Curatorial Introduction by Joanna Warsza

A walk-through

The architect Lina Bo Bardi famously said that every museum deserves a playground. Echoing that thought and anticipating the upcoming topic of play at the Gropius Bau, Radical Playgrounds arrives at Gropius Hain for eleven weeks. Conceived as a cross between a sculpture park, a Spielplatz (playground), a museum extension and a temporary funfair, many of its installations and pavilions use playground vocabulary, be it a swing, a water fountain, a carousel or a labyrinth, to reveal what is left unspoken: histories of inclusion and exclusion, engaging activism through the medium of play, a dark past buried underground and a necessity to rethink the notion of interdependence on this planet.

Prior to and during the Men’s European Football Championship in Germany 2024, Radical Playgrounds also looks at the difference between the concepts of a game and free play. Games have a set of rules and clearly defined winners and losers. They often revolve around channelling emotions and sublimating conflict and confrontation. While playing with each other, we are free to constantly change the situation and invent the rules as we go along. We can step back and come together again; we can find words to name what is difficult, painful or unsaid. Potentially, we can all win.

Radical Playgrounds is an invitation to partake in a free space of collective learning and unlearning, one that is open to exploring a variety of activities in a radically non-competitive environment where it is also safe to err, and which permits practising and reflecting on the socialising and political potential of play. Both ar and play involve a degree of removing ourselves from a situation and the pleasure of being guided by imaginary rules. The core idea of ludology, the study of play, tells us that play is necessary for a human being to thrive and needs to be based on voluntary participation, involving a set of fictive rules and the possibility to quit at any time, be it a flirt, a study circle, a beach ball match or playing hide and seek.

With their ideological and social contexts, playgrounds are excellent testbeds for how a society re-invents and re-imagines itself. The Playground Project, an open-air exhibition and research project by urban planner Gabriela Bulkhalter, demonstrates how the playground negotiates histories, the tension between rules and freedom, the familiar and the unknown, borders and transgression, the present and the future.
We tend and want to think of play as a form of inclusion, fun and fair exchange. Yet most of us probably also remember instances, perhaps as a child, of not being part of a game, a feeling of being left behind. The artist Céline Condorelli has had a long-standing involvement with the topics of play, work, leisure and exclusion. In her large public art installation Play for Today, she asks why human beings always invent reasons as to why others cannot play. As visitors walk into the installation by Agnieszka Kurant, they encounter a map of various game-related objects, such as domino pieces, a jump rope or a ball, as a tribute to collective intelligence, which knows no other author than the whole of humanity. At the invitation of Edgar Calel, we can build and rebuild an incomplete Mayan pyramid, whose parts were taken away to European museums, including those in Berlin.

Inside the secret garden lies a sandbox-cum-excavation site by The School of Mutants, which refers to the very basic act of digging, linking it with the colonial history buried underground. It is here where the first Ethnological Museum of Berlin once stood. On the sky walk outside, visitors come across a mural by Irad Verkron, presenting a fusion of a mathematical drawing and a story involving the search for a lost childhood playmate. Nearby, visitors can use a swing designed by the Sámi architect Joar Nango for a playground in Jokkmokk, or enter a dysfunctional carousel by Mariana Telleria, which embodies the impossibility of going back to one’s childhood.

Florentina Holzinger presents her first skate ramp; Ingela Ihrman offers the audience wearable costumes to play Love Me Love Me Not; Tomás Saraceno makes us shake on a playground that offers a tangible experience of how spiders and planets vibrate. In the vicinity, visitors find a city oasis called The Fountain of Knowledge by Raul Walch and self-powered bikes by the late artist Martin Kaltwasser. Meandering around the space is a long, fabric-based labyrinth by Vitjitua Ndjiharine, which brings the past and the present, the serious and the funny, the high and the low together.

Navigating between game and play, in early July we are staging a two-person reenactment of the football match between East Germany and West Germany from 1974. This legendary piece by Massimo Furlan (as Sepp Maier), performed together with the footballer-activist Tanja Walther-Ahrens (as Jürgen Sparwasser), will take place on Niederkirchnerstraße, where the Berlin Wall once stood. It uses movement, muscle memory and the original radio commentary to navigate a shifting terrain, both in terms of current asymmetries as well as femininity, queerness and “weakness” in football.

We tend to think of exhibitions as being fully ready when they open. This one is not. Radical Playgrounds will gradually grow through a series of open workshops, additions, talks, walk-throughs and Dance Gatherings by Alice Chauchat in the eleven weeks that follow. Together with architects, artists, playworkers, thinkers, neighbours and visitors, the Gropius Bau parking lot transforms into a multidirectional public space of encounters, including a summer garden at the Beba restaurant, and a closing event with a stand-up comedy on the healing power of humour and play in July.

Radical Playgrounds is inspired by what María Lugones calls loving playability; a non-antagonistic connection with the other, disposing of arrogant perception and competition, and involving “an openness to surprise, openness to being a fool, openness to self-construction or reconstruction of the ‘worlds’ we inhabit.” Radical Playgrounds calls for art and playability as a way of supporting each other, to embrace change, and build both distance and connection to our mutual desires, projections, emotions and politics. We ask how art and play can mediate the visible and the invisible, to find out what is fair and fun what is not, and in what way, against the backdrop of current political distress and ongoing wars, and to come together as strangers despite our differences, fostering hope and resilience. And finally, to quote another inspiration of ours, the project Modellen, which transformed the Moderna Museet in Stockholm into an adventure playground in 1968, “this exhibition only remains an exhibition if you do not play, and if you do, it is so much more.”

Joanna Warsza