Disrupting Holidays: PlayTime with Glitter + Ash

“You hate nothing you have made.”


Since 1549, Thomas Cranmer in the opening line of his [modernized] Collect for Lent in the Book of Common Prayer has been reminding us that the act of creation is actually a labor of love.

Serendipitously for my ongoing project of disrupting holidays, Ash Wednesday, the first day of the penitential season of Lent, fell this year on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.

I find both observances awkward: Ash Wednesday for all its talk of the morbidity of dirt and Valentine’s for its apotheosis of coupling (whether homo- or hetero-).

I prefer to find in the imposition of ashes a sprinkling of cosmic star dust and in Valentine’s an invitation to connect with the Other.

Consequently, I aligned my disruptive observance of a holy Lent with the two year old movement of Glitter + Ash.

Instead of showing up at a church to have a priest remind me that “I am dust, and to dust I shall return,” I invited my extended community to a cocktail party: raising a toast to love that dares to speak, and marking ourselves with a sign of gratuitous liberation.

I realize the theology here is murky and I’ll let the theologians tustle over those fine points.

But for us, playing with glitter eye make-up purchased with much confusion and uncertainty from a local drugstore, was an opportunity to enliven in new and surprising ways two traditions that have shaped our lives.

Which reminds me of the Peabody Essex Museum’s latest exhibition, “PlayTime,” on view through May 6, 2018.

Reportedly, the first major thematic exhibition celebrating the role of play in contemporary art and culture, I found the exhibition challenging me to consider whether “art” should always finds its meet modifier in “fine;” whether the serious connoisseur is always superior to the provocative amateur (where amateur leans more on the Latin meaning of “lover” than the modern meaning of “unpaid”).

Exhibition curator and PEM’s Curator of the Present Tense Trevor Smith notes, “Play is a catalyst for creativity, where we make up the rules and learn how to negotiate and resolve conflict.”

Play involves a level of vulnerability and letting go of preconceived notions or boundaries.

Martin Creed, Work No. 329 (detail), 2004, on loan from the Rennie Collection at Wing Sang, Vancouver. Photo by SITE Photography. (c) Martin Creed

Indeed, Martin Creed’s, Work No. 329, a room filled with bubble gum pink balloons, which opens the exhibition, disrupts the casual visitor’s assumption of just how much glee one should experience in a serious art museum, (or maybe even as an adult?) though the rules governing who can enter and how remain as draconian as ever.

I was especially struck by the seven pairs of car wash brushes displayed in the Museum’s most historic East India Marine Hall. The juxtaposition is provocative. The colors are fun. The air is charged with the brushes’ sound and breeze. But, we’re not allowed to touch. And, I was troubled, first, by the awkward placement of the brushes in the room feeling both temporary and just off somehow. . . then, by the displacement of both function and labor. Is Marx whispering as loudly in your ear as he is in mine?

Lara Favaretto - Simple Couples, 2009
Lara Favaretto, Coppie Semplici / Simple Couples, 2009, seven pairs of car wash brushes, iron slabs, motors, electrical boxes, and wires. On loan from Rennie Collection, Vancouver. Photo by Blaine Campbell

There is as much darkness and disgust in this examination of play, as there is fun and games; as many rules, as invitations. The sugar rush is as intense as the inevitable crash.

For, what every serious player comes to understand is that it takes a lot of work to understand the rules so well you can manipulate them. . . and then you realize just how much you’ve been being manipulated all along.

All play assumes some level of consent, even if simply the assumption that we’re all here for the love of the game.

With apologies to Cranmer [and other serious connoisseurs of theology] for playing with his prose, I can’t help but imagine a new Lenten Collect for PlayTime with Glitter + Ash. Think of it as a labor of love?

Always and Everlasting , who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost welcome all those who come: Create and make in us new hearts, that we worthily lamenting our limitations, and acknowledging our selfishness, may find in thee perfect freedom and liberation. Amen.



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