Quote selected by
Helen McCrorie

What kind of tool will I use to make this noise? Scythe, flint, melon? There is no tool to make noise, only a happenstance wrong wielding of an awkward implement. I hear noises but they are mainly alarming. Take me to a noise that grows bolts and leaves and lanterns.


If play is neither inside nor outside, where is it?
HD, 26min, Helen McCrorie, 2019
a Satellites commission for COLLECTIVE

Guitar! begins as a diary. The entries convey a mother’s exhaustion and the isolation of her labour, as well as moments of revelation and wonderment, witnessing her child’s development and the sounds he makes as he plays and learns to speak. The joy and surprise of play is echoed in the poetry on the page. These snatched moments for writing felt familiar. During an intense cycle of unpaid care-work, when my children were small, studio time became a few minutes to sketch or write on the backs of receipts or whatever was to hand. What could be more nourishing for an artist than watching someone learn to speak and to make sense of the the world? It is incredibly inspiring to witness the emergence of a social being. But sustaining the energy and momentum to channel this into a creative work is hard. I am so glad that Sarah managed to write this wonderful book. It feels important in lots of ways.

The narrator of Guitar! calls to others, like distant comrades, expressing her desire for connection and solidarity. She writes of a need to make her own noise and to find the right noise to make. This grows into a sketch of a loose method, a thinking-through of how to connect with another without prior structure, how to evolve a shared practice that centres on making and responding to noise.

For me this recalls the safe(-enough) interpersonal space created by the parent for play and learning; what child psychologist DW Winnicott called the potential space. In Playing and Reality, Winnicott describes play as the practice by which we learn to negotiate between our inner psychological realities and the outer world of the environment and others. He sees play in early childhood as the root of creative living, leading to all forms of culture. Sarah and I shared how we have both felt moved and understood by Winnicott’s writings, as well as feeling an affinity with his self-doubt and his sense of theory’s inherent failings.

Learning to speak is part of play and language is also something to play with. In play, objects, sounds, language and gesture are all slippery and malleable. I wanted to recommend a work for the programme that explored these liminal spaces of learning but I found this difficult and nothing quite seemed to fit. In the end Sarah suggested returning to my film If play is neither inside nor outside, where is it? and I am thrilled to show this work in the context of Guitar!

I made the film in the years after my children started school, returning to an outdoor playgroup that I had helped to set up, inspired by the creative and anarchic potential of this time before formal learning. Sound felt very important to an exploration of play. The sound design, a collaboration with artist Mark Vernon, included recordings from free-play workshops with the children as well as location recordings and intentionally clumsy foley sound made in the studio. The foley seemed to have an uncanny relationship to the images of play. Perhaps because our experiments, with mouth noises and random objects including pinecones, magnetic tape and oatcakes, were anarchic, responsive and fun. Mark seemed to particularly enjoy the oatcake! I’m pretty sure I was playing with it but I’ll ask him...

Helen McCrorie is an artist and filmmaker. She collaborates with community groups to make films and sound works that explore sites of work, play and learning.

Bookworks Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop CCA Glasgow Glasgow School of Art National Lottery Creative Scotland