12 July to 14 September 2014
Preview: Friday 11 July, 6–9pm
Fröbel Fröbeled is the culmination of French artist Aurélien Froment’s extensive research into German educationalist Friedrich Fröbel (1782–1852), founder of the first Kindergarten.
Taking his cue from philosopher Jean- Jacques Rousseau and Swiss pedagogue Johan Pestalozzi, Fröbel advocated the direct engagement of children with the world via self-directed activity and play. Throughout his career he developed a series of educational toys (balls of wool, wooden geometric shapes, pattern blocks), which he embedded into an open-ended sequence of objects whereby each shape suggests the next. He called them Spielgaben, literally ‘play gifts’. Though Fröbel’s work was influential and the gifts were widely adopted by educationalists, appreciation of the system’s consistency has been diluted and lost over time. This is the first exhibition to present the sequence in its entirety.
Froment’s ambitious new body of work is centered around a set of replicas of ten Fröbel gifts as they were produced and sold by the US based Milton Bradley Company in the late nineteenth century. These are shown alongside carefully staged photographs of the toys ‘in action’, as if they were performing some of the instructions provided in the early handbooks in which they were depicted. Each gift is displayed on a custom designed stand made by Martino Gamper, a leading Italian designer, known for his collaborations with artists.
The gifts break down into volumes, planes, lines and dots which were used to make models of larger forms — a house, a chair, a flower — while introducing abstract ideas such as unity or interconnectedness. They were not used freely, but in short play sessions that related to three categories: forms of nature (or life), forms of knowledge (or geometry, mathematics and science) and forms of beauty (or art).
The exhibition reconsiders the gifts as enigmatic cultural forms, depicting them as products of an idealised world view — that of modernity — but also as objects that suggest freedom and agency. By displacing the
Fröbel gifts within an artistic context, Froment positions the viewer at the heart of an experience, which remains — in keeping with Fröbel’s principles — one of possibility and potential.
The exhibition Fröbel Fröbeled is made in collaboration with CAG Vancouver, Canada; Villa Arson, Nice, France; Frac Île-de-France — Le Plateau, Paris, France; Heidelberger Kunstverein, Germany. Research towards the production of this work is funded by a grant from the Institut Français ‘Hors les murs’ programme 2011.
The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday, 12 to 5pm. Entrance is free. www.spikeisland.org.uk
Spike Island 133 Cumberland Road, Bristol BS1 6UX 0117 929 2266