Returning to the fence line
“I started sketching what is far away but then I realized all I could see was the fence…”
– Educator S.
Lesley Instone (1999) invites us to consider the playground fence an active agent in composition of the space. Instone’s first proposition is to think fences as lines of exclusion that reflect “the dualistic structures of Western thought that underlie colonial forms and practices of land use” (p. 372).
We see it every day: on one side of the fence is a site of secured childhood, play and joy; on the other – an uncontrolled world to keep out. In public parks, playground borders keep impact-attenuating material in; on one side of the border padded protection, on the other perceived danger.
A fence line makes a stranger or a danger: bodies of animals, adults unaccompanied by children – are excluded from the ‘us’ tucked safely inside the boundaries. As Sarah Ahmed (2014) points out, by being refused from a space “you become questionable, as someone who can be questioned, who should be willing to receive a question, when it assumed you are not from here. A body can become a question mark”.
Within playground spaces, fences and borders can, as Instone writes about Australian ‘pastoral’ landscape, “be configured as part of a system of regulatory practices that shape, discipline and order the land into the imperial patterns” (p. 376). Indeed, the post and metal links contraption surrounding the centre’ building is what makes this a preschool playground like neither a playground structure nor the presence of children can. So while regulatory bodies make the following an entirely speculative question, we might still wonder how might a playground be if it wasn’t surrounded by a fence? Will it even be a playground any longer?
But, Instone continues, such a singular reading of fence-as-an-agent is not sufficient. She further also proposes the queering of the fence in considering the gaps and tears, the flow-through, and the act of sitting-on-the-fence as a position that rejects side-taking in favour of neither, nor, and, and, and…
The wind, the smells and the sound of the neighbourhoods flow freely through the chain-link enclosure. Weeds will grow here in the spring, their seeds carried from the nearby school field passed a barrier that is entirely permeable to their efforts to procreate. Children push their faces against the fence, sticking their noses and fingers through the holes. An array of colourful plastic shoves rests on the other side of the fence, having been pushed and never retrieved.
As the educator adds lines to her sketch to represent the metal links that frame her view, I wonder if a fence is an agentic curator of playground worlds, working to both keep in and channel through, to frame and exclude while also inviting togetherness, to regulate while inviting small acts of rebellion?
Image 1: Educator S. (2021), playground sketch.
Image 2. Tatiana Zakharova (2021), sketch of Running Fence based on photo by Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Ahmed, S. (2014, April 1). Being in Question. Feminist Killjoys. Online: https://feministkilljoys.com/2014/04/01/being-in-question/
Instone, L. (1999). Fencing in/fencing and: Fences, sheep and other technologies of landscape production in Australia. Continuum (Mount Lawley, W.A.), 13(3), 371–381. https://doi.org/10.1080/10304319909365808