SINÉAD B. CASHELL

The 23 day residency was a series of talks, workshops and a cardboard playground with a wealth of materials and tools for visitors to build their own miniature realities. This project used co-operative play to investigate the ‘Street Belongs to Us’ as part of the 4th NO WOMEN NO ART Festival.

My first week in Poznań was spent exploring my surroundings – getting lost following pigeons, celebrating St Martin’s Day, rummaging in second hand shops, taking photos, making videos of street cleaners, watching the goats each day at noon, chatting with Hannah, local artists and the MPRA volunteers and unsuccessfully trying to learn how to count in polish much to the amusement of the doorman. As I wandered around I filmed a series of coincidental soundtracks. These were inconsequential objects with nearby background noises that seemed to give them some kind of comic drama, like the basket of flashing toys with the police sirens or the pigeon covered statue of a woman with Rihanna’s ‘Only Girl (In The World)’ blaring from a nearby bar.

I was intrigued by the dense collage of contrasting age, styles, scale, uses, states of repair and disrepair of the buildings and the histories behind these past decisions in relation to the current regeneration disrupting the normal circulation around the city. Loaded with ideas, sensations and questions I wanted to go beyond my own immediate responses and discover more through talking and playing at city building with other people living in Poznan during November.

To do this, assisted by MPRA, we created a play space filled with cardboard, fabric, tools and drawing materials in the School of Form. Anyone was welcome to come and build. The overall project was driven by a participative and collaborative ethos that supported experimentation and exploration. It created a situation for improvised building that encouraged independent and co-operative play by prompting the question ‘what am I able to do with this?’ This was based on a previous building project for families devised with Caragh O’Donnell in Belfast 2010.

It officially opened on the 17th with a daylong mapping workshop for architecture students in the School of Form. Using cardboard boxes as building blocks we exchanged spatial experiences of Poznan and our hometowns. After some discussion of the shape and nature of Poznan as a city we began building. The students decided how and what they would build, experimenting with space, form and construction. This playful and co-operative workshop resulted in an underground car park, a miniature IKEA, a dog and two large cardboard caves.

This was followed by a building workshop for children in the National Museum. Lead by Pauline Broniewska and Sabina Kiełczewska the children explored paintings of cities from the Museum’s collection to gather ideas for their own creations. Starting with plain cardboard boxes, within an hour, the children built a city of imaginative colourful buildings. These ranged from typical box shaped houses (characteristic of children’s drawings and the Poznan suburbs), elaborate mosaic beach houses with a roof top swimming pool, to satirical castles restricted by EU building regulations.

In between workshops I built imaginative play spaces for young children based on buildings, like the small kiosks and market stalls, which continually caught my attention as I walked passed them each day. In collaboration with Kasia Wobszal we built a play house and garden based on her description of typical box shaped suburban houses while talking about the places we’ve lived and the relationship between changing regimes and changes in architecture. Through these conversations with volunteers, students from the School of Form and workshop participants I compiled a vision of Poznan’s sprawling suburbs. It was deliberately only during my final days in Poznan I went to see the actual buildings and could compare their brick reality with their cardboard and conversational representations.

Each day the cardboard creations increased and moved around reshaping the concoction of real and imagined buildings. Participants communicated something about themselves as they changed their surroundings. Each new addition sparked off new conversations and ideas for what the next must have item would be. The heavens were added along with apartment blocks, rabbits, the empire state building, tress, houses, a demolished building and monkey house. Students also started using it to stage photo shoots for products they had created as part of their course work.

At times the process of continual translation during workshops felt like an outer body experience however it also introduced another voice into the discussion and a different kind of reflective space within any conversation. Also without a_shared verbal language it was still possible to play e.g. understanding each other enough to enjoy building and playing with race car ramps together, without knowing any of the words each other used.

The project concluded with an open evening of building and a children’s workshop with Świtelica Nibylandia. It was a joy to watch the space rapidly transformed by groups of adults and children simultaneously creating quick spontaneous buildings alongside methodical complex constructions like the suspension bridge with its plastic bag river flowing from the tap in the play house and the hospital with its tiny conference table, staircases and cotton wool beds. Children played in as well as adding to the city, driving wearable cars, selling balloon fruit in the market and playing balloon volleyball. Even in its cardboard form you could witness familiar real life scenarios unfold as two competing households kept adding extensions to their houses and filling them with matching ponds, BBQ’s and large TV sets just to keep up with the neighbours. Whilst unseen in another part of town the buildings are graffitied ‘EKSMISJE STOP!’ and a_cat and dog quietly go missing.

I would like to thank everyone at MPRA, NWNA, the School of Form and the National Museum of Poznan, for all their time, translating, enthusiasm and support throughout my residency.

Sinéad B. Cashell
2011

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