept of the unconscious in the early modern period. The unconscious serves as a rational and scientific explanation for the irrational phenomena of the mind. Inspired by the recent discoveries on physical energy, scientists try to explain the dynamics of the mind as hidden processes of mental energy.

The concept of the unconscious is useful in analysing the irrationality of human society. Especially thought-provoking is Friedrich Nietzsche's unmasking of moral conscience as the aggressive instinct turned against itself. Animal and primitive man live by their instincts. "But with the founding of the human society, the instincts of the wild, free man, could no longer be discharged outwardly and thus had to be turned inwardly." (Ellenberger 1970: 275)

The repression of instincts becomes a central claim in Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory of the unconscious. The mechanism of repression can be observed in Freud's theory of dreams. Freud considers the dream to be a "fulfillment of a wish, or, to put it more accurately, the vicarious fulfillment of a repressed, unacceptable sexual wish, and this is why the censor must intervene, to keep it down or to allow its appearance only in a disguised form" (Ellenberger 1970: 492). The theory of repression sees the creative production of the unconscious merely as an effort to disguise the repressed wishes of the instincts. It also suggests that the imaginative unconscious produces only to compensate for something it lacks.

The criticism against this crippled view of the unconscious is most strikingly formulated by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their book Anti-Oedipus. They write:

"The real is the end product, the result of passive syntheses of desire as autoproduction of the unconscious. Desire does not lack anything; it does not lack its object. Rather, the subject that is missing in desire, or desire that lacks a fixed subject; there is no fixed subject unless there is repression. Desire and its object are one and the same thing: the machine, as a machine of a machine." (Deleuze and Guattari 1984: 26, emphasis in original)

According to Deleuze and Guattari, the contents of the unconscious are not symptoms of lack, but autonomous products of desire. The real is not seen as an obstacle of desire, but instead as the end product of it. The unconscious production does not result from the repression of desire, but rather the repression of desire produces the fixed subject.

The idea of the autonomous psychic energy operating outside the control of a fixed subject was essential for the concept of the unconscious long before Freud. Ellenberger points out the 19th-century theories of polypsychism that questioned the fixed position of a single subject (1970: 146). A prime example of this was found in the mysterious phenomenon of hypnotism, which revealed "a subconscious, much wider ego, unknown to the conscious one, but endowed with unknown perceptive and creative powers" (Ellenberger 1970: 168).

The transpersonal quality of the unconscious is also central to Carl Gustav Jung's concept of the collective unconscious. It is called collective "because, unlike the personal unconscious, it is not made up of individual and more or less unique contents but of those which are universal and of regular occurrence" (Jung, 1972b: 134). These universal and less unique contents of the collective unconscious Jung calls archetypes or primordial images. "The primordial image might suitably be described as the instinct’s perceptions of itself, or as the self-portrait of the instinct" (Jung,1972b: 136). Jung continues: "Just as everybody possesses instincts, so he also possesses a stock of archetypal images" (Jung 1972b: 138). According to Jung, the archetypes are an imaginal expression of the instincts. The collective view of the unconscious production frees imagination from its role as a wishful substitute of reality. Jung criticises the theories of Freud and Adler for rejecting "the principle of imagination since they reduce fantasies to something else and treat them merely as semiotic expression" (Jung 1971: 63). Instead of merely representing the repressed desires of a fixed subject, the contents of the unconscious can be seen as products of a transpersonal, universal imagination.

Based on his personal experiences, Jung develops a creative method for exploring the contents of the imaginative unconscious. He calls it active imagination. The process of active imagination can be accessed through many creative techniques. Jung mentions drawing, painting, shaping, dancing, and writing (1997: 146). The process starts by focusing on a spontaneous product of the unconscious: a dream, a fantasy, an irrational mood, an affect etc. It is necessary to "follow the subsequent transformations of the spontaneous fantasy attentively and carefully…giving the unconscious a free hand." (Jung 1997: 170).

When let to develop freely, the creations of the active imagination become distinguishable from fantasies. "A fantasy is more or less your own invention, and remains on the surface of personal things and conscious expectations. But active imagination, as the term denotes, means that the images have a life of their own and that the symbolic events develop according to their own logic – that is, of course, if your conscious reason does not interfere" (Jung 1997: 145).

This experience is pervasive among artists. I experience this every time I submerge in the creative process. At a certain point, it seems as if the work itself is guiding me and not the other way around. From a Jungian perspective, it is the autonomous, imaginative unconscious expressing itself.

Although developed originally as a therapeutic tool, the method of active imagination shows how through the creations of our unconscious, we are connected to something larger than our subjective mind. It also reveals how we, the people of the high-tech post-industrial world, possess in our psyche the same visionary power that we usually associate with archaic and magical cultures. In many ways, the visionary products of the imaginative unconscious still serve the same purpose of healing and magic enchantment of the psyche. As Jung writes: "Mankind has never lacked powerful images to lend magical aid against all the uncanny things that live in the depths of the psyche. Always the figures of the unconscious were expressed in protecting and healing images and in this way expelled from the psyche into cosmic space" (Jung 1969: 12).

The French thinker Gaston Bachelard is also convinced of the transcendental power of imagination. for Bachelard "imagination is not, as its etymology suggests, the faculty for forming images of reality; it is the faculty for forming images which go beyond reality, which sing reality. It is a superhuman faculty" (Bachelard 1983: 16). Bachelard shares Jung's view of imagination as something active and autonomous. He calls for "a philosophy of imagination for which the imagination is being itself, the being that produces its own images and its own thoughts" (Bachelard 1988: 108, emphasis in original).

Bachelard's work is centred around the concept of material imagination. Unlike the formal imagination that "takes pleasure in the picturesque, the varied, and the unexpected", material imagination plumbs "the depths of being…to find there both the primitive and the eternal" (Bachelard 1983: 1). Besides the fleeting images of forms there are "Images of matter, images that stem directly from matter. The eye assigns them names, but only the hand truly knows them. A dynamic joy touches, moulds, and refines them" (Bachelard 1983: 1, emphasis in original).

Bachelard is especially interested in the material imagination of classical elements like Fire, Air, Water and Earth. The primal images of matter express the qualities of the world and different modalities of our psyche. Imagination is typically seen as a mental activity, and this is why psychoanalysis studies the products of the unconscious as images of the mind. but as Bachelard writes: "We should also need a psychoanalysis of matter which, at the same time that it accepted the human accompaniment of the imagination of matter, would pay closer attention to the profound play of the images of matter" (Bachelard 1994: 115).

Although Bachelard's work focuses on literary aesthetics, material imagination is also essential in other art forms, especially visual art. Art is often indistinguishable from the materials it uses. The creative process is not guided only by the images in the mind of the creator but also the imaginative impulses coming from the material itself. The final work is born from the dialogue between the artist and the material images that "only the hand truly knows".

Bachelard's concept of the material imagination creates a bridge between matter and mind and shows how the two are aspects of the same imaginative unconscious.

I think that Jung and Bachelard's works show how archetypal and material imagination connects us not only to other members of our species but also to the formative forces of the whole universe around us. This union of the psyche with nature is in actuality the re-enchantment of the world.

In a fundamental crisis in our culture, what we need is new visions. Artists have to reclaim their role as the enchanters of the imaginative unconscious. As Bachelard writes "The imagination invents more than objects and dramas – it invents a new spirit; it opens eyes which hold new types of visions" (Bachelard 1983: 16).

3. Themes and materials

For children, the world is instinctively enchanted. But as the contemporary environment becomes more industrial, artificial, and commodified, the disenchantment penetrates even children's imagination.

Often the activities in the city play-parks are goal-oriented and focus on developing skills. Each child performs the same task following simple rules. In my art workshops, I am interested in encouraging a child's natural creative imagination rather than teaching specific skills. For me, an exciting and enchanting process is more rewarding than the actual result.

The archetypal imagination provides a rich source of art themes. The images that repeat in myths, fairy-tales, fantastical and grotesque art, have deep roots in the collective unconscious. The same imagery of heroes and monsters, miracles and magic is also common in popular culture. Children get excited about such themes because they belong to an enchanted world where everything is possible.

What Jung writes about the vital meaning of myths for the "primitive" mentality could easily be applied to children: "The primitive mentality does not invent myths; it experiences them" (Jung,1969: 154).

Children don't think about the imagination intellectually but experience it as a living reality. Children that play at being heroes in a story or a myth practice the ability to be the main characters of their own life. By living archetypically, we can establish a re-enchanted relationship to the world.

This is why I choose themes that can be directly linked to play. I don't think children need to create images and objects to be observed and admired from a distance. Rather the artistic creations should be something that children can wear and touch, to go into and use in a play. This is how artistic imagination can become an integral part of their life. When you imagine your whole life as artistic creation, you will have more resistance to uniforming social norms and oppressive rules.

Children seem to have a special relationship with matter. They are often natural hoarders, collecting anything from sticks and stones, cones and leaves, pieces of rusty metal and broken plastic. Materials that adults discard as junk seem inherently valuable to them. This might be because children can extract a variety of imaginative functions from the materials. A wooden stick is a sword, a cardboard box is a house or a boat. For children, materials offer limitless potential for imagination. Bachelard observes this: "The child's reverie is a materialistic reverie. The child is a born materialist" (Bachelard 1983: 9).

A great way to lead children to a creative process is to provide them with an abundance of materials. I use natural and recycled materials for environmental reasons and because they are free or cheap, and the real abundance is more achievable. Usually, I organize the materials in giant piles like a feast table. Abundance instantly activates the material imagination. When faced with random combinations of forms and textures, the mind automatically starts creating images. Sometimes I have the materials collected inside a treasure chest. At the beginning of the workshop, I empty the chest on the table. I love the excitement in children's eyes when the material pours out in front of them.

4. Types of art projects

4.1. Masks

Masks have strong archetypal power. In my mask-making workshops, I encourage children to create unique characters from their imagination. When outside models do not control the mask making, unconscious fantasies and fears can emerge in the character of the mask.

In many indigenous cultures, masks are believed to be enchanted. When a mask is used in a ritual, the spirit of the mask possesses the one who uses it. In a very concrete way, the one who wears a mask becomes another. By transforming the identity of its user, the mask questions the notion of a fixed subject. Perhaps the subject itself is a mask?

The Latin word for a mask is persona. It is an essential concept in the theories of Jung:

When we analyse the persona we strip off the mask, and discover that what seemed to be individual is at bottom collective; in other words, that the persona was only a mask of the collective psyche. Fundamentally the persona is nothing real: it is a compromise between individual and society as to what a man should appear to be (Jung 1972a: 158).

Making a mask materialises the archetypal projections of the psyche. Even though a mask is a primal image of the other, it is also the self-portrait of its creator. As a conjunction of the self and the other, the mask reveals the collective nature of the psyche.

Wearing a unique mask of your making can temporarily liberate you from the personality you are unconsciously wearing. The personality of the child is less fixed, so children are instinctively drawn to the transformative power of masks. Through a mask, they can become something imaginary; an animal, a hero, a monster.

In many cultures, masks are associated with the celebration of seasonal changes. In Finland, the autumnal harvest celebration, equivalent to the Celtic Samhain and the All-Hallows’ Eve is called Kekri. There are some descriptions and folklore about the customs associated with Kekri among ancient Finns. The celebration involved collective ritual guising in a wild procession from door to door. The main character of the motley crew of performers was called Kekripukki, the Kekri goat. Traditionally the Kekri goat was played by two men walking under a bearskin, wooden scoops as horns, and an axe as a muzzle.

At the time of Kekri, I organised workshops for making Kekri masks. There were no directions on what the character should look like. But in the spirit of Kekri, the materials were selected to evoke images of animals and autumn: twigs, straw and leaves, pieces of fur and leather, horns made out of paper-mâché, random recycled objects.

I think that seasonal celebrations are a great way of enchanting our connection to natural cycles. Seasonal mask making and guising evokes the archetypes of transformation and expresses the changes in nature and ourselves.

4.2. Puppet plays

In the English language, the word “play” means many different things: the play activity of children, playing games, acting in a play or making music with instruments. The fact that one single word suggests all these activities points to a deeper connection between them. It would seem that what unites these activities is the self-sufficiency of their intention. Unlike work, playing does not serve any purpose other than playing. Of course, some of these activities labelled as play can become serious work, but even then their real success depends on the quality of playing itself.

Jung sees a strong connection between play and imagination: "The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, a characteristic also of the child. And as such it appears inconsistent with the principle of serious work. But without playing with fantasy, no creative work has ever yet come to birth. the debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable" (Jung 1971: 63).

Twists and turns, trials and errors are necessary for the creative process. Just like playing, the processes of the imagination do not usually follow any ready-made plans. That is why the potential for imagination and play can never be completely exhausted.

There is an activity where all the different modes of play seem to come together. It is theatre. Theatre play can include playing in the form of music and acting as well as other forms of art like literature, dancing and scenography. Of all the arts, acting is perhaps closest to the imaginary play of children. Just as a child is completely immersed in the imaginary world of spontaneous play, a good actor has to immerse himself entirely in the imaginary world of the theatre. Just like the play of children, theatre comes in many forms. It can be a form of amusement. But it can also deal with more troubling aspects of the human experience. Sometimes children play to deal with emotional pain.

Similarly, theatre plays often deal with tragedies of life. Playing can be a symbolic repetition of intensely personal experiences, pleasurable or repulsive. But at the deeper, collective level of the psyche, it reveals archetypal truths of the imaginative unconscious.

Friedrich Nietzsche explores the archetypal forces of drama in his book The Birth of Tragedy. According to Nietzsche, Greek drama was born from the interplay of two aesthetic instincts: The Dyonisiac and the Apolline. He writes: "Enchantment is the precondition of all dramatic art. In this Enchantment the Dyonisian reveller sees himself as a satyr, and it is as a satyr he looks upon the god: in his transformation, he sees a new vision outside himself, the Apolline complement of his state. With this new vision, the drama is complete" (Nietzsche 1993: 43).

The tragic drama unites the musical ecstasy of the Dyonisiac chorus and the visual apparitions of the Apolline imagination. On the deepest level, playing transcends the subject and returns him to the primal unity of nature. It is not the subject who plays with his instincts, but the instinctual forces that play with the subject.

Like masks, puppets belong to an enchanted world. For the puppet to be alive on stage, the body of the puppet and the gestures of the performer are united. The performer is the actual enchanter of the puppet. Puppets work well with children because children are used to playing with dolls. Like a doll, a puppet is perfect for projecting emotions. Unlike playing with your persona, playing with a puppet feels safer because it is outside of yourself.

Puppet play is the perfect tool for collective work because many different talents are needed. The visual look of the puppet, stage materials, and the lights and sounds are an essential parts of the enchanted experience. The children who do not want to act can participate in the building of the puppets, scenography, light and sound.

Because of their archetypal nature, fairy tales are perfect material for puppet plays. In our puppet play workshop, the children wanted to do a version of The Three Little Pigs. It has all the elements of an exciting story: humour, danger, surprise, and heroism.

The archetypal symbolism of this tale is easy to discern. Like in many fairy tales, the characters are animals who behave like humans. Their liminal existence between the realms of the animal and the human reflects the dynamics of culture and nature. The house is a well-known symbol for the psyche. For example, Bachelard writes about this: "The house, even more than the landscape, is a "psychic state," and even when reproduced as it appears from the outside, it bespeaks intimacy" (Bachelard, 1994: 72). With their different methods of building, the three little pigs are in various stages of psychic development. Big bad wolf stands for the shadow, wild instinctual energies that can destroy a weak psyche.

In our version, each pig had an obsession. The first pig was always eating junk food, so he built his house from burgers, chips, kebab meat and sauces. Her sister was obsessed with everything shiny, so she created her house from jewels and precious stones. The hero pig of the play was obsessed with technology, so he built a house that was also a space rocket.

4.3. Enchanted spaces

The spaces we live in have a profound effect on our well-being. In my opinion, perhaps the most disenchanting part of the contemporary world is the depressing, crude, intrusive, industrial brutality of the urban environment. When staying in the city, I feel at ease only in the parks and in the older or abandoned parts of the city.

It is excellent that cities offer public spaces dedicated to playing. One would wish that a play-park invokes the atmosphere of imagination and play. Sadly, the architecture of play-parks rarely differs from the angular and soulless style of the urban environment. Even recreational equipment like jungle gyms, swing sets, seesaws and slides look mass-produced and artificial. If there is some attempt at decoration, the aesthetics are kitschy at best.

In his book Poetics of Space, Bachelard explores the imagination of spaces. He sees a connection between imagination and intimacy. "I have simply wanted to show that whenever life seeks to shelter, protect, cover or hide itself, the imagination sympathises with the being that inhabits the protected space" (Bachelard 1994: 132). I think the feeling of intimacy is what is most lacking in the urban environment. When spaces are designed for people in general, they are designed for no one in particular. Most contemporary urban spaces seem cold, indifferent, restless, aggressive, without places of privacy and calm. What we need are spaces of intimacy. Bachelard writes: "all the spaces of intimacy are designated by an attraction. Their being is well-being" (Bachelard 1994: 12).

I wanted to bring intimate spaces for imagination and play inside the play-park area in my hut building workshops. There is something innocent and informal about huts that are instinctively appealing to children. Huts are easy to build and need no planning or expensive tools. Huts are wild. The primal quality of huts makes them the archetypes of architecture or simply archetecture.

Our huts were made from natural materials; boughs, twigs, shrubs, different plants, sisal rope and yarn. In their organic form and use of raw natural materials, huts also resemble the structures built by animals: bird nests, termite mounds, rabbit burrows, beaver dams. Bachelard recognised the primal imagery of the animal habitat: "With nests and, above all, shells, we shall find a whole series of images that I am going to try to characterise as primal images; images that bring out the primitiveness in us" (Bachelard 1994: 91). I think building spaces of primal imagination is an essential step in the re-enchantment of our environment.

Miniatures are a great way to activate the imagination of space. Suddenly our senses are enchanted: Have we grown larger or has the world suddenly gone small? Miniatures evoke the fairy-tale images of tiny people and transformations in size as in Tom Thumb, “Thumbelina”, Gulliver's Travels or The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland.

Children have to live in a world that is built on a larger scale than they are. Miniatures are exciting for them because suddenly they can experience being larger than the world around them. In the cardboard building workshop, I wanted to create a fantastical miniature world for children to play in.

Castles also belong to the enchanted imagination of fairy tales. Where there is a castle, there are always kings and queens, princes and princesses, witches and dragons. Castles are fantasies in architectural form.

In the workshop, we created the Castle of Autumn. The castle was built as a miniature, but big enough for children to be able to crawl inside and play. The walls of labyrinthine halls and corridors were built from cardboard. Transparent domes were carefully layered with silk paper. The roof was covered with colourful autumn leaves. I was delighted to see how fast the children invented games inside the intimate corridors of the cardboard castle.

5. Conclusion

In this paper, I have explored methods of using imagination and art for the re-enchantment of urban play-parks.

If the dominating worldview of rationalism is the cause of disenchantment in our culture, the tools for re-enchantment must lie outside the rational mind. I suggested that the way in which the formative forces of imagination intertwine with our perception of the physical world can become a powerful source of re-enchantment. I have found out that especially artistic creation is an effective tool in transforming the material reality of the physical world through imagination. Therefore, artistic creation is an essential element in re-establishing an enchanted relationship with our environment.

In my work as a community artist in Helsinki City play-parks, I developed methods for cultivating artistic imagination in children. Rather than focusing on the results, my work aimed to engage the children in the lived experience of creation and material play. The goal of these projects was to help children to establish a long-lasting connection to the enormous treasure chamber of their imagination.

My outlook on the creative forces of imagination is strongly influenced by the concept of the unconscious. Originally the concept of the unconscious is born as a scientific explanation for the irrational side of our psyche. A further study of the unconscious gives new insights into the role of imagination in our psychic life. The exploration of the imaginative unconscious is especially prevalent in the works of Carl Gustav Jung and Gaston Bachelard. These thinkers have shown the way to a radical revaluation of imagination. In the words of Jung: "Not the artist alone, but every creative individual owes all that is greatest in his life to fantasy" (Jung 1971: 63). When we materialise the imaginative unconscious, our world can truly become re-enchanted. In the poetic words of Bachelard: "You will hear the music of the spheres when you have collected enough metaphors – that is, when the imagination has been re-established in its vital role as a guide for human life" (Bachelard 1988: 181).

Archetypal imagery highlighted by Jung provides a rich reserve of themes for artistic work. In my workshops with children, I used folkloric masks and images from fairy tales as thematic material for projects. The archetypal power of these themes allows children to deal with their instincts and affects in an imaginal and performative form. The artistic expression of the imaginative unconscious leads to the re-enchantment of life in a concrete way.

The concept of material imagination developed by Bachelard has served as a strong inspiration for me. In my artistic work, the imaginal suggestions coming from the materials often direct the creative process. In the workshops with children, I tried to create an experience of material abundance that inspires an experimental and playful attitude to creation. Working with surrounding natural and re-cycled materials teaches children to observe their immediate environment in an artistic way.

The archetypal and material aspects of imagination are central elements in my workshops with children. My work can serve as an example and inspiration for others who wish to bring more art and imagination to urban play-parks. My paper provides an argument for the vital role of art education in children’s development. Through art and imagination, we can bend the normative boundaries of reality, embrace creativity and re-enchant our relationship with the environment.


Works cited

Bachelard, Gaston (1988). Air and Dreams, Dallas: The Dallas Institute Publications.

Bachelard, Gaston (1994). The Poetics of Space, Boston: Beacon Press.

Bachelard, Gaston (1983). Water and Dreams, The Pegasus Foundation.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix (1984). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London: The Athlone Press Ltd.

Ellenberger, Henri F (1970). The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry, New York: Basic Books, 1970.

Jung, Carl Gustav (1969). Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jung, Carl Gustav (1997) On Active Imagination, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jung, Carl Gustav (1971) The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 6., Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jung, Carl Gustav (1972a) The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jung, Carl Gustav (1972b) The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Nietzsche, Friedrich: (1993) The Birth of Tragedy: Out of the Spirit of Music, London: Penguin Books.


Electronic reference

Kalle Samuli Ahonen, « Re-enchanting urban play-parks », Textes et contextes [Online], 16-2 | 2021, 10 December 2021 and connection on 28 May 2024. Copyright : Licence CC BY 4.0. URL :


Kalle Samuli Ahonen

Artist, designer and independent researcher; Maivalantie 1080 C, 51780 Kuosmala, Finland


Licence CC BY 4.0