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At Waterfront Park, a new artwork invites visitors to play a little longer

Nine-month-old Cosmo Iannopollo played with sand at Sari Carel's "The Shape of Play" in Waterfront Park.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

We Americans are not a fun people. We live for productivity, and the pandemic has only added to the stress.

That’s a shame, because we need play. It’s intrinsic to human development and to mental health. Brooklyn artist Sari Carel offers a respite from work in “The Shape of Play,” a new installation at Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park presented by the public art agency Now + There and the Jewish Arts Collaborative.

Carel has made a name for herself with projects in parks that consider the compromises and vitality of shared public space. “Out of Thin Air,” a 2018 piece at New York’s City Hall Park featured, quite simply, the sound of breathing. That would be something to experience now, as we struggle with an airborne respiratory disease.


“The Shape of Play,” which features free-standing sculptures in sandboxes, more resembles “Borrowed Light,” Carel’s 2015 work in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. There, the structures were sleek, black, and modernist, made of interlocking planes. Here, they’re more like children’s blocks: pale wood, painted with arcs and bands in primary colors.

Lillian Iannopollo, 2, played in the sand at "The Shape of Play."Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Climbing is unfortunately forbidden. But that seemed OK with the small children busily raking, pouring, and transporting sand when I stopped by.

Carel invites adults to play in a more grown-up way, with music. Each of six sculptures has a speaker playing a different element of the artist’s quiet symphony of sounds made on playground equipment. It plays for 20 minutes, then goes silent for 20 minutes.

Bells, taps, rustles, and crunches interlace into music by turns meditative and delightful. If you stand in the center of the installation, you’ll hear all aspects of the percussive little composition. Or you can engage in a sweet game of hide-and-seek, moving from one sculpture to the next, losing a whirring sound and picking up a light chattering.


Carel points out the ties between play and freedom. It’s how we escape and relax. Without it, we’re trapped. Listening, and moving about the piece captivated me just as the sand engrossed the children in the sandboxes. Such a simple thing, really. And such a relief.


At Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park, 110 Atlantic Ave., through Oct. 31. www.nowandthere.org

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Instagram @cate.mcquaid.