Art at play
Bar-Yam ’12 brings swings to campus
Published: Monday, April 2, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 05:04
Maayan Bar-Yam ’12, the creator of the many red swings around campus, doesn’t like to swing. Despite their appeal to children around the world, he always chooses other playground attractions—swinging makes him dizzy. However, his swing creations at Brandeis have brought happiness to everyone who takes a turn on one.
Born in Israel and raised in Newton, Mass., Bar-Yam, a Studio Arts major, is set on his future career: playground design. While he admits to choosing to attend the University based on its kosher food options, Bar-Yam has found recent celebrity as the enigmatic “swing fairy.”
“What I want to do is design playgrounds. Early on when I came to Brandeis and was deciding what to major in, I sort of explored the possible routes to get there and the closest thing here was sculpture,” Bar-Yam explained in an interview with the Justice.
The Red Swing Project is part of his senior thesis, which, instead of the usual fifty-page paper, involves an extensive art project. “You have to find a theme you’re going for,” he said, “and mine is play.” He drew inspiration from the global Red Swing Project, where people anonymously hang swings in different places around the world to inspire play. The idea was born in Austin, Texas, and since 2007 over 150 swings have been hung around the world, in places ranging from Haiti to Poland. Another project Bar-Yam worked on is placing various materials on the Great Lawn for students to create sculptures.
He hung the swings in various spots around campus, some in central locations such as the Great Lawn and Mandel Quad, and others in quieter spots, like next to Kutz Hall. The project has proved to be immensely popular with the student body. “It’s all about the trees and finding a place on the branches to support them,” he said. “The one on the Great Lawn got used so much it broke, so I had to put up two new ones,” he added.
According to Bar-Yam, there is much more to the swings than a pumping back-and-forth motion. “There’s this core idea of play work, which is sort of a profession, but almost a philosophy,” he explains. “What is play? It’s intrinsically motivated. When you do what you want to do without somebody telling you what to do.” Regular playgrounds don’t always allow children to accomplish this. “You’d think you could really do that on any playground and any space, but in more conventional playgrounds, the equipment is really constricting. Kids want to do a lot more than what they can do on a playground. They want to built with things, they want to play with stuff, they want to explore things.”
His inspiration for bringing the swings to the Brandeis campus was based on his recent visit to the U.K., where he experienced adventure playgrounds first hand. They are built for anyone ages five and older to come and “do what they want.” According to Bar-Yam, a university like Brandeis is in need of such playful moments. “The core of it is that in a university setting, so much of the time you’re going to classes and doing homework and worried about whatever, that to have these little moments to just go swing, just go relax, just go play. It’s really nice and really important.”
The reaction from the student body has confirmed his assumptions. “I never stop hearing about [the swings], which is great, and I love it that people are always telling me about how I made their day.” In times of stress, the swings provide a space for self-reflection or simply a break from the day. Students who have chosen to swing are happy that they did.
Bar-Yam and his senior thesis adviser, Prof. Christopher Abrams (FA), have an ongoing argument about who truly appreciates the swings. Prof. Abrams believes adults admire them from afar, but never take the initiative to go and enjoy them. Bar-Yam believes otherwise: “What I’ve found from seeing people swing on them is that it’s not actually the case. Really everybody really likes them.” Any initial doubts he may have had as to the success of the project have vanished. He used to be concerned about how people would react. “When I put them up I was like are people going to like them? Are people going to be afraid to use them? But everybody likes them,” he says.
As a Studio Arts major, Bar-Yam takes a different approach to the installation of his work around campus than an architecture or industrial design student. “I don’t talk about it as art so much unless I’m talking to Abrams, but in some ways it really is art, it’s like an installation. And the installation, rather than being the swing or rather than being the structure that’s built, is really the day, this set of conditions, right? Under which you have this zone that exists in space and time where people can come and the rules are different,” he said.
After graduation, Bar-Yam plans to work on the first adventure playground on the East Coast, located in Ithaca, N.Y. Right now, he is content with helping over-worked Brandeis students remember how to have fun again. “What’s so fascinating is that people come and they struggle with the concept of fun a lot,” Bar-Yam says, “It’s difficult when you have complete freedom to do what you want, because we don’t do it so much, we’re out of practice. I’m trying to bring that back.”