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Céline Condorelli: Proposals for a Qualitative Society (Spinning), 2017. Tentoonstellingsoverzicht bij Stroom Den Haag. Foto: Gerrit Schreurs, courtesy Stroom Den Haag

Céline Condorelli has developed, together with Stroom, a number of carousels that will be installed on two playgrounds in The Hague. With this project, she fits in a long tradition of artists who are interested in the notion of play. A tradition that was very popular mainly in the Netherlands after the Second World War. (* This interview was published Dutch in METROPOLIS M NR 4-2016 DEGROWTH.)

Agnieszka Gratza: Attempts to Read the World (Differently) is an umbrella project that has many different strands, in which you took part either with other artists or on your own, with Display Show which morphed into Another Reality. After Lina Bo Bardi at Stroom Den Haag. And you’re about to do a show there involving spinning tops and carousels, which partly draws on the work you did for a recent solo show at Kusthalle Lissabon titled Concrete Distractions. It too featured spinning tops referencing Danish artist and activist Palle Nielsen’s 1968 The Model. A Model for a Qualitative Society. Does Nielsen’s utopian social experiment also lie behind the exhibition you are currently working on with Stroom?

Céline Condorelli: It starts from a drawing by Brazilian modernist architect Lina Bo Bardi of the museum of contemporary art in São Paulo, the MASP, with a playground on the square. She said that the museum should contain a collection, popular arts (and by that she meant craft, arte popolare) and a playground. Then there’s A Model for a Qualitative Society by Palle Nielsen for which he turned Moderna Museet in Stockholm into an adventure playground. This was not an educational program; it was the main exhibition and he really meant it as a case study for a society constructing itself.

Céline Condorelli: Proposals for a Qualitative Society (Spinning), 2017. Tentoonstellingsoverzicht bij Stroom Den Haag. Foto: Gerrit Schreurs, courtesy Stroom Den Haag

AG: What is it, that made you want to bring these two projects together?

CC: They’re references that help me think through the idea of display, on the one hand, and secondly I’ve been interested for a long time in thinking about undoing a certain elitism of contemporary culture. Even a four-year-old knows that they’re not supposed to touch anything in a museum. This idea that culture should be something you look at from a distance is a strange construction, one I don’t necessarily agree with. Intimacy with culture is, I think, extremely important.

AG: Stroom curator Francien van Westrenen told me that the objects you’ll make for the exhibition are designed to be handled and touched, which is not ordinarily allowed in a museum.

CC: The playground is a recent addition, but I’ve made museum benches, for instance, as artworks – another object in the museum that’s not normally part of the art but is nevertheless in the room. The idea of a playground or play object is related to objects I’ve been making for a long time, but also to this idea of intimacy with form that’s not normally allowed with cultural objects. Even more so perhaps because it relies on an interaction with children, not exclusively, but mostly with children who of course have a different encounter with form – as something to climb on, sit on or play with; the body is very important in that encounter. It’s not just vision, the eye or the ear.

AG: What is the relation between the spinning tops and the carousels?

CC: The spinning tops are models of the carousel, miniatures if you like. The first thing I made were carousels for MASP. When I was making the first carrousels at MASP, I had to make models in order to figure out if they would work or not and it was when making the models that I realized that the models are actually spinning tops. I’d never made things like that, things that were for play. This was for the group show called Playground in 2016. There were two carrousels called Conversation Piece, one inside the museum and one outside, on the square on which Lina Bo Bardi had imagined a playground that was never built. I thought it was doing some kind of poetic justice to complete her project in a way that she wanted by restituting the carousel for it.

Céline Condorelli: Proposals for a Qualitative Society (Spinning), 2017. Tentoonstellingsoverzicht bij Stroom Den Haag. Foto: Gerrit Schreurs, courtesy Stroom Den Haag

AG: And why are they called Conversation Piece?

CC: I thought it was non-verbal conversation between people and form, form and the social. Like this interaction I was trying to describe that is of the body rather than the intellect or just of eyes.

AG: Is this the same at the show you’re working on for Stroom?

CC: Yes, what we’ve constructed is another conversation between exhibitions and public art, which is also something that’s often missing in contemporary art. The public art category is completely separate – different artists, systems, places, exhibition practices – and I’ve always wondered why. I think I fall somewhere in between those two and so I had this idea of showing a series of carousels in the exhibition space, working with local schools. They would pitch in order to choose one for their own playground, so at the end of the exhibition the carousels would leave the exhibition space and become public art, but also just infrastructure in local schools, properly public objects. This allows me to have a series of workshops with kids making spinning tops and colouring them, which will inform the making process, the production of the carousels themselves.

AG: Are these carousels and spinning tops merely inspired by Lina Bo Bardi’s and Palle Nielsen’s ideas or do they more directly reference the form of these works?

CC: The reference is in function, not in form. I try to apply their program. I take it as instructions and then that’s interpreted through forms that are entirely my own. From my understanding of Lina Bo Bardi’s work, a lot of her practice was based around a real economy of means, making things in a way that they fulfil their function. Nothing else. No decoration, no frills, no extras. This idea of an infrastructural architecture is important to understand her work and why it is so different from the Italian architects she was educated with, who did the monumental, extremely decorative, very beautiful, but very precious architecture.

Céline Condorelli: Proposals for a Qualitative Society (Spinning), 2017. Tentoonstellingsoverzicht bij Stroom Den Haag. Foto: Gerrit Schreurs, courtesy Stroom Den Haag

AG: I know you’ve curated a Puppet Show at Eastside Projects in 2013. How does that relate to your interest in spinning tops and carousels?

CC: For me everything is connected; it might not be clear from the outside. My interest in puppets is in relation to sculpture, putting things into the world that are not dead but articulate – they speak – and in many ways any cultural production speaks for itself independently of its authors up to a point. Thinking of carrousels and play structures is about making things that can create their own narratives, that people can create their own narratives with. I always think that the work of display is exactly that: articulation. Articulating what something is, what it comes from, perhaps what it’s for and what its status is.

Playgrounds or play objects articulate certain ideas of what playing, childhood and culture are. Play is supposed to be low culture. I think that play is a direct relationship with form, objects. It’s exactly this relationship of intimacy that I was trying to describe. But it’s also a relationship to objects in which objects are somehow instruments for things; not that dissimilar to musical instruments. When you play a musical instrument, you use the object to create something: a piece of music, an experience. The musicians take enormous care of their instruments because they need them to perform. You touch the object in a specific way in order to get it to do something. That’s exactly the way toys work, especially spinning tops. But I also think that the playing child changes the relationship to the city. This is something Palle Nielsen describes quite well. He doesn’t mean the Moderna Museet as an educational side program for children; he really means it as a case study of human society.

AG: If I understood what went on at the Moderna Museet correctly, it was a radical proposition; it effectively meant that only children could fully experience the exhibition. Do you know Coram’s Fields in Bloomsbury, London, a playground built near what used to be the Foundling Hospital founded by eighteenth-century philanthropist Thomas Coram?  I love the world-upside-down you get in such places, which is also what Johan Huizinga talks about in his study of the homo ludens, the carnivalesque aspects of it. ‘Play is the work of children,’ Maria Montessori said. In a child’s way of apprehending the world, there’s huge potential for reform of society at large. But I’m not sure what makes it so.

CC: Children allow adults to understand collective work in a completely different way. It’s also about not being burdened by existing models, a kind of spontaneous participation. I’m not a children’s or play specialist at all; I’m just interested in taking the idea of authorship and the construction of process-based culture from the hands of artists alone, and protected objects, an emptied-out space for culture.

AG: This strand of the Stroom program is in fact aimed both at adults and children. I’m equally fascinated by the idea of playgrounds for adults. For one thing, they’re not aimed at children: they’re playful outdoor spaces for adults to unwind in. Are the sorts of structures you’ve set up in the offices of Kunsthalle Lissabon and which will now take over Stroom playgrounds for adults?

CC: It’s a good question. I don’t really like the word “participatory art” but, like with most things that require or can have an interaction with the public, as an artist you’re only partially in control. What I try to do to the best of my abilities is to offer things, constructions or situations that can be interpreted at different levels; a two-year old child can use it to climb on when he’s learning to walk or an adult can use it to sit on and have a completely pretentious conversation. I would really like to make the contexts that can be used in those two ways and other ways in between.

Céline Condorelli: Proposals for a Qualitative Society (Spinning), 2017. Tentoonstellingsoverzicht bij Stroom Den Haag. Foto: Gerrit Schreurs, courtesy Stroom Den Haag

AG: Yes, but do you think these objects are a kind of one-fits-all size? I like the fact that you have spinning tops which are scaled versions of the carousels.

CC: They are 1:20. The spinning tops are 15 cm and the carrousels are 300 cm in diameter.

AG: And is that a size more suitable for children or adults?

CC: Carousels are quite big things. It could be fitted for giants as well. They’re a bit low for giants perhaps.

AG: How many carousels will there be at Stroom?

CC: Three. They’re all inside. At the end of the exhibition they will all be outside. Francien is trying to work on having one in a public square which, if it happens, would be really wonderful. There’s a tradition of playgrounds built by artists and architects in Holland. Aldo van Eyk made some 300 playgrounds for Amsterdam. I’m intervening within an already existing tradition. You’ve got Palle Nielsen and Lina Bo Bardi. Nieuwenhuys did these play structures for museums that are quite interesting, but I don’t know if they’re going to appear in the show. The sculptor Isamu Noguchi also did lots of play structures, but I’ve only seen them in photographs. There’s a book by Peter Friedl called Playgrounds, which I really love that has photographs of playgrounds from around world and one by Nils Norman on adventure playgrounds, which is also great. I’ll try to have some context in the show. I don’t think it will be archival stuff, but more to do with how it’s been used. And there will be a library as well, a bibliography for the project.

AG: Are there any other elements to the show, besides that, the spinning tops and the carousels?

CC: No, that’s it. That’s the important bit. Can’t get too distracted.


Céline Condorelli: Proposals for a Qualitative Society (Spinning), Stroom, Den Haag, 09.09.2017 t/m 19.11.2017 

Agnieszka Gratza

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