Play Me, a video exploring patterns in children’s play across cultures, was produced in 1997 by Helena Bullivant, the film producer and Director of Fierce Bird Films for the highly successful international touring exhibition Kid size: The Material World of Childhood for Vitra Design Museum, Germany, co-curated by her sister Lucy Bullivant, curator, author and founder of Urbanista.org, and Jutta Oldiges, curator at Vitra Design Museum, which toured globally for a phenomenal eight year stint. Clearly, such a unique, cross-cultural, anthropological-design historical focus had rarely been applied to this absorbing, seminal topic affecting everybody around the world.
Play Me, a video exploring patterns in children’s play across cultures, which is viewable on YouTube, was produced in 1997 by Helena Bullivant, the film producer and Director of Fierce Bird Film, and now the Co-Director of Hero Media, the advertising specialists, as a commission by the Vitra Design Museum, Germany, for its highly successful international touring exhibition Kid size: The Material World of Childhood. This major undertaking was co-curated by her sister Lucy Bullivant, curator, author and founder of Urbanista.org, and Jutta Oldiges, curator at Vitra Design Museum, and it toured globally for a phenomenal eight year stint, including to more than 12 venues in Japan. It was clear that such a unique, cross-cultural, anthropological design historical focus had rarely been applied to this absorbing, seminal topic relating to the lives of people around the world, and it was due to the commitment and vision of the then Director of Vitra Design Museum, Alexander von Vegesack, that this groundbreaking project got off the ground.
The Kid size exhibition explored cross-cultural patterns of design for children and their everyday living environments in and beyond the Western world. The first full scale exhibition of its kind ever to tackle this theme, initiated as a concept by von Vegesack, Kid size toured globally for eight years from 1997-2005, with showings in Europe, Japan and, before it closed, in the USA. It illuminated changing relationships between children and adults across cultures and through time, expressed through a wide range of furniture and other artefacts, imagery and video. It proved to be a highly successful international touring exhibition for Vitra Design Museum, Germany, and Lucy Bullivant and Jutta Oldiges, curator at the Museum, worked with ethnologist and psychotherapist Barbara Fehlbaum on parts of the project, which exploring cross-cultural patterns of design both for – and in some cases by – children and their everyday living environments in and beyond the Western world.
Exhibits were grouped into five sections defining the areas of a child’s life: patterns of sleeping basic functions, play, mobility and formal learning cut a broad swathe through many cultural movements that expressed ideas about children’s lifestyles, including Biedermeier and Shaker, and investigate patterns of provision in a myriad of cultures, from Papua New Guinea to China, from North American Indian to Sub Saharan Africa.
The Play Me video reveals how children’s play has influenced design, drawing on a variety of types of archive film footage dating from the 1930s to the present day. It ran in the exhibition at each venue, ‘splicing together images of children at play and a soundtrack of rhythmical singing. This gave the show a tremendous unity, echoing the movement in the shapes of furniture, display stands and the building itself.’, wrote Lottie Hoare in Crafts magazine (July/August 1998).
Drawing on social history, psychology and anthropology, the exhibition revealed changing attitudes towards the child’s physiological development, the role of intimacy and order in the family; ideas about control, autonomy and personal territory, about the changing ideas underlying environments of formal learning, and above all, the role of play, a force that transcends period or culture. Each venue made a creative contribution to the project by adding local exhibits for their own showing. Curator of Decorative Arts Elisabeth Agro at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, for instance, identified quintessential mass-produced American items: a plastic Big Wheel tricycle, the new $750 Bugaboo Frog stroller, Radio Flyer wagon, the Evenflo ExerSaucer as well as a 1660 hand crafted wooden cradle from Plymouth, Massachusetts. She also commissioned Anne Mundell to design individual ‘house’ entrances to each section of the exhibition, each one including play activity areas.
The Space of Play, a symposium on children and their relationships with the threshold spaces that link private and public urban environments, with lectures by psychologist, cultural theorist and author Dr Franco La Cecla and Lucy Bullivant, was staged at the Royal Society of Arts, London in May 1999. A 315-page illustrated book, was published in English and German editions by Skira Editore spa, Milan/Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, 1997, and continues to acquire readers today. Authors include Lucy Bullivant (curator and editorial director, English edition; author of the introduction, Currencies of Childhood, pp 12-23), design educationalist Eileen Adams, architects Vedran Mimica and Kelly Shannon, ethnologist and psychotherapist Barbara Fehlbaum, anthropologists Annemarie Seiler-Baldinger, Tina Wodiunig and Florence Weiss, cultural theorists Franco La Cecla, Massimo Alvito and Giulia Reali, psychologist Dr Mike Scaife and curator Jutta Oldiges.