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Bundeskunsthalle opens an exhibition on the subject of "Play"
Exhibition View. Photo: Laurin Schmid, 2018. © Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland GmbH.

BONN.- Play is commonly described as: an activity that is carried out without a conscious purpose – for pleasure, for relaxation, for the mere joy of the activity and its result. It is an activity that is often pursued in community with others.

In connection with the exhibition The Playground Project – Indoor (as of 13 July), Bundeskunsthalle has thus developed an exhibition on the theme of play for the rooftop garden and Museum Square, i.e. Outdoor, which gives contemporary artists the opportunity to design offers of play and interactive installations. The visitors are thus able to experience art ‘playfully’, participatorily, and performatively.

According to a definition of the ‘playing human’ (Homo ludens), man depends on play as an elementary form, since, unlike Homo faber, he develops his skills above all through play: Here, he discovers his individual qualities and, through the experiences made in play, becomes the personality manifested within him; in this context, play is equated with freedom of action and presupposes individual thought. Play in all its facets is thus a constant, fundamental, formative, and also essentially human activity, which facilitates socially necessary ‘learning’, allows for the thinking through of established structures, and can lead to innovative approaches/solutions. The artworks/games in the exhibition reflect a wide range of concerns: At times they appear to be actual playing sites, such as Rirkrit Tiravanija’s ping-pong tables, even when they suggest a social concern, or Ina Weber’s football tables; at other times, we are dealing with partially transformative artworks, the physical appearance of which constantly changes, such as Ólafur Elíassons offer of constructing with LEGO® bricks (here, standstill signifies the impossibility of art and society). They speak, as in the case of Andreas Schmitten, of a real (?) past incident, the secret and morbid narrative of which the visitor can decipher; they imply history/stories or myths, as with Nevin Aladağ, or they create – as in the case of Alvaro Urbano – a vision of landscape that invites the visitor to take a break.

Other works, such as that by Kristina Buch, merely suggest play situations – which, in the final analysis, is what Thomas Schütte’s garden gnomes also do – and encourage visitors to organise the games themselves and perhaps develop their own (fictive) rules. Contributions such as the basketball hoops of Llobet & Pons are based in a highly concrete political and thus socially relevant investigation. Carsten Höller, the artist collective Superflex, and Michel Majerus make play equipment available and offer opportunities – swings, an enormous slide, and a monumental skateboard ramp, which challenge the visitor both mentally and physically, but also conjure up moments of happiness. The same is true of the works by Jeppe Hein – a large water pavilion on the Museum Square, balloons in the foyer, and formally unusual benches in the rooftop garden – or the karaoke bar by Christian Jankowski, in which everyone, as supposed superstars, can sing their hearts out.

“By playing, we begin to discover the world, to understand it and to find our way around in it. Play puts social conventions to the test, and, like art, it is a domain of unfettered creative activity, an end in itself, untrammelled by the twin demands of purpose and utility.”, Rein Wolfs.

What unites all works, however, is the fundamental concern of the artists to develop and establish individual and social skills through play – and also simply to have fun. The Bundeskunsthalle has brought this exhibition – and the artists the various concepts – into play; and now it is up to the visitors to activate the works by playing with them.

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