Wonder Land: researching existing public interactive art that invites sliding, swinging and climbing

I’ve been asking people to tell me about interactive public art that has been intended for climbing on, swinging on or sliding down, with 24 hour access for free in the UK and there’s nothing, except children’s outdoor parks. My travel grant covers research; since I can’t use it for visiting similar things to my idea, I could use it to visit stuff that has an element of what Wonder Land is about. For example, I could visit an outdoor children’s adventure playground that used recycled materials in the build, or a public sculpture that uses recycled materials or invites interaction in a thoughtful way.

I spoke to Matt Page (Moving Image Technician) and he told me about a public sculpture in Berlin that is formed of individual plinths set in rows that form corridors; it commemorates holocaust victims so people aren’t allowed to climb on the plinths but people play Pac-man in the corridors. Another branch of my research, therefore, is looking at how people use public sculpture. A brief internet search shows there is some controversy surrounding the sculpture – click on the photograph to go to a news story about it.


I visited the yurt (temporary relaxing space in uni of Brighton, Grand Parade garden) at lunch time and talked to Sara, Mikey and some girls (whose names I didn’t ask – so rude of me!) from the third year sculpture course about my research. Sara offered her services as project manager if I can get funding for Wonder Land and asked if I have a Go Pro camera, which led to the idea of time lapse filming of the build. Mikey told me about Martin Creed’s current exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, which I checked online: the exhibition has been extended until Monday 5 May 2014 but it costs £11. Click the photo for  information about the show. I wonder how I can gain free entry?


Sara, Mikey and I also chatted about Carsten Höller’s test site exhibit at the Tate Modern in 2006. Mikey saw it and her son rode the fifth floor slide; she said he confirmed it was exhilarating. We talked of how a sculpture you can swing, slide and climb on could relieve depressive symptoms. I found some books and a DVD on Carsten Höller at St Peter’s House Library and I’m going to use them for further research. Click the photo to go to an interview with Höller on the Tate Modern website.


The third year sculpture students told me about a children’s park at Bletchley that has a dinosaur slide (with urban/graffiti colours) and a graduate sculpture student from last year, Carly Jayne, who made a swing for interactive public use in her second year show. The closest thing I could find to the dinosaur slide was this:


I found Carly Jayne’s swing here:


It’s the closest thing so far to my intention for Wonder Land.

As I was sitting in the yurt, feeling much more relaxed than when I’m outside of it, I realised I’d like to incorporate some quiet, contemplative space into Wonder Land. This is a photo of the inside of the yurt:


Later, at home, I checked Facebook to see if there were any replies to my question, “does anyone know of any public interactive art in England that is fun to climb, slide or swing on and is free to use?” Ezra shared a link to a Guardian article about Dalston House: the building that lets you defy gravity. The piece was exhibited in summer 2013.


I also found a link to a happening in Bristol this coming Sunday (4 May 2014); Luke Jerram is turning Park Street in Bristol into a giant water slide:


Although it’s fun, interactive and free, it’s temporary and ticketed. The artist used crowdsourcing to pay for the event and liaised with council officials to arrange it.




Wonder Land: business planning? Noooooo!



I began answering these questions on ‘my business’ of Wonder Land but the language got in the way. My answers:

Why am I writing this plan?

  • To find out if the idea is viable.
  • To find out different ways of executing the idea.
  • To get it out of my head.

Am I asking for any finances or support from you?

  • From who? I suppose that depends on how the idea is executed. It could be Kickstarter funded, if it even needs any funding, or it could be Arts Council and local council funded or it could be entirely free and open-source – so people bring stuff or donate stuff and/or time etc.

What am I about to tell you about my business?

  • It’s not a business, ie. it’s not about making money.
  • It’s a community project.
  • It’s run/owned and managed by the people involved in building it.

What is the name of my business?

Wonder Land.

What legal structure am I planning to use?

  • None. The law was created to protect property owners and I believe the concept of ownership contributes to much suffering in the world, therefore there has to be an experimental theme to this project.

What are the contact details for my business?

  • Mine, currently.

When I got to the part about products and services I felt unable to continue. I found the language depressing.

Wonder Land: how to build an organisation / community that exists outside of capitalist ideology whilst existing physically within its boundaries?



Number 18 of the principles of open source software building struck a chord with me. It states this: “to solve an interesting problem, start by finding a problem that is interesting to you”. I phrased the problem that is interesting to me: how to build an organisation / community that exists outside of capitalist ideology whilst existing physically within its boundaries? And this is what I came up with:

  • no gas
  • no electricity
  • no food products
  • nothing bought with money
  • all materials found or someone else’s excess donated freely and unconditionally
  • we go to it and use it and come away again
  • it’s free to use
  • anyone can use it at any time

Where? If it’s an art project will the council agree to the use of a piece of land?

What’s needed

  • Land
  • Materials
  • Plans/help in making safe structures – how have other artists overcome this?

An open source meeting with people interested in collaborating?

Could cycle to Prestex House and talk to whoever is there about it.

Wonder Land: the 19 tenets of open source software design applied to building an adventure playground for grown ups



Taking the principles of building open source software identified by Eric S. Raymond, I applied them to my idea of building an adventure playground for grown ups. Here are the results:

1. Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch.

Going to a gym is boring and the advertising for gyms is looks-related, rather than feeling-related. I would like a fun place to play in (specifically an adventure playground), with a by-product of getting fitter, with a community feel to it.

2. Good programmers know what to write. Great ones know what to re-write (and re-use) – it’s almost always easier to start from a good partial solution.

I came up with three options:

It could use a derelict building – the playground equipment could be something that can fit into any building and each installation will be unique because it responds to the building’s physicality.

It could be built on land, as a ‘permanent’ structure, from biodegradable rubbish, using natural build techniques.

It could be an art installation that tours in an unusual vehicle that transforms into something bigger than imagined and kickstarts the imagination of those who enter (a yurt or it could be a different structure in each place built from what is available). I’m influenced by the following on this option:

  • The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (Terry Gilliam, 2009)
  • Wicked (Gregory Maguire, 1995)

Researching Wicked turned up What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy by Maguire. This quote is included in the description: “when the real world seems unbearable, stories told by candlelight have a way of coming true”. This made me cry. Wonder Land was originally based on all my favourite childhood stories (from Blyton and C.S. Lewis, for example), which I used to escape from the ‘unbearable world’. This led me to thinking Wonder Land could be a play about a woman building and adventure playground for grown ups, who realises, in the process, it’s another way of trying to escape reality.

3. Plan to throw one away; you will anyhow (you learn more by starting over).

In number 2, two are ‘permanent’ structures and the third is temporary or on tour. Which of these will be thrown away?

4. If you have the right attitude, interesting problems will find you.

Curiosity? Open-minded? What is the essence of Wonder Land?

5. When you lose interest in a program, your last duty to it is to hand it off to a competent successor.

This doesn’t seem relevant right now, aside from: if it is a touring exhibit, what happens when it finishes touring? Burn it? Sell it? Give it away (a la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)? Keep touring forever?

6. Treating your users as co-developers is your least-hassle route to rapid code improvement and effective debugging.

Sally Potter did this with Ginger and Rosa (2012) – she kept a blog and took note of what the public wanted during the filming process. It was an okay film. Not her best. Who are my users?

Online: I could send an email/text telling people I know (on Facebook/blog/google contacts) about Wonder Land and asking if they would like to be involved/kept informed/know of other people who might be interested. They would need to do something (ie. reply or click onto a survey or something) to show their willingness, therefore I might have few responses but the ones I have will be willing.

Local community: If it was a local build, I could contact the council for help and advice. I could write a letter and post it through all the doors of my building, and those nearby, asking people to contact me if they’d like to be involved. The letter could state: we will not ask you again – we trust that if you would like to be involved (how? what, specifically, can people do?) you will respond to this request.

Local charities: I could contact charities like Survivors Network, Rise, and Oasis, for example. It could be a project that builds, as well as the playground, a sense of togetherness, working for something bigger than ourselves, empowerment and safety. In hindsight, these things may be lofty ideals, but they may be good things to write on a funding application. I could write to the ‘right’ person at the charity and ask them to contact me if they could see this working.

Change the future: I know a couple of guys who have obtained some office space at Prestex House, near Preston Park, and they are using it to have discussions about social structures with a view to creating an online platform for people to create their own projects that change the things that don’t work. I could go there and talk to them about this – there is potential to hold an event there for people to come and get involved in building Wonder Land – could use Open Space Meeting technology.

7. Release early. Release often. And listen to your customers.

Sally Potter also did this one by updating her blog regularly and inviting feedback/suggestions. I could update my blog and feed it to Twitter/Facebook (which I already do); write a paper newsletter and post it; have regular meetings.

8. Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterised quickly and the fix obvious to someone.

When a problem arises, communicate it to everyone involved and ask for solutions.

9. Smart data structures and dumb code work a lot better than the other way around.

Smart data structures – flow – how does this work? Something to be worked out immediately before the build.

10. If you treat your beta-testers as if they’re your most valuable resource, they’ll respond by becoming that.

Gratitude for everyone involved. Lots of thanking.

11. The next best thing to having good ideas is recognising good ideas from your users. Sometimes the latter is better.

This feeds into regular contact with ‘users’ and asking for feedback and suggestions.

12. Often, the most striking and innovative solutions come from realising that your concept of the problem was wrong.

What is the concept? What is another way of looking at it? And another?

13. Perfection (in design) is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away.

What can be taken away?

14. Any tool should be useful in the expected way, but a truly great tool lends itself to uses you never expected.

Aside from the fact that anything can be used in more than one way, what are the unexpected uses of building/using Wonder Land?

15. When writing gateway software of any kind, take pains to disturb the data streams as little as possible and NEVER throw away information unless the recipient forces you to.

Systems and processes. When someone shows an interest in being involved, their contact information and how they’d like to help must be recorded somewhere – a spreadsheet?

Sustainability. The principle seems to be a good metaphor for a healthy ecosystem – the environment is treated with respect and everything is re-used. This is a basic principle of Wonder Land.

16. When your language is nowhere near Turing-complete, syntactic sugar can be your friend.

When describing Wonder Land, without knowing how it will be when it is finished, use — no. I don’t agree with this. Research or collaborate and reflect and communicate until understanding is reached and agreeable.

17. A security system is only as secure as its secrets. Beware of pseudo-secrets.

Secrets? Pseudo-secrets?

18. To solve an interesting problem, start by finding a problem that is interesting to you.

Problem: how to build an organisation/community that exists outside of capitalist ideology whilst existing physically within its boundaries?

19. Provided the development coordinator has a medium at least as good as the internet and knows how to lead without coercion, many heads are better than one.

Use the internet to ask for help and ask in ways that allow “no” as an answer.

Wonder Land Wall


This photograph (and the ones below) show how I’m going to use my bedroom wall to capture aspects of Wonder Land. This photograph shows my initial map of Wonder Land and the notes I made yesterday. The following photographs show the headings of the business plan; I’m going to use different coloured wool for each heading to connect stuff up.




Adventure Playground versus The Gym


I joined The Gym in February. The Gym is a low cost, 24 hour access gym located on Brighton seafront, next door to The Sealife Centre. Incidentally, it occupies a space that, twenty years ago, used to contain an indoor adventure playground for children called Pirates Deep (the link goes to a forum where Brighton football supporters remember having fun at Pirates Deep as kids; rather worryingly, they laugh about being violent so that’s a consideration I need to be aware of for my adventure playground). My son was a toddler then and, although parents weren’t supposed to climb over the playground with their children, I used to pretend Alex was stuck so that I could go on it too. The Gym is nothing like Pirates Deep; rather than fun (my idea of it anyway), it’s a place of serious work.

Utilising Eric S. Raymond’s number one principle in open source software building – “every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch” – to begin my project of deciding whether an adventure playground for grown ups is viable, I made a list of things I don’t like about The Gym. I go there because my goals are: to be able to move my body around freely and with enjoyment – so, to be able to run and jump on things (parkour is looking interesting); to be able to run away for a long time, if necessary (end of the world scenarios feed into this one (I also know how to suture after a dream where I removed two bullets from a man’s hip but couldn’t work out how to sew up the holes so when I woke I researched it)) so to build up stamina; to be able to do one chin up (my flatmate makes them look so effortless and I want to not be a weedy girl!); to fit into my old jeans comfortably (so I don’t have to buy new ones).

It’s just over a month since I joined The Gym and I haven’t been there in a week and a half. My last two exercise sessions have involved me riding my bicycle several miles and back, then at home doing press ups, sit ups, leg raises, glute bridges, tricep dips and Russian twists (with a heavy cooking pot instead of a med ball). It’s free and for most of the workout I get to see countryside or seaside. I’m considering quitting my membership. I would much rather go to a place where the equipment invites me to play and have fun, whilst working out. Wonder Land climbing frames, slides and other structures could be planned with fitness routes in mind (like bouldering, where there are easy, intermediate and hard routes) and with free play.

This is my itch with The Gym:

  • boring
  • ideological – more about how your body looks than feels (this is backed up by the posters advertising personal training to look good for the summer: “get a beach body!”)
  • not conducive to making friends: people wear earphones, TVs are on with annoying mainstream music, people are ‘traumatising’ their bodies to get fit so the focus is on that, there’s one table with four chairs on the ground floor although chairs usually have towels on them
  • not aesthetically pleasing – bunch of uniform machines in rows
  • chore to go there (as a result of the above)
  • it smells of mould
  • £40 for a personal trainer to design a program

Therefore, an adventure playground for grown ups would be more inspiring: it would be fun whilst working out – circuits could still be designed but by the individual – information on hand to provide building blocks for individual programs (like lego).  The internet can, of course, be used for this currently, but at Wonder Land, individuals can update the information as they become aware of the latest research, just like individuals adding patches to deal with bugs in the latest version of a Linux program.


Wonder Land and open source code


Today I watched Depression, the secret we share, a TED talk by Andrew Solomon (it was on my Facebook feed). He shares some stark truths about depression and how it is to be depressed, alongside some ideas of what could help to relieve it. The relief from depression seems to be the best one can hope for rather than the cessation of it. What do other cultures do around this – do they have depression? Solomon has a book (of course) about depression but reviews on Amazon stated his writing was very subjective, albeit eloquently so, and I was guided to a book that is more matter of fact: Lewis Wolpert’s Malignant Sadness, The Anatomy of Depression, which I will pick up from the University of Brighton library at Falmer when I have more oomph.

Perhaps turning towards something worthwhile is a way of curing depression. One of the things I like about Linux, as an operating system, is that it is open source and, therefore, subverts the proprietary way capitalism works. The paragraph about open source code pasted in my notebook in the photograph above comes from Get Back In The Box, Innovation from the Inside Out by Douglas Rushkoff. I cut a lot of the pages of his book out and pasted stuff over the rest; it was the book I used to record my process on my last project. Some of the pages of the book, which is a book designed to help businesses reconnect with what they do well rather than focus on profit, provide me with some good quotes and inspiration, like this one about open source code. I downloaded Eric S. Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar, read it avidly, and copied the points he made about building something with open source principles. Of course, he’s talking about building software programs, but I’m going to utilise it for Wonder Land, which I would like to be open source. I’m going to use his points to think about and take actions on aspects of Wonder Land.

Wonder Land


An initial drawing of a map of Wonder Land – adventure playground for grown ups – in preparation for a meeting with Sam of Bee Purple, University of Brighton’s entrepreneur advice centre. I came away with ideas for making a visual business plan and am going to use my independent project, which is the final project of my second year Moving Image degree, to create a model or process map or something that helps me and people who come to see it (so it will be exhibited somewhere) decide whether it’s a viable project. I have another meeting with Sam booked for 28 April 2014.