The Playground: Because we’re never too old

Last year saw us commission our most ambitious art installation to date, The Playground by Kristi Minchin & Oscar Murray. The piece was colourful, interactive and carefully engineered to bring out playfulness and connectivity in thousands of people (big and small) at Brainchild Festival and also at Peckham Festival.

We wanted to tell the story of how it all began, when after coming to expect great things from 3D maker Kristi Minchin (who’d made several installations for our festival), we wanted to help her reach the next level.

Kristi’s artworks combine the bold block colours of children’s toys with strong graphic shapes and playful, interactive elements like cogs and pulleys that bring her pieces to life. However, as a self-taught maker, the level of interactivity she wanted still felt out of reach, and introducing movement into her work was the next step. So we decided to apply for funding to find the perfect person to bring these new skills to the table and collaborate on something epic. We called out to robotics societies and hack spaces and found Oscar Murray from Design on Impulse at Makerversity. Oscar had worked on all sorts of mechanical engineering, coding and product design, and creatively, they were totally on the same page. Before they even met, they’d come up with a number of game and playground inspired ideas, and these eventually manifested in The Playground.

Oscar (left) and Kristi (right) during the install at Brainchild. Photography: Lily Bonesso

Assisted by recent graduate Natalie Seo, they designed and built The Playground, using pulley-based systems to create a visual game of cause and effect, with every interaction directly causing further movement within the piece. The beauty of it is that the piece only reaches its full kinetic potential when all elements are being played on. Purposefully or not, the audience become participants in a collective action that is totally joyful.

We caught up with Kristi and Oscar to put the ins and outs of the project to paper…

How did it all start?

K: Well, we went for a coffee and literally just talked for like, what? Three hours? And got really over excited and then made all of those things.

O: Yeah that was fun that coffee! I felt like I was going on a tinder date at first, it was really weird.

K: I remember you were so forthcoming with ideas about how you could get this motion, or that could affect this… Thinking about it in a way that I wouldn’t.

Details. Photography: Netti Hurley
The Playground at Copeland Park with Natalie and Oscar. Photography: Netti Hurley

Tell us the idea behind the piece?

O: We wanted to create a space where people would interact with each other as well as the artwork and be brought together by it.

K: So the idea came about to build a playground because playgrounds are great spaces for this to happen. We came up with this idea for using the kinetic energy from some classic playground elements – a seesaw, a swing and a roundabout to set off movements in this installation piece and encourage people to work together to make the whole thing move as one. 

O: Children get the opportunity to go to a playground and play and interact with people they don’t know from a mix of backgrounds and none of that matters, they don’t ask each other ‘oh what do you do?’ and any of this. It’s completely natural and beautiful. Adults tend to lose that as they grow up.

K: That’s what’s so interesting about festivals, I think they are great play spaces. Particularly at Brainchild I find that people are so open and interested in meeting new people. So I think offering an adult playground as a space to come together and hang out… There’s something really nice about the fact that it takes like six people, at least, to get it going and I think that’s  amazing because that could be anyone.

O: Yeah. To bring people together, in that same manner that children do, and take them back to being a child, is quite special.

Photography: Netti Hurley (left) and Alex Krook (right)

Can you talk us through the design?

K: We knew we wanted to make a kinetic playground but then we had to decide how it was going to look in the space. That’s where the central section, like a sort of band stand, came from. We decided that the reactions would be focused in that central space and the design just kind of developed from there.

O: We narrowed down the components of the playground to three elements – a swing, a seesaw and a roundabout, tied together by a central column which ties together the whole design through this really nice motion caused by the roundabout. Underneath the roundabout there’s a giant pulley, which is the bit that the belt sits on. You can’t get massive pulleys unless you spend hundred of pounds so I actually made this one myself.

K: And the way the swing works is when you swing on it the motion from that makes the elements above it move.

O: Yeah they’re just directly linked to the chain that moves the swing. Really nice and simple. And the third bit is the seesaw which was the most complicated of all of them! By far the most ambitious.

Artist Assistant Nathalie Seo and Project Coordinator Jessie Krish installing pieces of the central column. Photo: Lily Bonesso

What about those amazing colours?

K: I just kind of ran with it! I feel like it was always going to be brightly coloured from the beginning. Even before we knew what it was going to look like.

O: Yeah, good work Kristi. I have solid confidence in Kristi’s colour choices.

K: I remember sending you emails with like six different colour palettes and you just didn’t reply!

O: I looked at them all! I just thought, well they all look great. And actually I love that pink and that turquoise-y blue.

Oscar Murray installing the centre piece. Photography: Lily Bonesso

Have you got any fond memories from the project?

K: When the festival opened that was a real great moment for me! Just watching people fling themselves at it. And it was the same at Copeland Park seeing all these kids being really excited to get on it.

O: They were queuing up!

K: Exactly! We’d brought them this play space that isn’t normally in this industrial area and they loved it! On a side note, drunk adults is exactly the same as sober six year olds. I don’t think there’s that much difference.

O: Yeah I’ve got this one image in my mind at Brainchild with 8-10 people all on the seesaw, I think the seesaw was the most chaotic thing, with two sat at each end with another six sat in the middle with the people at the ends jumping up and down to try and send the people opposite flying. And then, at Copeland Park, on the opening night the exact same thing but with children.

A film by Netti Hurley, Lily Bonesso & Karol Jurga shot on 8mm Super8 of children at Peckham Festival playing on the installation, with a poetic response by Bridget Minamore.

A couple enjoying the swing at Brainchild. Photography: Alex Krook


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