Sunday, February 27, 2011

The playground art of Daniel Dove

Daniel Dove kindly responded to my query about why he uses playgrounds in his art, answering that in addition to their general appealing colors and shapes they also bear a structural resemblance to mid 20th century Abstract Expressionism ala Jackson Pollock, Joan Mitchell, Willem DeKooning, et al. with their all-over pipes and slides; structures that are also, in his words "the closest thing in the built environment to a human body, and given that I started my painting life as a devoted figurative painter, I am attracted to that anthropomorphic quality.  I sometimes think of the pipes as intestines or limbs."

As anyone who has visited a McDonald's playground knows, these playgrounds "manifest a hyperbolic glee that I associate with consumer culture and advertising.  They are so aggressively joyful-looking that they tend to become parodies of themselves, reaching a critical glee-mass that collapses into irony.  I hope to capture some of this in my paintings."

This is especially true of the plastic playgrounds he depicts, which he gravitates toward "because plastic ages so badly and awkwardly, as opposed to metal or wood which acquires a patina of 'authenticity'.  I like the awkwardness of used plastic.  This is why the playscapes in my paintings usually have a kind of distressed or vomited-on quality, like a birthday party gone slightly awry.  Once again, there is a certain ironic aspect to this, and perhaps a (gentle) commentary about the disposability of the contemporary built environment."

Ultimately, he uses the playscapes to combine both abstract and realist conventions in his paintings, in "all-over" compositions that fill the canvas with color and form.    It strikes me that this is how a child sees a playscape:  with it filling their eyes all over.

[from top to bottom above are Exploded View (2009),  Funland 1 (2008), Overlap Version 1 (2005), Precita Playscape (2010), and  Playscape (2005)].

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Vintage Japanese Playground Swing, c. 1960s

Rounding out our week of swings are these intriguing vintage Japanese constructions...they appear to be homemade out of two traditional frames, and offer a unique combination of swaying bridge and cooperative, standing swing.  I like this.

These are some of the beautiful photos by Richard Tudor Hibbert, including shots of life in Japan in the late '60s,  which can be found at the commemorative blog authored by his son Chris Hibbert
Chris says these swings were common in Japan then.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Liberty Swing, Wayne Devine, 2000

The Liberty Swing makes the classic heart-fluttering feeling of a playground swing available to those with disabilities as accommodates all sorts of wheelchairs and also has a fold-down seat and seatbelt for users who are not in a wheelchair. Since it can take up to 550 pounds, adults can use it too.

At the Liberty Swing website you can see a list of all of the swings that are installed and there seem to be only about twelve in the United States...there should be more!

Monday, February 21, 2011

'Curl' Playground Swing, Milos Todorovic, 2010

Serbian industrial designer Milos Todorovic proposes a new swing form as well as a mechanical system that prevents the slide from moving if it is under or over weighted.

I especially like the way the swings can be put cursive writing.

If you're an interested manufacturer (I see you people in the blogstats, even if you don't comment!), get in touch with Milos Todorovic at his website.  Also see the previously-blogged Caracool slide by Joel Escalona.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Swing Necklace, Johanna Richter

The yellow tube 'swings' have me thinking about innovative approaches to what is arguably the quintessential playground, a 'swing necklace' made of 10 feet of felt or beechwood balls by German artist Johanna Richter, available (but pricey!) at sleekidentity.  [found at handmadecharlotte]

Monday, February 14, 2011

Stringy yellow tube playscape, Blanton Museum of Art, Houston, Texas


The Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas in Austin has a large outdoor installation of stringy rubber tubes that kids can tie into knots, or grab in bunches to climb or swing, or just run through!  I love to see unconventional play materials.

photos via about Austin.   I couldn't find the name of the designer or the date of the install (if you know, get in touch!) but it reminds me of this previously blogged 'Circle of Squares' installation made out of yellow pipes.

UPDATE:  Thanks to reader maggie for letting me know that this is a piece by Jesus Rafael Soto, known for his penetrables:  interactive sculptures of thin, dangling tubes designed to be moved through, in which the form of the sculpture is inseparable from the experience of the viewer.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Louis Häfliger Park, Kuhn Truninger Landscape Architecture, Zurich, Switzerland, 2003

Impressive earthworks blended with intentionally old school playground equipment, by Kuhn Truninger of Zurich.
[found at a nice new landscape/architecture blog: sotto la vernice]

I like this playground, but I wish each of the earth mounds had a tree by it.  Think of climbing up the mound, then into the tree, then jumping from the tree back down to the mound...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Infinite autonomous thanks

67,000 page views and 37,000 unique visitors last month...hey, thanks!  Especially since I remember how excited I was when the blog first hit 60,000 page views TOTAL.  I'll do my best to keep you supplied with inspiring playscapes.

Above, the maze at the Dell Children's Hospital in Austin Texas (photo by peter tsai via flickr)  and a temporary playground maze for a Renaissance Fair in Ohio [via bloggingohio].

One of the things we discussed at the playground chat in London was the idea of infinite vs. finite play.  I've continued to think about that alot, along with the idea of autonomous vs. directed play, and how those are shaped by the built environment of the playground.

The Dell maze is impressive as an architectural construct but can't be reconfigured in any way.   The temporary maze, on the other hand, can be reconfigured just by moving the fabric panels, so that the experience is always new; it moves more towards the infinite.

But probably only the grown-up mazekeeper (is there such a thing as the mazekeeper?  Veery cool job title) is allowed to make changes in the walls of the maze, so it scores low on autonomy.  Allowing the walls to become gates, so that the children could continually adjust their environment, would push the play experience even further toward the infinite and the autonomous.   It would change the definition of a maze--traditionally a finite path with a definite goal--but allow for the continual creation of new games. (I bet they'd run more and faster, too...everybody moans about childhood obesity without thinking about how boring we've made physical activity.)

How can playground installations change to move toward autonomy and infinity?

I'm thinking of how we (brothers, sisters, and an assortment of neighbors!) used to play on the backyard swingset.  We'd adjust the chain length on the swings (high, low, asymmetric)  and prop up the slide for different angles.  We'd raise the slide up completely, and slide the picnic table under it, then add another slide off the picnic table for a two-stager.  It didn't really work that well but the fun was that we made it ourselves.

I know that this is what adventure playgrounds are all about.  But the fact is that great as adventure playgrounds are, I don't think they're ever going to be widely available.  A more egalitarian solution is to find ways to move existing structures, already acceptable in the public mind, towards autonomy and infinity.