Fröbel Fröbeled was 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 was the first exhibition to present the sequence in its entirety.
Froment’s ambitious new body of work for this exhibition was 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 were 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 was 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 reconsidered 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 positioned the viewer at the heart of an experience, to remain – in keeping with Fröbel’s principles – one of possibility and potential.
Aurélien Froment (1976) was born in Angers and lives and works in Dublin. He studied at the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, from which he graduated in 2000. Solo exhibitions include: Une exposition comme les autres, Centre d’art contemporain d’Ivry – le Crédac, Ivry-sur-Seine; Paysages, marines et scènes de genre, Musée départemental de Rochechouart; and 9 Intervals, Pavilion, Leeds (all 2011). Selected group exhibitions include: The Encyclopedic Palace, 55th Biennale di Venezia, Venice (2013); Descriptive Acts, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2012); Our Magic Hour, Yokohama Triennale (2011).
Froment is represented by Marcelle Alix, Paris and Motive Gallery, Brussels (formerly in Amsterdam).