‘Donated by the players so that others may enjoy the game’. There’s something quirky and fun I like about this park bench dedication. It is part of Playground; an interactive outdoor sculpture in the Bretton Estate’s gardens, which are now part of York Sculpture Park, near Wakefield, West Yorkshire (a 45 minute train-ride and 10 minute taxi from York).
The interactive sculpture consists of an open-air dome of curved metal strips, inside which two park benches sit on either side of a walkway of wooden planks. These all have hidden musical sensors to pick up on the audiences’ movements. As you walk into the sculpture and across the planks, or sit and relax on one of the benches, ambient sounds of distant laughter and chatter, xylophone notes and gushing sea-waves intermittently omit from hidden speakers.
I’ve got to say, the sounds do appear to play at randomn (apparently it was one of the earliest sculptures installed at the park, so maybe this is a consequence of a few years outdoors). At points, it also sounds rather more like what you’d hear on a Spanish beach if you had your eyes closed sunbathing. However, nit-picking aside, the sound is a fun touch; it adds atmosphere for adults and children alike.
The whole piece is supposed to echo the playful nature of the Estate’s park as a site of pleasure at present and also in times past (think Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, or that famous lake scene from Pride and Prejudice). Indeed, sitting on the players’ kindly donated musical bench, and looking through the trellis-like dome which surrounds you, you can’t help but feel like part of the furniture; as if you are one of the park’s many trees or climbing flowers yourself. The effect is comfortable, and combined with the chatter and noise of other visitors and playing children it reminds you of childhood’s summer picnics, sunny days in the park, and balmy evening picnic-proms with the family (often held in the grounds of old estates such as this). In other words, you can’t help but feel like Mary Lennox from Burnett’s The Secret Garden, and let your imagination join in the fun and play too.
York Sculpture Park is part of the Bretton Estate. The five hundred acres of landscaped parkland is filled with important modernist and contemporary sculpture, and some great new galleries. Well worth a visit.