Category Archives: art and play

Montreal Swings into Spring with Pastel Harmonies

In Montreal a playful art installation invites passersby to kick back and let their toes touch the sky. For the third consecutive year 21 balançoires is sending waves of lightness through the downtown core’s entertainment district momentarily whisking away the urban noise and bustle. Listen carefully and you will hear a rising, falling arc of sweet music as players sail through the air on their bottom-lit swings.
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PlayGroundology’s 2011 story on Montreal’s musical swings is one of the blog’s most visited posts. Hats off again to my Montreal buddy Moussa for giving me a shout about this wildly popular interactive art.

21 balançoires (3rd edition) – Promenade des Artistes, Montreal, Canada until June 2, 2013

This year 21 balançoires has caught the eye of France’s Biennale Internationale Design Sainte-Étienne (source – designboom) and Oprah who visited Montreal earlier this month.

When in motion, each swing in the series triggers different notes and, when used all together, the swings compose a musical piece in which certain melodies emerge only through cooperation. via Daily Tous les Jours

Creators Mouna Andraos and Melissa Mongiat have swing, swang, swung themselves into the hearts of Montrealers, the international design community and lovers of play everywhere.

The installation was awarded The Best in Show at February’s Interaction Awards in Toronto. Andraos and Mongiat have not been resting on their laurels though. After introducing the world to 21 balançoires, they created 21 obstacles. Most recently they’ve been awarded a commission for Montreal’s first permanent digital art installation at the city’s new planetarium.

This third edition of 21 balançoires features a photo contest so click off a few frames, you could be a winner.

I’m sure Andraos and Mongiat will be back with new crowd pleasers. I hope they will revisit the world of play with compelling, heart of the city projects that make the old young and the young younger still.

The Electric Art of Swinging

I’m a sucker for swings. They can be a gentle relaxing glide, or a drop thrill sweeping ride.

In Portugal this past week, as part of the European Capital of Culture in Guimarães, a pop-up swing installation greeted visitors to the International Centre for the Arts Jose de Guimarães.

Source: moradavaga 2012

Constructed on a foundation of donated pallets, the wooden block swings generated electricity by rigging up bicycle chains and wheels to capture the energy of arcing motion.

See how it works here in this short video produced by the Moradavaga Collective for their playable public art, SWING.

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SWING is art, play and a tribute to the city’s industrial heritage.

If you love swings check these earlier PlayGroundology posts: In Montreal the Swings Are Alive With The Sound of Music; The Unbearable Lightness of Swinging.

Drop in on PlayGroundology’s FB page for a video posted earlier today of a wild rope swing ride shot in Utah.

The Playground – A 20th Century Masterpiece

Is this the most highly valuated painting depicting a playground?

The Playground (oil on canvas) 46.4 x 62.2 cm., LS Lowry – 1945. Click image to enlarge.

At its last sale price of £553,000 The Playground is way beyond my ability to consider acquiring to grace a wall in our home. I’ll have to settle for an offset print.

The Playground was one of 21 works by the popular 20th century British painter LS Lowry that was sold by millionaire bookie Selwyn Demmy. Proceeds from the sale helped to finance Demmy’s Hunter’s Moon animal sanctuary. The auction at Christie’s in November 2010 brought in £5.2 million.

Demmy was born around the corner from Lowry in Salford, Greater Manchester. At the time of the sale Demmy reflected on the collection he had acquired over a nearly 20-year period. “For me, the works of Lowry have a very powerful personal resonance as they capture the heart and soul of the people and landscape which I have loved and lived in all my life.” He told BBC that his favourite piece of the lot was The Playground.

For my part, I love the bustle, the busyness – five kids whooshing down the slide in a perpetual zip of motion. The space is bursting with activity – a kid magnet. Adults are present but not in an overwhelming, take charge way. This truly looks like a kid’s show, kid’s play. In 1945, this painting shouted out hope, an end to six years of darkness and war in Europe. Children playing in the open without fear of air raids was a return to normalcy, a cause for celebration.

Here is the Christie’s description of The Playground excerpted from the news release publicizing the auction.

The Playground is a superb panoramic cityscape with enormous charm, illustrated right. The 1930s and 1940s are recognised as the greatest period in Lowry’s oeuvre, when his vision was strongest. This canvas, from 1945, is bustling with life and, as with the best of Lowry’s paintings, presents the viewer with a multiple of shared and private moments, with numerous smaller vignettes in front of, surrounding and beyond the central focus of the children’s slide. The playground’s fence in the foreground is a characteristic motif; many of Lowry’s works have a barrier in the foreground, in the form of railings or posts, which have been suggested as representing Lowry’s own loneliness: slightly removed from, and unable to become part of, the world around him. The bandstand in the left of the middle-ground anticipates the wonder of the Daisy Nook fairground, which Lowry depicted the following year. There is a lightness to the palette which contrasts the darker works of the earlier 1940s and the beautiful balance and dynamic of this composition with the painterly figures, joyous children playing and distant industrial cityscape make this substantial painting (18 ¼ x 24 ½ inches) very significant.

Imagine if the current owner were to place The Playground back on the market and maintain the momentum of Demmy’s gift of giving. They could donate the sales proceeds to non-profit organizations that support play. If he were still with us, that would probably bring a smile to Lowry’s face and maybe even all the ‘matchstick’ men in the painting.

Click here and here for more on LS Lowry.

Mr. Lowry, thanks for this fine playful piece.

Sculpted in France – Concrete Art Playgrounds

I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for France so I’m always on the lookout for interesting play stories from that part of the world. Our family lived there in the early 70s. I was 12 when we arrived and 15 when we left. It was my gawky early adolescent phase which I like to think I’ve outgrown.

Playgrounds were not a big attraction for me back then – a good thing probably as I don’t recall seeing many of them in the towns or cities where we lived. I was more consumed with soccer, rugby and girls. Who knew you got to give and receive des bises at almost each encounter with girls? One little kiss on each cheek… What a revelation for a wee anglo lad from Toronto. Initially I was a little hesitant but it wasn’t long before I reveled in that custom.

But back to play for the younger set. Even though I did’t see much evidence of them, there were indeed playgrounds in France. Perhaps they were just not as prevalent as they were in North America during the same period. I did come across some actual evidence of original playground design dating back to the late 50s and early 60s just the other day on a couple of French blogs. The designer in question is Pierre Székely who created playful forms out of industrial concrete.

Photo credit: J. Bruchet. Source: Architectures de cartes postales. Designer: Pierre Székely. Cité des Jeux – L’Haÿ-les-Roses, France

Székely was born in Budapest and made his way to France in the post war years. A sculptor, architect, graphic artist and playground designer, his work and play can be found in public spaces and museums throughout France and numerous other countries.

Stockholm’s public art for children inspired Székely’s approach to playgrounds. In the late 1950s he wrote:

It’s in this city (Stockholm) that children for the first time found sculptures installed for them. Even better – there is no one forbidding them to touch. Quite the opposite – all the sculptures were designed so children could climb, slide and run around. The Nordic experience is conclusive – kids are happy exercising outside – Székely

Fifty years later the L’Haÿ-les-Roses slide has lost its original sheen and sports an urban dusting of graffitti. Click through for more historical and present day L’Haÿ-les-Roses images from the As-tu déjà oublié? blog.

I haven’t been able to track down how many playgrounds Székely designed but as you can see in the slideshow there’s certainly a handful scattered about the Paris suburbs that were springing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In the late 60s, Székely made a submission to a playground design competition to create a playscape for the 1968 Grenoble Olympics. His cavernous, earthy design was the winner (slides 12 and 13). The piece could blend right in on the set of the BBC kids’ show In The Night Garden, a perfect home for the rock obsessed Makka Pakka.

Székely made magic with concrete and simple forms – art with a utilitarian purpose. But what a purpose – play, smile, dream. Looking back from our 50 year vantage point, I think his playgrounds had the ability to unleash wonder, imagination and worlds of make believe. Perhaps they still do…

His designs certainly made an impression on Carsten Höller, he of the giant slide installations and mega international venue vernissages fame. Höller made a scale model of the 1958 Cité des Jeux playground in L’Hay-les-Roses and turned it over to two mice.

I’m not sure what statement Höller is making – note the slide in the foreground of the video. Perhaps he’s asking if we’re going to play like mice, or men. From 2010, Mauseplatz was part of the solo show Animals Works.

Primary sources for this post:

As-tu déjà oublié?
Architectures de cartes postales
Catalogue Raisonné des oeuvres du sculpteur

Malmö – World Puckelball Capital

Earlier this year, PlayGroundology introduced readers to Ballon Poire a schoolyard game common in Quebec. Few had heard of the game and the post generated some interest amongst lovers of play.

Now from Malmö, Sweden comes Puckelball created by artist Johan Ström. Puckelball exists thanks to the vision and support of the City of Malmö. It’s part of a broader strategy to get citizens playing and enjoying the outdoors. Two years after the original field opened, Ström is now negotiating with Milan for an Italian Puckelball venue. Here’s what it’s all about.

The moguls and the spaghetti twist, zebra stripe goal posts remind me of the playfulness of a Seussian landscape. There’s a child’s heartbeat and wonder imbued in the design and concept. Here’s another short video showing Malmö’s residents at play on the world’s first Puckelball pitch

The unconference phenomenon has taken root over the last couple of years. Is Puckelball at the leading edge of unsport? All I know is that I’d love to get on this field with my soccer mad lad to see how long and loud our laughs would be.

Nice site here if you can read Swedish – Puckelball. More on Malmö’s playful vision in an upcoming post.

Last word to the artist from a recent interview published in Landscape Architect Business.