In Discussion with Nathalie Quagliotto: Safety Yellow, Play, and Pilot Art List

Twisted Reality, fused damaged metal shopping carts colliding, 2014.
Presented in Sudbury for the FAAS4 May residency organized by the Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario.

Questions by Adi Berardini

Nathalie Quagliotto’s sculptures add a sense of playfulness to conceptual art. By using play and the uncanny, Nathalie challenges what a typical gallery experience can look like for viewers. She looks at architecture and questions how the materiality of everyday spaces can form our experiences. Quagliotto is well-known for using “safety yellow” in her work adapted from the industrial yellow found in caution signs or playgrounds, making subversive statements that often linger between innocence and adulthood or caution and action. Additionally, by using the language of consumer culture such as neon signs and shopping carts, she makes us consider our roles within larger societal structures. She has recently started PILOT: Art List featuring paid opportunities for artists.

Quagliotto is a Toronto and Montreal based conceptual and social practice artist. She received an MFA in sculpture from the University of Waterloo in 2009 and a BFA in studio art from Concordia University in 2007.  In 2008, she was Martin Creed’s studio assistant in London, England.  She has shown nationally and internationally, such as the Museum of Design in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and her work is in private and public collections, such as the Collection Majudia in Montreal, Quebec. She has shown at various artist-run centres and galleries across Canada, namely the Khyber Centre for the Arts, the AGO, Blackwood Gallery, UAS, Neutral Ground, Langage Plus, the Art Gallery of Mississauga, and the Estevan Art Gallery.  Additionally, she has partaken in residencies, such as the Calumet artist residency in Indiana, the Accessibility CMD+R media art residency in Tennessee, USA, and more recently the Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale artist residency.

I was wondering if you could explain your interest in subverting everyday objects? Are you interested in their connection to the uncanny or how they can critique social structures?

I like to take everyday objects in my work, whether it’s a neon sign, a lollipop, playground objects, or tote bags (the list can go on and on) and reconfigure them ever so slightly that your interaction and relationship with them is disrupted. I like that an object can get really unsettling when you change its intended purpose or form.


Nathalie Quagliotto. Maturity Turn, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.

It seems that you use interventions that encourage play, like tic tac toe in your piece ‘Maturity Turn’ Can you explain more about the sense of play, intimacy and social connection you explore in your practice?

Yes, this is particularly evident in the playground installations I’ve created, like in this piece you mention, “Maturity Turn”. Such installations are participatory and play on the notion of how a form or structure can be safe at the same time as it can be a challenge, and how the invitation to play with the work can act this out.

My interest in the playground sculptures and installations lie in play theory and incorporating the history of playgrounds as being objects of social reform. Playgrounds have a long history, from the early 1900s, of making a gradual change to society by improving the lives of the public through play. The more dangerous a structure was, the more challenging it was and thereby made a person more productive in other aspects of their life. These structures, built quite high at the time, have disappeared because of being labeled as dangerous.  Lower playgrounds appeared in the second half of the 1900s, specifically around the time of the playground construction boom of the 1960s.  Many of these metal and concrete playground pieces have also gradually disappeared in our time and are being replaced by safer plastic items: the kind of metal structures that playground architects Paul Friedberg and Richard Dattner would have agreed on in the 1960s and 1970s.  I am attracted to such older objects because they were once solid, acceptable pieces to be placed in public. However, as time progressed, so did ideas surrounding public safety, and this affected social reform through time.

Nathalie Quagliotto. Gallery Intervention. 2013. Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid. Courtesy of the artist.

I notice that you use signifiers of capitalist ventures (like neon signs etc.) for public interventions, for example, in Gallery Intervention where you place a neon sign that says “Gallery” in the hockey arena. I was wondering if you could speak more about this piece? In what ways are you interested in these unconventional signifiers?

This was a rather quirky intervention!  I was invited by the Blackwood Gallery of the University of Toronto Mississauga campus to create an installation for “Door to Door 6” back in 2013 and the point of the exhibition series was to place art completely outside of an art context.  I decided to place three yellow neon signs that read the word “GALLERY” in the Streetsville hockey arena in the Vic Johnston Community Centre in Mississauga. By placing commercial gallery signage in a completely different environment where it would normally be found, the project created a type of pop-up art space. The gallery context was transformed into a site-specific intervention that pushed the public who possibly had little experience with art to think about what an artwork, an exhibition, and a gallery could potentially be.

I’ve used neon various times for different installations and interventions. I think neon as an object has an incredible potential to attract attention because it can get kind of strange and unsettling if you take it out of its commercial context of store and restaurant windows in society.

Nathalie Quagliotto. Gallery Intervention (2013) Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid courtesy of the artist.

Your work seems to bring a sense of critique to the gallery itself. I was wondering you could speak more to the critique of the gallery space and your approach through your work?

I like to disrupt conventional notions of behavior in the gallery context and allow people to hang out and interact with the work. I like to encourage participation. This I’d say is more evident in my installations and sculptures involving playground equipment or general objects of play in the gallery context where I invite the audience to touch the objects.

Who are some artists that you admire or look to for inspiration?

Lately, I’ve really been into Alicia Eggert’s and Alejandro Diaz’s neon work.

Do you find that there are challenges working as a conceptual artist in a male-dominated art world? If so, what are some challenges?

I’d like to see more women land museum shows. Also, I definitely think there are challenges that women artists face on a commercial level in terms of selling artwork.

Can you speak more about Pilot: Art List? What was the inspiration behind starting this new project?

The project started in November 2018 as a way to encourage a multitude of professional artists out there to only apply to opportunities from institutions and galleries that pay them.  I look at calls all the time and I have for years, and I have to say that in the 10 years I’ve been out of my MFA degree, I’ve never found a list on any platform on only funded calls, so I finally decided to make one.  This is probably the most beneficial list that an artist can sign up to and it comes out every two weeks.  I got the word out through social media over the past year and there are currently hundreds of artists signed up to the list across Canada and in the USA. The calls on each list are researched and hand-picked for funded exhibitions, residencies, fellowships, and public art primarily from Canada and the USA. Right now, artists can sign up at . I honestly think this is one of the best social projects I’ve created because of the number of artists it’s actively helping.

You can view more of Nathalie’s work at

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