The Contemporary Art Gallery presented the first solo exhibition in Canada by French artist Aurélien Froment, comprising an ambitious body of newly commissioned work.
Froment produced an exhibition which focused on the series of educational toys (Spielgaben or play gifts) designed by Friedrich Fröbel (1782–1852), the German founder of the original Kindergarten. Froment’s longstanding interest in Fröbel was aroused by the openness of the system of objects he devised, which has paradoxically resulted in both their survival and disappearance. For Froment as for Fröbel, each shape begets another, each form foreshadows a second; all images are keys to other images. Replicas have been produced based on historical artifacts, presenting for the first time in an exhibition, the play gifts in the complete sequence as imagined by their author and displayed on stands created by renowned Italian designer Martino Gamper. The objects were presented alongside an ensemble of photographs, which map Fröbel’s pedagogy, while drawing connections with earlier, as well as future uses of the geometric grid. Fröbel Fröbeled was therefore an exhibition on Fröbel, with Fröbel — an exploration of his art, as well as a reflection on what lies beneath his system of objects.
Drawing on the ideas of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the experiences of Swiss pedagogue Johan Pestalozzi, Fröbel advocated for a practice of education where the child and the teacher are co-workers, with play and self-activity at the center of the learning process. To this end Fröbel introduced activities such as singing, dancing, gardening, map making and created a series of educational toys, the play gifts. He brought together existing children’s toys (wooden blocks, woollen balls, sticks), stripped of any signs suggesting pre-determined educational purposes such as letters, numbers, figures or colours and sequenced these within an overarching system of relationships in which each toy foreshadows the next while being transformed. A soft woollen ball turns into a hard wooden sphere; a sphere into a cube via a cylinder; a cube is divided into smaller cubes and so on, until volumes become surfaces, surfaces become lines and lines are segmented towards infinity. Continuity and opposition systematically order the world of Fröbel’s gifts. Since the mid-nineteenth century, many educationalists and manufacturers appropriated the influential Kindergarten material and while establishing it as a prominent feature of modernity, the consistency of Fröbel’s ideal was slowly diluted, lost or abandoned.
Throughout his career, Fröbel continually refined his play gifts to achieve the greatest scope through their different forms, relations and applications. They constitute a modest but complex body of works, used for object lessons and often accompanied by analogies and stories, something tangible to enhance the understanding of something conceptual.
Individual sets comprised balls, blocks, sticks, paper folding and weaving, peas and clay. From simple geometrical shapes could appear a chair, a worker’s house, a train, a ruin or a flower, as well as introducing abstract notions such as unity and interconnectedness. Each gift would be used in short sessions of directed play. Collector and scholar Norman Brosterman states in his seminal book Inventing Kindergarten, that “unlike the building blocks, mosaic toys, and traditional crafts that were their forebears, the gifts were never available for entirely ‘free play’. Their use was always related to the three realms: forms of nature (or life), forms of knowledge (or geometry, mathematics and science) and forms of beauty (or art).” The potential of each toy and its associated applications were therefore multiplied according to their ability to represent, demonstrate or to be arranged in a pleasing way.
In the exhibition, each gift was also used and depicted by Froment in a number of different ways. To the three realms proposed by Fröbel — nature, knowledge and beauty — Froment suggests to add two others — cultural forms and material forms — revealing aspects of the gifts’ own history while reflecting on its mediation within a contemporary public art gallery. In some of the accompanying photographs, the gifts were staged based on engravings featured in Fröbel’s own manuals and literature that followed. Representing a throne, a church, a castle, a cross or a sentry box, the photographs draw the imaginary atlas of an archetypal world rooted in the nineteenth century. Whether photographed by Froment like diagrams, models, products or architecture, they perform, alongside their related toy, some of the instructions provided in the early handbooks while potentially becoming again loose instructions themselves. Divorced from their original publication context and captions, freed from their layout, the constellation of images in the exhibition unfolds as another gift.
If the first series of photographs notionally illustrate uses of the play gifts while mapping a model world, other predominantly small-scale images relate more specifically to the biography of the German pedagogue. Fröbel lived and worked close to his birthplace in Thuringia, central Germany. He founded his first institution for early childhood education in 1837 in the small town of Bad Blankenburg where two years later, he coined the term ‘Kindergarten’. Juxtaposed with the graphic educational material, this series of views of the countryside near Jena (the former East Germany near the Czech Republic border) show a reality without clear narrative, yet situates geographically, socially and culturally the genesis of Fröbel’s project. Through this Froment implies a complex relationship between the objects, images, ideas, places and us as audience. The work becomes the vehicle to draw our attention to changed contexts and so perceptions shift. We contemplate ideas not in a void but think while practising.
Alongside the exhibition in Vancouver, the CAG worked in partnership with DIM Cinema at The Cinematheque and PuSh International Performing Arts Festival to present Interludes: Aurélien Froment. Complementing the exhibition, the films selected by Froment often use the format of instructional videos. The screenings took place on January 20, 2014 at 7.30 pm, and included The Apse, the Bell and the Antelope (2005); Pulmo Marina (2010); Théâtre de poche (2007); Fourdrinier Machine Interlude (2010); Camillo’s Idea (2012).
The exhibition was made in collaboration with Villa Arson, Nice, France; Spike Island, Bristol, UK; Frac Île de France — Le Plateau, Paris, France; Heidelberger Kunstverein, Germany. A publication will be developed in 2015 bringing together this new commission and the various presentations in the exhibition tour.
Born in 1976 in Angers, France, Aurélien Froment lives and works in Dublin. Solo exhibitions by Froment have been presented at Le Credac, Ivry-sur-Seine; Musée départemental de Rochechouart; Centre culturel français, Milan; Marcelle Alix, Paris; CCA Wattis, San Francisco; Montehermoso, Vitoria-Gasteiz; Bonniers Konsthalle project room, Stockholm; The Physics Room, Christchurch; Motive Gallery, Amsterdam; Frac Champagne-Ardenne, Reims; Module du Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Project Arts Centre, Dublin and Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers.
Group exhibitions include The Encyclopedic Palace, 55th Biennale di Venezia; Curiosity, Turner Contemporary, Margate; Mind is Outer Space, Casey Kaplan Gallery, New York, (2013); Descriptive Acts, SF MoMa, San Francisco; Tactics for the Here and Now, Bucarest Biennale 5; In the Holocene, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge; Hapax Legomena, Mercer Union, Toronto (2012); A Terrible Beauty is Born, Biennale de Lyon; Our Magic Hour, Yokohama Triennale; Dystopia, CAPC, Bordeaux (2011); 2 1/2 Dimensional, deSingel, Antwerp; 10,000 Lives, Gwangju Biennale; Art Parcours, Basel (2010); Paper Exhibition, Artist Space, New York; From the Gathering, Helen Pitt Gallery, Vancouver; The Space of Words, Mudam, Luxembourg (2009); The Way in which it Landed, Tate Britain, London; Word Event, Kunsthalle Basel; The Great Transformation, Frankfurter Kunstverein; Inaugural festival, Nam June Paik Center, Seoul (2008).
Froment is represented by Marcelle Alix, Paris and Motive Gallery, Brussels.
Research toward the production of this work is funded by a grant from programme ‘Hors les murs’ 2011 of the Institut Français. The exhibition is supported by the Consulat Général de France à Vancouver and Institut Français.
Interludes: Aurélien Froment
Monday, January 20 , 7.30 pm
Tickets $9 – $11– (plus $3 Cinematheque membership)
The Cinematheque, 1131 Howe Street
DIM Cinema, an ongoing series at The Cinematheque, presents videos by the French artist Aurélien Froment, to complement his first Canadian solo exhibition, at the Contemporary Art Gallery.
Often using the format of instructional videos, Froment examines the semantic power of images and their elusive relationship to words. Viewers will emerge from the screening having learned more about the production of paper, the life cycle of the medusa, the ergonomics of sitting, the invention of kindergarten, the tying of knots and the palace of memory, than they ever thought possible in the space of 90 minutes. Each one of these analytical, self-reflexive studies works in its own way as a witty or poetic reminder that interpretation is subjective, meaning is never fixed and what one sees is not what others see.
Presented in association with The Cinematheque and PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.MORE
Adele Diamond, Ph.D., is the Canada Research Chair Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia. Her work integrates developmental, cognitive, neuroscience and molecular genetic approaches to examine fundamental questions about the development of the cognitive control abilities that rely on a region of the brain known as ‘prefrontal cortex’. Her recent work, including a paper in the journal Science is affecting early education practices around the world. Diamond responds to Aurélien Froment’s exhibition.
This series invites cultural and critical producers to present thoughts and ideas rooted in their own interests and practices, and invites audiences to join in the conversations that will explore relevant contemporary issues, theories, ideas and culture.MORE
As part of our Feedback series acclaimed Toronto-based artist Luis Jacob responded to Aurélien Froment’s exhibition ‘Fröbel Fröbeled’, he also discussed his own practice and his interest in pedagogical ideas contained in the exhibition.
Luis Jacob is an artist based in Toronto, whose diverse practice addresses social interaction and the subjectivity of aesthetic experience. Realized as painting, video, installation, photography and actions in the public sphere, Jacob’s work invites a collision of meaning systems that destabilize our conventions of viewing and that open up possibilities for engagement and the creation of knowledge.
As an artist, he has achieved an international reputation – particularly since his participation in documenta12, curated by Ruth Noack and Roger Bürgel in 2007. Several significant solo exhibitions include Kunstverein Hamburg (curated by Meike Behm and Yilmaz Dziewior in 2008) ; Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach (curated by Suzanne Titz in 2009); Fonderie Darling, Montréal (curated by Marie Fraser in 2010); Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto (curated by David Liss in 2011); and Kunsthalle Lingen (curated by Meike Behm in 2012). Jacob’s work was also featured in group exhibitions at the Taipei Biennial (2012); Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid (2012); Witte de With Contemporary Art, Rotterdam (2012); Generali Foundation, Vienna (2011); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2010); Contemporary Art Museum, Houston (2010); Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Philadelphia (2009); Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst (MuHKA), Antwerp (2008); Barbican Art Gallery, London (2008); and The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Toronto (2008). His work is found in the permanent collection of the Generali Foundation (Vienna, Austria); National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa, Canada); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, USA); Städtisches Museum Abteiberg (Mönchengladbach, Germany); Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada); Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (Canada); Museion‚ Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Bolzano, Italy); Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston, Canada); Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto, Canada); and the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, University of Toronto (Toronto, Canada).MORE