Claire Simon, France, 1992


In this sequence we clearly see how two young players design and seal off a private playing space for themselves, separate from the rest of the playground.  They play at ‘house’ with little sticks that they’ve found scattered around the playground. 

They’ve chosen a space that isn’t neutral, but a part of the playground which is by its shape, ideal for making private, with the two little walls which naturally divide the space, circumscribing it, making different levels.  It’s a space that’s easily brought to life with a bit of imagination. 

The scrappy wee sticks that can be found all over the playground have become, for them, treasured objects.  They will do anything, including going to war, to keep them from being stolen or vandalised by others.  At one point the wee boy bravely launches in to an attack against a much larger boy, such is the importance of keeping this imaginary world intact for him.   

The attackers remain firmly on the outside of the slightly autistic world that the pair have created.  The rules and conventions of games like Cowboys and Indians aren’t in operation between the pair and the attackers.  The attackers’ motivation is purely to an impulsive need to loot and destroy, which drives them to steal or scatter the sticks, in which they have no imaginative investment. 

Playing at House also engages the relationship between the sexes, but in a reduced model from the adult world.  At the start it is the little girl who goes off to search for the sticks around the playground, while the little boy is the leader of the game and master of the house.  The little girl then decides that she wants to ‘stay at home’ and the little boy accepts the change in his role.  But when she shows that she wants to go to sleep in their flat, it is the little boy who decides on the location of the room and the pose that must ‘represent’ sleep in their game.