Category Archives: Art as Playground

Shhhh…. Aarhus Secret Club Adventures

Ed.’s note – Earlier this fall, PlayGroundology got a note from Kenn Munk about a temporary play space in Aarhus, Denmark. ‘The Wildness’ opened over the fall school break and was free for all who wanted to attend. The project, part of a ‘secret club‘ for kids that has been in existence for the past 10 years, was supported by Aarhus’ Børnekulturhuset, or Children’s Culture House. What follows is Kenn’s lightly edited description of ‘The Wildness’.

 

Setting sail for adventure in Aarhus’ Vildskaben

The playground was inspired by the original 1940s junk playgrounds in Denmark and Great Britain, but with a few twists added. In a secret club, we treat play as an art form, so our take on the junk/adventure playground would be a bit different – we never want to paint a picture that has already been painted, to stick to the art analogy. Our adventure playground was called ‘The Wildness’. (Vildskaben in Danish – with the added bonus that ‘skaben‘ can be interpreted as ‘creation’).

In our work, we often subtly hint at a story that participants then can take in any direction they want. Annabelle Nielsen and I see ourselves as artists. We are self-employed and the ‘secret club’ is our full time job. In this project, we combined the practicalities of telling people about the risks and hazards of the play space with inviting them into a magical place using a grey-clad masked guard. 

The guard told them the basics they needed to know and also helped them decide on their mystic sign. This sign would be their name in Vildskaben. They would paint it on the fence around the playground. It was the first thing they did. Once the signs were created and they had familiarized themselves with some tools and materials, they could do whatever they wanted.

Signs and symbols

With all its dangers and wonders, campfire smell, old furniture and half-rotten pallets and logs, we (the adults) had envisioned The Wildness as ‘a shanty-town of magic users’. It was the story we were hinting at. We never told the participants about this vision, but they picked it up naturally from the visual clues, like the mystic symbols, and the actual magic of the camera obscura we had made from a small hut hidden in the back.

We learned how important it was to spend time on roofs and that people are perfectly capable of not getting hurt.

 

Pick a hammer

Once inside, the kids could pick up tools and supplies from the tool shed. Building materials were also around this area. At the tool shed, there was also additional information about how everyone was allowed to change what others had built, unless it had been marked with a black cross. A black cross meant that the builder had plans to return and continue building. The ‘black cross’ idea was abandoned as the playground equivalent of an edit war was more interesting. The tool shed was also the place were they could claim prizes from hidden tickets they would find around the area.

Creation all sorts

The grounds used to belong to the scouts, and when we went through the piles of wood, we found treasure upon treasure – oddly shaped pieces of wood and even a small cast-iron oven was found under the wood pile. The place overflowed with serendipity. We often take inspiration from psychogeography and hauntology and the grounds very much inspired the project. This wasn’t place-making, this was working with the cues the place gave us such as the found oven.

Families really took to ‘The Wildness’ and it was free for anyone to use.  Some kids and families came back two or three times over the week. We only saw people whip out their phones to take pictures.

‘The Wildness’

Some of the materials were already there. The rest we scavenged from the streets. We often work with found materials, not just for environmental reasons, but mostly because these things come with a history that will inform what you will be doing with them. It’s strange that old furniture, building materials and such are seen as a problem rather than as a resource.

We made it clear that destruction was allowed, kids enjoyed prying off boards from the fence. The destructive aspect of making was very, very important to us. There was no need for insurance.

We didn’t need insurance, the guard made people take responsibility for their own lives by making them sign a form – this was right before he asked them to throw wet blobs of toilet paper at a target…

Beware the guard

The space is now closed and is slated to be turned into a park. We hope to be able to let it all grow over and fall apart for a few months and then briefly re-open in spring.

Kenn Munk and one of the kids at ‘The Wildness’

Art and play are frequent companions. Another great Danish example is Copenhagen’s Amager Ark.

Do you have a favourite play experience or play setting you’d like to share? Get in touch with PlayGroundology through the Contact page. We’d love to hear from you.

 

Preserving Play in Guadalajara

Public playspaces are joyful places. They’re filled with laughter, adventure and the promise of discovery. When these spaces are removed they leave a void. Where there was once breathless wonder, the adult world ushers in a pall of ordinariness.

Source – Mónica Del Arenal

The pall is at risk of descending on Morelos Park in Guadalajara, Mexico. Fifty years ago, the Mexican architect Fabián Medina Ramos, designed this playscape. Now the local government plans to destroy it.

I would rather a park that gives sanctuary to an elephant, a hippo, a camel, an untamed zone of wildful imagination. Surely these attract a greater quotient of magic than lawns, gardens, or auditoriums could ever hope to do.

Sometimes when spaces like these are threatened, civic-minded individuals mobilize public opinion to try and save them. This social action can be resoundingly successful. San Gabriel, California and L’Haÿ-les-Roses, France are examples of two sculptured playscapes from the same time period that have been saved from the wrecker’s ball.

Source – Pablo Mateos

Pablo Mateos an associate professor in social anthropology has taken up the charge. He’s trying to save this children’s playscape in Guadalajara. You can sign the petition at change.org to help save these endangered animals and protect a children’s space that has intrinsic historical and cultural value.

“What playgrounds have survived without maintenance for 50 years?” – Pablo Mateos

Source – Equipo Aristoteles

Well there seems to have been a coat of paint from time to time. The vibrant colours are in keeping with the imaginative play kids have experienced here for generations.

Help ensure that the kids of Guadalajara can continue to play in this space – drop in on change.org and add your signature to the petition.

Ed’s note -Thanks to PlayGroundology friend Suzanne McDougall for sharing information about this endangered Guadalajara playscape.

As the Worm Turns

Just look into a child’s eyes as they happen upon a wriggling worm. Before scooping it up, they watch as it bends, turns, twists its glistening annulated skin through crumbling earth. There is wonderment at play seeing this movement, the peek-a-boo tunneling, the coiling retreat.

Lozziwurm - Regensdorf - fur kinderSource: architektur fur kinder

Behold the Lozziworm conceived and designed by Swiss sculptor Yvan ‘Lozzi’ Pestalozzi. First introduced in the 1970s, there are somewhere in the vicinity of 110 spread out across Europe in parks, playgrounds and schoolyards.

Lozziwurm - fur kinderSource: architektur fur kinder

Thanks to PlayGroundology reader Cynthia Henry who shared the news that a Lozziworm is on its way to Pittsburgh, USA to be an outside beacon for the 2013 Carnegie International. A Carnegie spokesperson told PlayGroundology that there’s “a play structure because the International this year features works by artists that deal with play, both in the traditional sense of being playful, but also in the sense that play is the wellspring of creativity and making–many of them play with very serious ideas, or turn history upside down.”

The Carnegie’s Lozziworm is scheduled to be in place for play by late April. The ground is being prepared now. A profile view will look something like this.

lozziwurm_baselCourtesy Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Before signing off, take stock of Lozzi’s credo, they could be words to live by.

Think like a mature human being – enjoy life like a child.

We’ll be in touch with the Carnegie next month to get more info on the playground related exhibits during this year’s edition of the International.

Oh, you might be wondering what does one do with a Lozziworm? Crawl, climb, jump, squeeze through the dark interior, reconfigure the shape and of course endless games from the imagination.

Ann Hamilton’s Park Avenue Armory Playground

Just as food group giant Danone starts its evian ‘live young’ branding swing through London (see previous post), New York City is getting ready to wrap its own art swing happening that’s been pulling in the crowds at Manhattan’s Park Avenue Armory for the last month.

GlassSwingingComposer Philip Glass coursing through the air at Ann Hamilton’s ‘the event of a thread’. Photo credit – Ellen Knuti. Source – Park Avenue Armory

This weekend is the last chance to have your toes kiss the sky at Ann Hamilton’s ‘the event of a thread’ which closes Sunday, January 6. From the New York Times to twitterville’s vox populi reviews are soaring on this participatory installation that fills the cavernous armory space with billowing motion.

A field of swings, a film of suspended fabric, pigeons, manuscripts and readers, a writer, broadcasts and song all come together to recreate at each instant a new thread similar to but unlike its previous or future iteration. In the opening paragraph of the artist statement for the show Hamilton says:

I can remember the feeling of swinging—how hard we would work for those split seconds, flung at furthest extension, just before the inevitable downward and backward pull, when we felt momentarily free of gravity, a little hiccup of suspension when our hands loosened on the chain and our torsos raised off the seat. We were sailing, so inside the motion—time stopped—and then suddenly rushed again toward us. We would line up on the playground and try to touch the sky, alone together.

Many SwingsPhoto credit – James Ewing. Source – Park Avenue Armory

Art, play, wonder, mindfulness. I wish I could swing, hear, be at Park Avenue Armory this weekend. Ann, we have an Armory here in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Do you want to take the show on the road? Maybe next Christmas season in Canada’s far east hugging the Atlantic’s wintry shores. What a wonderful gift that would be.

tumblr_mfjk1wYkBg1rlnyido1_1280Photo credit – Da Ping Luo. Source – Park Avenue Armory

The Tides Turn

Halifax’s waterfront sculpture ‘The Wave’ is now firmly in the play zone. After more than 20 years of trying to keep kids and adults from scaling the sculpture and sliding back down, the authorities have apparently given in. The change in heart sets ‘The Wave’ free for the summer’s biggest blowout on the harbour’s boardwalks – Tall Ships 2012.

The chiseled in stone statement at the base of the sculpture no longer applies. It is pretty much a free for all. There is also a newly installed rubberized ground cover. This will help break the falls that will inevitably happen. Anything flies now.

Kids are having great fun. Parents are a little skittish. I know the feeling, our four and six-year-old have perched on top and then skittled on down to ground level.

The National Post’s Joe O’Connor did a nice piece on ‘The Wave’ back in May. Take a read.

Thanks to Donna Hiebert for creating this iconic piece of public art that Haligonians and visitors, kids and adults love to play on. Thanks too to the authorities who have moved on from their former killjoy role.

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

Experience the SuperSlide at Carsten Höller’s New Museum Exhibition

There’s a new slide in town on Bowery St. in Manhattan. It’s an integral component of Carsten Höller’s Experience exhibition at the New Museum running from October 26 through January 16.

Source: New Museum website

The exhibition’s online promo describes the slide as follows:

Functioning as an alternative transportation system within the Museum, one of Höller’s signature slide installations will run from the fourth floor to the second, perforating ceilings and floors, to shuttle viewers through the exhibition as a giant 102-foot-long pneumatic mailing system.

Höller is a connoisseur of the slide experience and speaks here about his love of slides.

It’s no small feat to install a SuperSlide in the interior of a multi-storey structure. This flickr slideshow captures how it was done at the New Museum.

There’s some slide action as well as a short interview with Höller on this Associated Press YouTube clip.

Here’s a 360 degree view of an earlier Höller slide installation in the Tate Museum’s Turbine Hall in London.

Finally, as we slip, slide out of this post, a little video from the Tate exhibition.

Have you had a chance to ride a Höller slide? Share your experience with PlayGroundology.