Playing to Play with Sofia Elias

Sofia Elias is an architect and visual artist based in Mexico City. Her interactive work Jugando a Jugar, in English Playing to Play, was inspired by children's playspaces and the challenge of creating settings that encourage the beauty of unplanned action, reaction and interaction. The installation explores the diverse possibilities of interactions between users and her sculptural play objects, allowing for experimentation and ownership or creative freedom.

Jugando a Jugar is currently installed at La Plaz at The Standard, High Line. 

A seesaw, which is one of my favorite play structures because you depend on someone else for it to work, so you cannot ride it by yourself.

Do you have any travel essentials as an artist constantly on the move?

I'm always carrying a pocket size little notebook. 

So the little drawings are actually very pixelated because they come from the original size. I'm always carrying this notebook because it fits in my back pocket of my jeans when I'm not carrying a bag and I'm drawing ideas or quoting people or just writing names to then look it up after I try to draw it.

When I see a funny detail in the street or something, I try to sketch it quickly and then try to go back to that page and then develop the idea or the memory or go back to that place whenever I was thinking about a certain thing.

I've been doing this for maybe seven years with the same size book. I have a few in my studio and once I finish all the pages, I buy a different color book and it's been a nice collection of those.

 I can see also how my handwriting has gotten sometimes better or sometimes worse. I try to not change the type of pen, and they're all black ink drawings, kind of OCD with many things. So this, I tried to keep it clean, but, yeah, it's nice to see the process and the same idea being developed.

When did you transfer from architecture more into like sculpture and becoming a visual artist?

I was looking to use my hands and not use AutoCad for the first time after five years of architecture, but also, I started to do pieces of art or sculpture, because architecture, you don't only depend on yourself.

You need a permit, a client, a land. You depend on so many other things for you to get projects done, but making a chair - I made it in my studio because it was for me and then it was for other people, and then a gallery wanted them. It's much more doable to make a chair than to build a playground inside your house. You can dream so much about architecture, and I've been so lucky by the projects that have been built. But really, it was a thing of not waiting four years for one project to get done.

It seems like your art often explores themes of nostalgia and childhood. Is there anything specifically that draws you to these topics?

It’s more of a present-ness with play than a nostalgia with it. With all the research I've been doing for the playgrounds, the thing I realized and that I like the most is that when we are kids we are the most pure versions of ourselves. We don’t yet have these ideas of what's okay to say and what's not okay to say or what's okay to think or not.

You know, you make silly mistakes. You say what you think. This thing of not filtering, the abstraction of things and all the ideas you can have, which I try to reflect in the structures of the playgrounds I make.

The argument for my thesis in Mexico City was making these structures that go against all these prefabricated playgrounds where kids no longer have the ability to imagine. So now in one structure, the kids can imagine many different uses for one playscape. So instead of putting the plastic giraffe that can only be a plastic giraffe, now the kid can imagine it's a boat or a spaceship. This abstraction of structure constantly makes the kid decide how they want to use the thing. 

How is play integrated into public spaces and everyday life in Mexico City?

An argument for my thesis was that there are so many parks and playgrounds in Mexico, but usually you have to cross all these massive busy streets to get there. So then it makes it so unsafe for the kid to go alone and nowadays you see kids on the phone and not being interactive. 

Many of the ideas behind what I was designing were based on a seesaw, which is one of my favorite play structures because you depend on someone else for it to work, so you cannot ride it by yourself. It's this thing of almost making friends in the playground. Like, hi, do you want to ride with me? Because I can't use it by myself. 

Also in English, I love the word seesaw, but it's because it's this thing of the present and the past. You see. You saw. I don't know. I've always been drawn to this structure as a whole.

Do you have any thoughts about encouraging adults to play more? Is that an inspiration behind your work?

Completely. One of my favorite things is a chair that I made that has no function — you sit and you fall and you stand and the chair stands back up with you.

One of my favorite moments is when adults sit on it and they kind of lose control for a second because adults always have everything under control. There's always a giggle coming out of the thing that happens. There's still a funny thing that wakes up inside of us. 

Can you speak to how your artistic process differs based on, like, the scale of your work or how it is similar, how it's different and how it's similar when you're making jewelry versus when you're making these giant playgrounds?

For sure, the giant playgrounds relate more to my architecture background and the knowledge I gained through those very hard five years of school. But the play and ludic aspects are in every part of my work, regardless of the scale. 

The thing I've enjoyed the most is that none of my work has molds. Everything is handmade in my studio; even if it's a series. You sometimes see fingerprints in the thing. I've been calling them mini sculptures only because of not using molds. I think it's making a different little doodle or floor plan every time and seeing what structures fit into it. 

Can you speak to one similarity maybe, and one difference between New York and Mexico City?

Diversity is a similarity between the two. There are constant new things, constant events, constant openings. I guess both cities are cities that you never stop. Almost like the city consumes you and eats you up and the amount of work and things to do. I've prayed so many times for my days to have more hours to get all these things done, but I'm trying to be more patient and calm with the 24 hours we have.

What about a difference? What are you most excited to be back, back in Mexico City doing that you haven't been able to do while you've been traveling?

I realized that I'm so lucky in Mexico because I know a lot of people that can help me produce things and realize the ideas that I have in my head without so many complications. I realize now that in many different countries or cities, you depend on so many other things for people to produce things for you. Mexico is a country that is very flexible and people are curious enough to make something that doesn't necessarily have to work.

Mexico, I find it very, very surreal in some ways. Mexico magico. We call it magical Mexico. If you need something in two weeks, people somehow make magic and get it done. 

Swing by La Plaz to play on Sofia's installation, eat-up Mexico City- inspired street food and sip down ice cold cocktails all summer long. Book at table here.

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