Playgrounds and Really Useful Knowledge

Playgrounds and Really Useful Knowledge

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

Image: Palle Nielsen Group of activists from different organisations in Denmark cleared a backyard in Stengade 52 in the area Nørrebro in Copenhagen the 31 of March 1968 and built a playground for the children instead. This was done to create attention to the lack of playgrounds as well as an overall redevelopment of the area. © Palle Nielsen, VEGAP, Madrid, 2014. © PETERSEN ERIK / Polfoto.

March 28, 2014

Learn, Learn, Learn: Playgrounds and Really Useful Knowledge


30 April–22 September

Really Useful Knowledge
29 October 2014–23 February 2015

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Sabatini Building, Floor 1 

A cornerstone of the modern way of life was characterised by the growing presence of capitalism in production and consumption, which in today’s post-industrial society has led to a massive appropriation of life itself by the dominant economic forces. Art as a playful practice, as well as the critical pedagogies involved in artistic and cultural practices, thus become key elements in both an understanding of our present and a means to collectively resist these alienating dynamics.

Adopting as its premise the notion of carnival pageantry as a practice that alters the established order, the exhibition Playgrounds will explore the collective dimension of play and the need for a “ground” of its own in order to engage in the construction of a new public arena. Expanding this thread, the exhibition Really Useful Knowledge will posit critical pedagogy as a crucial element of collective struggles.

Playgrounds (curated by Manuel J. Borja-Villel, Tamara Díaz & Teresa Velázquez) takes a historical and artistic approach to the space reserved for play and its socialising, transgressive and political potential from the dawn of modernity to the present day. The show aims to explore the recreational, playful, festive side of life that puts the humdrum reality of the everyday on hold, subverting, reinventing and transcending it for one fleeting moment. The introduction to the exhibition will provide background on the carnivalesque concept of life, underscoring certain aspects related to the notion of free time in modern life. The show will also revisit the street as a place of play and self-realization, through examples of adventure playgrounds as well as photographs and films that will give a historic panoramic since the 1930s from a documentary perspective. The nucleus of the exhibition is devoted to the model of the modern playground and its contradictions, with relevant materials accounting for the urban revolution of the 1960s, the consideration of the city as a relational and psychological construction and works that parallel aesthetic and political transformations. The last section of the show will consist of a series of experiments based on anti-hegemonic exercises, such us the civil appropriation of the street for “playground” use and works that challenge passive recreation through the emancipative power of play, not to mention recent experiences that resume the collective reinvention of the square and have become essential in envisioning new ways of doing politics. 

The notion of ‘really useful knowledge‘ originated with the rise of the workers’ awareness of the need for self-education in the early 19th century, when workers’ organizations in the UK introduced this phrase to describe a body of knowledge that encompassed various ‘unpractical’ disciplines such as politics, economics and philosophy, as opposed to the alleged ‘useful knowledge’ proclaimed by business owners, who had begun investing in their companies’ development through funding the education of their employees in ‘applicable’ skills and disciplines. In its reference to the long-forgotten class struggles of  capitalism’s early years, the title of the exhibition suggests an inquiry into ‘really useful knowledge’ from a contemporary perspective. 

Really Useful Knowledge (curated by What, How and for Whom?/WHW) starts from the position that the ‘battle for education’ was always central for “the very survival of socialism as the pedagogy of a world-view,” and assesses the success of politics of recent social movements whose critical pedagogy has proved capable of illuminating the threats that capitalism poses for human lives, the environment and democracy. The exhibition thus probes into the tension between individual and social emancipation through education, structuring its explorations along several lines of inquiry related to historical and present instances of critical pedagogy in their relation to organisational forms capable of leading unified resistance to the reproduction of capital. In doing so, the exhibition insists on the collective utilization of existing public resources, actions, and experiments, either forgotten or under threat of eradication, taking the museum as a pedagogical site devoted to the analysis of artistic forms interconnected with actual or desired social relations and Benjamin’s ‘materialist education’ that posits cultural history at the core of class education.


Playgrounds and Really Useful Knowledge at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
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Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
March 28, 2014

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