Ludere (to play) exhibition essay

Ludere (to play) exhibition essay
Jemima Kemp, Freelance editor and writer

Ludus, a Dantean Latinism borrowed from the Latin ‘ludere’. Present active infinitive of ludo ‘play’. Ludere: to play.

From ludere: allude, elude (to win at play, to parry). Also, collude ‘to play together’ ‘to act with secret knowledge’. Ludus: game, can refer to the fluttering of birds, of fish, movements of wind, water or waves.

Play is a slippery beast of an idea. Ludere, the Ur word reaching into and echoing through other words. The word itself, ‘play’ defined in action and instance- to play- not in essence (by what it does not what it is).

For play is only definable by its fluidity, the spaces it opens and its potentials. To play is to enter a temporary space and time, one removed from the everyday and of particular energies. To play is to engage in an endless dialogue of energies, actions and alterations, it is to not know the end, it is to loose possibility.

And there is here a family of things grown from a period of intensive play between like-minded makers offering these spaces and the seduction of possibility. A sleek modular lounge sits quiet as biomorphic forms- cloudlike/fungi like/alien-ish range energetically across its surface. An assembly of voluminous ceramic forms adorned with buds/nubs/bosses/nipples of colour, textured almost like feathers or fur form banks and outcrops as of clouds or mountains

There are vessels similarly textured with brightly coloured glyph like shapes reminiscent of code moving through various combinations. The glyphs also adorning sets of small mugs shaped to the hand, constant in shape but various in decoration. Two elegant settees have an insouciant lightness, in the slenderness of their insect like legs, the waveform of the seat cushion, their modest size and sensuous curves.

Curves and colours reflect and echo each other bouncing across from thing to thing forming a rich vocabulary and visual rhythm that pulls the eye one to the other and back, an intimation of the back and forth of play.

As the eye falls in it is evident that these things are bound together by a refined vocabulary of colour and form that combines and recombines. The colours are luscious and the forms a continuous play of curves. Teal, rose pink, navy, yellow, orange, grey and aqua. Circles, curves ovoids and cylinders recur and find echoes in each other, bolsters are butter coloured cylinders, the curve of a lounge is reflects another, a settee back is an ovoid as are the dining table and seats, tables are circles, the steel frames themselves are tubular, corners and edges are rounded and soft.

These are things of pure joy, driven by colour, propelled by and creating their own dynamic energies.

It is makers and life partners, Alison Smiles and Caren Elliss who have brought these joyous things into being. With individual practices, Caren and Alison have worked side by side for years but not together. To entwine their practices in an extended project and to simply play without constraints has been a long held desire.  A temporary removal from the everyday, enforced by the virus, made time unexpectedly available, emptied of existing commitments. Their response was not retreat but a deliberate act of expansive inwardness, a turn to each other and their practices, to make a space of play and discovery.


But it is more than simple beauty, although that sometimes can be more than enough. These things are not only beautiful, but being created play they embody other rare ideas, emotions and capacities.

Jenny Odell[i] writes that ‘the artist creates a structure…that holds open a contemplative space against the pressures of habit and familiarity that constantly threaten to close it’.

It is precisely play and its creations that, in this fullest sense holds open a space of possibility, engaging the energies of observation, receptiveness and attention that would otherwise be consumed elsewhere. Its fluid nature resists codification, closure and stasis and so in this can traverse and incorporate those things so often excluded- bodies, empathy, sensuous joy and delight.

The buoyant joy in colour and the process and physicality of making inheres and is clear in every piece. Colour calls out a sensuous response, as does the tactility of these pieces that want to be touched and used. The abstract forms come from the shattering of a rainbow through clouds, the materialisation of a moment of sensuous delight caught forever that holds us in thrall.

Wool, velvet, the feel of a screen print on fabric, the texture of the ceramic forms, the curve of a lounge seat or arm speaks to a recognition of the bodies that these are made for. Of bodies as living, moving, desiring and of their various physicalities and capacities.

There is a great empathy and generosity in this; these are pieces in good faith that embody care and recognition. There is for me the rare experience of being recognised and met by a beautiful piece of furniture, a stool that is the right height and secure and stable. All the furniture expresses this understanding, this empathy for other bodies and for their care and comfort.

There is true delight in design details, in a delicious pink topstitch on a navy bolster, in the not completely smooth texture of a table top, the slickness of gloss paint on cool steel, the rhythm of the wave form seats and in the sheer well madeness of things.

The modular, (a piece that Ellis has always wanted to make) encompasses all the optimistic promises of those enveloping lounges of the 1960’s and 70’s. Those squashy pastilles, biomorphic forms and crushed velvet excesses that promised transformation through simple rearrangement, Reconfigured they’re made new and by extension so are those of us in its orbit, the eternal seduction of change and possibility

This one is all promise and offered embrace and sits lightly, almost suspended on its timber base. Its slightly blocky curves are reminiscent of 8-bit imagery recalling all the bright promises of that period and its new technologies. It offers up again all this optimism, able to be whatever we might require.

For play as it is here, is not simply play, nor is it the corporatized play of productivity or marketable self-improvement.

Odell writes of the need to reclaim our attention, our selves from the ‘ colonisation …by capitalist ideas of productivity and efficiency’. She suggests doing ‘nothing’ as a necessary resistance for self-preservation. Play is precisely such a resistant ‘nothing,’ an activity that inherently refuses colonisation producing spaces and energies of recuperation, creation and sustainment.

These then, are not so much finished objects as spaces for these energies and possibilities. For to play is to set things in motion, to enter into this open ended dialogue of action and alteration. To play is where every move begets another and to loose possibility without knowing the end and to do it for the joy.

Through their beauty, their sensual pull, their care and generosity, we want to enter into play with these rich things. They invite, we respond to their pull, we play.

Jemima Kemp
Freelance editor and writer

[i] ‘How to do Nothing’, Keynote address for EYEO 2017,

Image: Caren Elliss + Alison Smiles, Sculptures, 2021. Photo Michael Haines Photography