Arts Of The Working Class Logo

For More Radicals and Playgrounds in the City

A conversation with Joanna Warsza and Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius.

  • Jul 02 2024
  • Matylda Krzykowski
    is a designer, curator and artist focusing on collaborative and performative projects in physical and digital space. Krzykowski’s work is introspective, as it explores and experiments with the inner mechanisms of design, art and architecture. As such, her projects dissect the design process to its different stages – from material and personal origins, to methodologies and education; from networks to social projections, and the spectrum in between.

When play is considered as a sociogenic force we need to ask ourselves: who is excluded and who is invited to comply with the rules of the games we create? Whether in the form of a free-flow architecture or a matter of long-term urban planning, the answers we give determine the boundaries of what we desire from togetherness. There are the expectations to unearth in the playfulness within us, some of which keep us replicating a hierarchy of sorts, in and outside of the sandbox. The following interview highlights the curatorial intentions behind the exhibition Radical Playgrounds: From Competition to Collaboration at Gropius Bau, Berlin.


How did Radical Playgrounds come about?

Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius: Our mutual interest, as curators and architects, in play and its social and political potential was, for many years, like a grain in a seed bag, then suddenly an obscure football tournament opened up the sky above the Ministry of Culture and it started to rain substantial funding for a substantial approach to the larger topics of game and play in the city and their radical potential in relation to society. The subtitle, “from competition to collaboration”, hints at this and is, at the same time, a reaction to the trigger for rain of gold.

Joanna Warsza: The architect Lina Bo Bardi famously said that every museum deserves a playground. We thought of this exhibition as a conceptual Spielplatz; that is, a cross between a sculpture park, a museum extension,, and a temporary funfair. For me personally, one of the main inspirations behind Radical Playgrounds was also my boredom as a parent on many of the various playgrounds where I’d been hanging out with my son in recent years. One day I started hallucinating about all those boats, rockets, buggies, and slides, thinking of how they could offer cultural readings if they could become multidimensional and multigenerational spaces that you can experience with all senses. Museums are often places reserved for rational behavior, founded on male cultural codes. The question we asked was what museums could learn from playgrounds? How could we let go?

How did you choose the artists?

JW: We come back to the Latin origin of the term radical -  radix: the root, being rooted, standing for something, being engaged, and we invited artists according to those associations. So behind all the playground vocabulary we use, be it a swing, a sandbox, or a slide, there is a world of its own. On one hand, a swing is a just swing; you are welcome to use and enjoy it. You do not need to read any curatorial description to understand or enjoy it. But it is also a swing that wants to change the world, through the art and activism of the architect and artist Joar Nango Sámi and his idea of how to re-organize knowledge based on his concept of “indigenuity”, a combination of the words “ingenuity” and “indigeneity”. He is working with what is already there in the most respectful manner; not a single drop of oil, or centimeter was added. Or kids look for “treasures” in a sandbox-cum-excavation site in an installation by School of Mutants which opened up the grounds where the ethnographic museum once stood, creating a decolonial sandpit of mutating meanings, digging for truth, making your hands dirty in the sand, restituting debris and meanings. Some of these kids will take those fundamental questions further, and ask how the museums need to reinvent themselves in the future. 

BFB: You are asking for the secret recipes of the curators here, it seems. First of all, we invited artists who could develop a work for a program involving public space, a work that is playable and that would allow multidirectional access points. We wanted to have a plural mix of cultural backgrounds, ages, origins, personalities, and media. We also looked for artists who could work with a parking lot, a legion of trees, as well as the spirits of the colonial past of the former site of the Royal Prussian Völkerkundemuseum, and those who had experience with play and playability or the activation of urban spaces.


fig. 1


Does the city play a role in the selection?

JW: As in many public art projects. The context is half of the work. Our project is informed and situated in the Gropius Bau, at the time of the European football championships, in between East and West Berlin, within the current discourse on play and game, between conceptual art and game theory, and also alongside the wars in Ukraine, Gaza, and elsewhere. We support various organizations that deal with rebuilding playgrounds in the war zones. Our playworkers pointed to some of them.

BFB: You mean the city of Berlin - not so much the particular site - a space normally used for cars beside a fantastic federal museum, with numerous desires formulated by different entities of the city, the Federal Government, the cultural field.

Or do you mean the origins of the artists? That not as much as all the aspects we mentioned above.

Are the infrastructures and opportunities you curated radical at all?

JW: I believe that play is a political category which allows us to come together with, and despite, our differences. When we play we find distance from ourselves, from our egos and sorrows, and then we can come back together again. Especially in these times of increasing political tensions, where many feel silenced, frozen, and unable to move, play can offer hope, resilience,, and a reconsideration of knowledge. I believe that museums can generally learn a lot from the concept of play and playgrounds to create ways to experience art with all senses, in a less intimidating way, mixing high and low, serious and funny, political and social, breaking the culturally masculine and intimidating codes they were founded on. Museums and playgrounds both are testing grounds for how society re-invents and re-imagines itself. 

BFB: In the current state of our society, Europe, and the world are in, where it is seen as radical to call for ceasefire in Gaza, we think that a space that all generations can share, an artistic public park that is open for everyone, an exhibition that is free of charge, where caretakers are invited to share their artistic practice with the audience, a playground with a beer garden, where the healing powers of play are sought, where play is not about who is the strongest, fastest, the richest, but about responsibilities, support structures and revealing historical contaminations - can very well be called radical.


fig. 2


Can play be planned? 

JW: Some kinds can; others cannot. We also look at the difference between the concepts of game and free play. Take the Euro Football Championship, it is perfectly planned. Games have a set of rules and clearly defined winners and losers: the matches are often about channeling 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. You can not plan a good conversation, a flirtation, or a dancing party. It is free play, whether that will happen or not. You can help it just a bit. The rest is... chemistry... Our exhibition helps the free play to happen, but it is the visitors who make it live. 

BFB: Absolutely! To be able to play “tic-tac-toe” (naugths and crosses) you need to draw a grid. Play is improvisation, just as living in the city is improvisation, and it's mostly a collective effort. Collective improvisation needs a clear structure. a grid, a system to improvise upon. And this needs to be planned, negotiated, and prepared.


fig. 3

Are these playgrounds for people or art?

JW: Both. That's the point. This is an exhibition that you can touch, play with, and experience with all senses. At the same time it is conceptual art and socially engaged architecture, including a good restaurant. 

BFB: Radical playgrounds are a space generated by artworks for people of all ages, and, hopefully, all cultures. We have to admit it is not the best for animals and other non-human species, except maybe for spiders. 

In 1986, Palle Nielsen turned Stockholm’s Moderna Museet into a Model for a Qualitative Society where a large exhibition space was turned into an adventure playground for children. What emerged was a collective process of transformation. What emerged from turning a space next to Gropius Bau into what you call Radical Playgrounds?

BFB: “Modellen” was one of the models for our project on the car park of Gropius Bau. But we were rather interested in transforming a fossil fueled public infrastructure into a public space, not just a museum into a playground. For us, the German term Spielraum is more important than Spielplatz. Spielraum is a spatial expansion, stretching borders and asking more questions than giving answers; questions that need to be negotiated by playing.

JW: Palle Nielsen was just one of them. It is crucial to remember Gunilla Lundhal and other female members who, before him, did pop-up playgrounds all around the city, and who then proposed this exhibition to draw attention to the lack of public spaces for games. The exhibition was such a success that the museum closed it after 3 weeks because too many people began to come to the institution. Otherwise, not many attended. The Playground Project, Gabriela Burkhalter’s exhibition on the history of playgrounds sits in the middle of Radical Playgrounds, and it tells the story of how rules and anarchy inspired public spaces. Museums are part of it. Later, some of her exhibitions will find a home in the permanent playground inside Gropius Bau. We are its Vorspiel, a parasitic playground, a test site. 


fig. 4


The landscape architect Lady Allen of Hurtwood was a British playground pioneer. In the 1950s she created playgrounds by pouring sand in empty lots. This model of playgrounds continues today. Which of the works of Radical Playgrounds will continue to be relevant in 80 years?

BFB: Honestly, none of the works is a prototype for future playgrounds - when, for example, Edgar Callel proposes a Mayan pyramid made of strawbales as a “mountain of drawings” it refers to the pyramid as a space of encounter and as a social hub in the culture he comes from, as well as to the pile of strawbales being just a very basic iconic playground in the memory of everyone who ever spent some of their childhood on a farm. Both aspects have been there. There is nothing new besides the juxtaposition, and the fact that we present this in the context described above. Still, it creates a mental friction that makes us wonder once more about the way that European cultures have dismantled the sites of indigenous cultures worldwide, as if they were department stores to furnish European museums.


fig. 5

It is my dream to design a playground. Meanwhile, I observe that making space for play is decreasing in cities. Do you agree with this observation?

JW: The cities get more and more commercialized, and the play, too. We need spaces of free play. Actually, in my new role as a city curator of Hamburg, I will propose permanent playgrounds designed by artists. Let’s see.

BFB: First of all good luck with designing a playground! It looks easy, but can be tricky nowadays, especially if you want it to be a public playground. The rules and regulations will soon kill your joy of creation. The space that our urban planners reserve for play, at least in Germany, is not decreasing there are also rules and regulations for the amount of play areas a city has to provide per inhabitant. But what you might have observed is that playgrounds are not the only spaces that are used to play. Urban wilderness, ruins, “empty” lots, forgotten corners, and so forth, are getting rarer in cities that are squeezed economically by the real estate and building industries. This is a scary development indeed.

How should we inhabit cities for play to be increased?
Maybe with more horses again instead of cars.

BFB: That would mean we need more lawns for them to run and to eat, more stables with strawbales, softer grounds on the streets, more shade, and so on.

JW: More basic elements, air, water, soil, fire, earth, more planetary consciousness, a more planetarily concerned public sphere. The “Fountain of Knowledge” by Raul Walch uses a pond which makes us more conscious and appreciative of the presence of water in overheated cities. That is the way to go. 


fig. 6


What are your thoughts about play, risk, and appetite for autonomy? Do you think these belong together?

JW: 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 the 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. Art, and especially public art, is a great tool in this process. 


fig. 7




The project Radical Playgrounds: From Competition to Collaboration curated by Joanna Warsza and Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius, together with architecture by raumlaborberlin, will be on view at Gropius Bau until Juli 14, 2024.


Questions were formulated by Matylda Krzykowski and edited by Dalia Maini and María Inés Plaza Lazo



Joanna Warsza is a curator, editor, writer and Stadtkuratorin of Hamburg as of September 2024. She recently co-curated the Polish Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale with the work of Roma artist Małgorzata Mirga-Tas, as well as the 3rd and the 4th Autostrada Biennale in Kosovo. She was previously an Associate Curator of the 7th Berlin Biennale and Artistic Director of Public Art Munich 2018. Her interests span the concepts of performativity, the public sphere, feminism, politics and decoloniality in Eastern Europe. Her recent publications include “Assuming Asymmetries” and “Curating beyond the Mainstream”, published by Konstfack and Sternberg Press in 2022. Originally from Warsaw, she lives in Berlin.

Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius has been a performing architect since 1999. With raumlaborberlin he contributes new ideas to the culture of the city. He plans, sketches and realises installations and interventions in public space, creates scenographies and dramaturgies for stages, public places and exhibitions, and develops event and teaching formats. Many of the works are created in an art and theatre context with large and small, established and improvised institutions, but they all grow on the compost of the collective. The results are projects such as “working on common ground” for Manifesta 14 in Prishtina, “2465 Enright” for the Pulitzer Foundation in St. Louis and the Floating University in Berlin, where he has been a board member since 2018 and which won the Golden Lion in Venice in 2021. He is currently Professor of Cohabitation and Vice-Rector at the Städelschule in Frankfurt.

  • Images


    Cover: Ingela Ihrmann, Love Me, Love Me Not© Berliner Festspiele, Photo: Camille Blake.

    fig. 1: Creating Fantastic Beings, Clay Building Workshop for kids by Kerstin Brätsch & Jana Dohmann © Berliner Festspiele, Foto: Ranav Adhikari.

    fig. 2: Céline Condorelli, Play for Today, installation view, École de la Porte d'Eau, 2022. Photograph by Caroline Douau © FRAC Grand Large.

    fig. 3: Radical Playgrounds. Ein Kunstparcours am Gropius Bau. Architektur: raumlaborberlin. Foto: Camille Blake.

    fig. 4: Gabriela Burkhalter, The Playground Project © Berliner Festspiele, Photo: Camille Blake.

    fig. 5: Edgar Calel - Jun Juyu Juxuj, A Mountain of Drawings, © Berliner Festspiele, Photo: Camille Blake.

    fig. 6: Radical Playgrounds, Construction at the Gropius Bau © Berliner Festspiele, Photo: Camille Blake.

    fig. 7: The School of Mutants, The Dig, © Berliner Festspiele, Photo: Joanna Warsza.



To improve our website for you, please allow a cookie from Google Analytics to be set.

Basic cookies that are necessary for the correct function of the website are always set.

The cookie settings can be changed at any time on the Date Privacy page.