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  • Amy Martin

Play in Galleries

Updated: Jun 24, 2022

In 1969 Children were invited to play at Helio Oiticuica’s installation of Eden, a sand-filled playground set within Whitechapel Gallery space (pictured).

In more recent years, Kosuge 1-16 created an interactive play space for children at Mac Birmingham, with puppets and climbing structures at an exhibition entitled The Playmakers, (Kosuge 1-16, 2012) curated by Debbie Kermode, Kaye Winwood and Craig Ashley.

In ‘PLAY WORK’ at Ty Pawb, Wrexham, artist Morag Colquhoun worked alongside play workers from adventure playground The Venture, to create part of a working adventure playground with pallets, barrels, sheep pelts, fabric and other loose parts, which then got redesigned and adapted by the children who visited the exhibition.

'PLAY-WORK centred on the relationship between adults and children, and on celebratory documentation of radical playwork since the 1970s at Wrexham’s world-renowned adventure playgrounds. The core of the exhibition was a playscape, designed and built in a collaborative process between the artists, Ludicology, Tŷ Pawb Staff and the local authority’s Play & Youth Support Team and Wrexham’s adventure playgrounds. Within the playscape was new commission by Morag Colquhoun, who created textiles specifically for interactive ‘loose parts’.

Functional push-cart artworks designed by Gareth Griffith also featured. The carts were fabricated by children and staff from wrexham playwork projects. Additionally, ‘The Voice of Children’, a film by Turner Prize winning collective Assemble, was exhibited in the gallery.'

An adventure playground is described as a space for children to play that could be built and shaped according to their own creative vision, (Shier, 1984). In this installation the curators went a step further and the gallery invigilators were replaced by trained playworkers. In her description, Colquhoun gave a compelling metaphor saying that 'adventure playgrounds are much like artist’s studios, they are active spaces for the making and remaking, the repurposing and recycling of ideas.' (Colquhoun, 2019).

Most recently inspired by the artwork of Lubaina Himid, Woodland Tribe took over the Turbine Hall at TATE Modern. Children were able to use hammers, saws and drills to build and transform their own play space inspired by Lubaina Himid current Tate Modern exhibition, where she explored dreams, beauty, risk-taking and imagined spaces and encourage children to build their own city in the Turbine Hall. This Easter residency used huge quantities of wood and real tools to transform the gallery into an adventure playground built by children which included doorways, wheeled things, houses, structures and more (pictured).

Current exhibitions:


Albert Potrony

equal play

25 Sep 2021 - 4 Sep 2022

Exploring the principles of non-hierarchical play environments, equal play is a new commission by artist and educator Albert Potrony. The project explores themes of non-gendered and non-prescriptive play, and will take inspiration from Dutch architect, Aldo van Eyck, to specifically consider the role of men and childcare in relation to feminism.

Between 1947 and 1978 Van Eyck designed hundreds of playgrounds, consciously designed the equipment in a decidedly minimalist way to stimulate the imagination of its users (in this case, children), leading to the appropriation of space through its openness and multitudinous creative interpretations. Though largely removed, defunct or forgotten today, these playgrounds represent architectural intervention at a pivotal time: the shift from top-down organisation of space by modern functionalist architects, towards a bottom-up architecture that literally aimed to give space for imagination.

Potrony’s equal play will actively explore these beliefs at BALTIC; designing a number of fixed structural/sculptural elements derived from a small selection of Aldo van Eyck’s sculptural “alphabet”, to articulate, transform and activate the gallery through play.



Assemble and Schools of Tomorrow: The Place We Imagine, installation view at Nottingham Contemporary, 2022. Courtesy Nottingham Contemporary. Photo: Julian Hughes.

Nottingham Contemporary

Assemble + Schools of Tomorrow

The Place We Imagine

Sat 7 May – Sun 4 Sep

"A surreal delight... merry mayhem... bouncing between the play structures in euphoric disbelief that an art gallery could ever be so much fun" – Oliver Wainwright, The Guardian

In 1968, the legendary Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi drew a fantastical playground. This colourful drawing imagines a series of vast structures in front of Museum of Art, São Paulo (MASP), which she had recently designed. They loom over the museum – as though imagined by children, rather than an architect. This was important for Bo Bardi, who wrote: “the young will be the protagonists in the life of the museum through design, music and theatre”. This utopian play-space was, however, never built. Today, the unrealised design prompts the question: how might we reimagine galleries, play and education? More than three years in the making, in summer 2022 Nottingham Contemporary will collaborate with the design collective Assemble to bring Bo Bardi’s vision to life. Inspired by the architect’s now-famous drawing, this ambitious project will realise a series of large-scale play sculptures, one of which was developed in dialogue with children from three local schools.

At each school Assemble worked closely with a resident artist and children over time to explore themes around play. Children’s actions, ideas and responses were at the heart of this conversation; Assemble have created a design for and by the city’s children. So, let’s go and play.


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