Museum visitors are often told not to touch the art on view, but for a new project for the de Young Museum in San Francisco, Cosima von Bonin hopes you’ll do more than just poke or prod her work—she also wants you to slide down it.
On October 15, von Bonin will debut For Lazy Lobsters, a 30-foot-long installation that’s more or less a functional playground, albeit a somewhat unusual one, complete with a Pinocchio-like figure that watches over the space’s users. The installation will appear on the museum’s front lawn, in the middle of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and in keeping with von Bonin’s interest in oceans and sea creatures, it will include a version of a giant sailboat equipped with a functional slide and swing, with a sandbox surrounding it.
Though anyone can make use of For Lazy Lobsters, von Bonin, who produced the piece in collaboration with Petzel gallery partner Seth Kelly, specifically designed the work for children. “I spent time on the quite boring playgrounds here in Cologne”—where she is based—“and talked with kids and their fathers,” she said in an email of the process behind creating the work. “Just the fathers and not the mothers, as I think the dads somehow—more than the moms—allow their kids more freedom on the playground and let them play with what they like. The fathers I spoke with told me that kids want excitement and also a bit of risk or danger on a playground.” And so von Bonin made the work in that spirit, adding to her decidedly not-boring playground life preservers, buckets on ropes, and faux crabs. (Models for the crustaceans were made by Kelly’s six-year-old son, Eli.)
And why the beach? “In Mombasa”—the Kenyan city where the artist was raised—“I lived on the beach. Literally. I was there all day long. So it was inevitable that the creatures from the sea became my first friends. Jellyfish, sea urchins, giant clams, crabs, all of them. My beach was a place where aquatic animals could chill out. And I could chill out with them. The fish taught me how to just do nothing, but observe. So laziness and slothfulness always interested me and still interest me.”
For Lazy Lobsters is not a permanent work—it will eventually be removed from the de Young’s premises. But von Bonin has already asked the project’s curator, Claudia Schmuckli, to explore finding another venue—a park, maybe, or a kindergarten—where the work can live after its run at the San Francisco museum. After all, von Bonin said, “we just wanted to build a nice playground. Nothing else.”