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  • Let Me Take the Next Step:Go No Further Than Me
  • Guy Dartnell (bio)

We all gradually understand the importance of not creating waste or using up resources needlessly. More than ever, we are faced with evidence that our own individual consumption can significantly affect overall patterns of use and waste, which leads to such things as global warming. It seems the unpleasant truth about our world is that if we do not voluntarily learn self-restraint, the pain of enforced restraint (by state or nature) may ensue. I wonder whether issues surrounding over-use can also be applied to the creative urges of individuals or the community at large. Like over consumption, is there such a thing as "over expression"? Are we polluting the world by indulging in our own "hot air"?

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Figure 1.

Guy Dartnell and friend during research for Oogly Boogly, 2003. (Photo by Tim Nunn)

Oogly Boogly is an intimate performance event for young babies and their parents/carers. The babies, in a soft safe space devoid of any objects/toys, are allowed to do and (most importantly) not do whatever they wish. A group of performers simply follow and amplify the babies' movements or stillnesses, while their guardians are encouraged to sit back and witness the spectacle, attempting not to encourage or discourage their children from doing anything. Their task is simply to be "present" for the babies' sense of safety and security. What takes place is simultaneously a game for the babies and a performance for the adults, though no performance is created beyond what the babies choose to do or not do. We, the performers, try to go no further than the babies, to have no ambition beyond what they immediately show us.

One of my abiding memories from the initial research on Oogly Boogly was of one day in a nursery when I witnessed a baby tap with its hand on the edge of a table-just once. It was a brilliant tap. The nursery worker, like me, realizing its brilliance, immediately started tapping the table a number of times, clearly with the intent of encouraging the baby to do the same. Instead of just reflecting back to the baby what it had done itself, the adult's immediate concern was that the child develop that one tap-take the next step, increase the tapping, be creative, make the rhythm. Some might wonder why I would question this interaction. Is this not love? Is this not the natural exchange between experienced adult and inexperienced child? Is this not learning? I'm not sure that it is, though I wouldn't insist that it isn't. Certainly the child is learning something from the adult, but I question whether the reverse is happening. Perhaps it's because I am not a parent or child worker, but for me, I would say that with one tap the rhythm had already been perfectly made. Not [End Page 2] only that, it was made without the instigation of the adult. Given time, perhaps the baby might have "progressed" toward making a rhythm anyway, and possibly a more interesting one. The thing is, we'll never know.

Don't get me wrong. I don't mention this because our aim in creating Oogly Boogly was to change the learning culture between adult and child. If anything, we have steered away from any social or educational context surrounding our activity. We are simply interested to see if we can create "entertainment" that can be enjoyed by baby and adult alike, and that will not exploit the babies.

What most parents find difficult to comprehend when told about Oogly Boogly is that without stimulation, persuasion, coercion, and especially without toys, their baby happily passes 45 minutes and does not get bored. Far from being bored, the babies are generally delighted that these strange adults (the performers) are willing to look them softly in the eyes and happily share their wanderings and gurgles and falls and pats and crawls, and their endless desire to repeat things over and over and over and over again, even when that repeating is a repeating of nothing...


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