“Play is a form of order” and the dimension of the trace

For a year, I’ve had this on an electronic sticky on my Mac desktop:

With the trace <Spur>, a new dimension accrues to “immediate experience.” It is no longer tied to the expectation of “adventure”; the one who undergoes an experience can follow the trace that leads there.Whoever follows traces must not only pay attention; above all, he must have given heed already to a great many things.

–Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, page 801

Yesterday, I encountered this. Take note, those of you with interest in games and ludic behavior. It’s the beautiful, fragile vellum poster for the 1957 an Exhibit, organized at London’s ICA, the Institute for Contemporary Arts by Richard Hamilton, Victor Pasmore, and Lawrence Alloway. Printed with blocks of black and blood red, rendered translucent on the vellum, the copy unfolding and the poster becoming more transparent as its viewer unfolds it.

Preplanning decided on the rules of a game, to be call an Exhibit

The preplanning consisted of choosing and ordering the elements to be used. Preparations were not concerned with the finished appearance of an Exhibit but with assembling the materials to make it possible. Although general effects were anticipated, care was taken not to rehearse the form.

A number of ‘Perspex’ panels were obtained, in different degrees of transparency. A standard size in which ‘Perspex’ sheets are available is 4 ft: thus, one dimension was fixed. 2 ft. 8 ins. was selected as convenient for the width because three 2 ft 8 ins. sides equal two 4 ft. sides. In this way various possible vertical and horizontal groupings were predicte: but decisions about their arrangements and whereabouts were postponed. The other elements in an Exhibit were subject to a similar procedure.

Once the rules were settled, a high number of moves was possible.

an Exhibit as it stands, records one set of possible moves.

The individuation of the structure was not achieved until work started on the site. Only then did it take form, wit a series of empirical decisions. Some improvisatory gestures were made, only to be abandoned; others were preserved, and made the basis for further decisions. All the moves, the visible actions of the players, were made up as they went along.

This stage follows certain rules, within which free action is possible, and it recognizes a terminus—the deadline of the public opening. Thus an area in time and space is marked out. The gallery resembles a tennis court or a hopscotch grid, a playground within which special rules operate.

Play is a form of order, an order that contains both standards and free improvisation.

an Exhibit could be assembled elsewhere to record other moves, equally valid, while continuing to observe the rules.