There’s no mistaking the big draw of Carsten Höller’s new exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. With my eldest referring to every non-conventional slide as a helter skelter, we couldn’t wait to be one of the first to slide down ‘the slide to end all slides’. So there there was a bit of making up to do before we’d even set foot in the door, when we collected our tickets and found out that the much heralded Isomeric Slides were 100% not for little people.
Passing trade or speedy bookers will have missed the disappointing news that the slides carry a minimum height restriction of 120cm/4ft, and given that the slide marks the exit of the exhibition (and there isn’t a child relocation service!) this news will also disappoint accompanying parents when they have to bow their heads and take the lift instead. And if you’re thinking of enjoying this whilst your baby is in the pram fast asleep, your luck is out too, you’ll need to take an alternative entrance. It’s not the greatest start to my review, granted, but it’s important to state this up front.
Now, hopefully you are still reading, because what you also really need to know that slides aside, you are just about to witness one of the most awe-inspiring and family friendly exhibitions I have seen in a very long time. Hayward Gallery, you are very much forgiven.
So much is great about this exhibition, it has to be seen to be believed, so I don’t want this review to turn into a series of spoilers. Believe me, however, when I say, that if you brave only one exhibition with the kids this year, brave this one, because even to a seasoned kiddy gallery-goer like me, it’s the most relaxed I have been in a major gallery for a while.
Here’s my top 3 Arts Aloud highlights:
Flying Mushrooms – Alice in Wonderland fans will love these fairytale mushrooms, strung upon a mobile structure that can be manually swung in different directions to spin above your heads. The only thing that interrupts the hallucinogenic feeling for parents, is the consciousness that visitors of a certain height can be knocked out or decapitated by them at any time.
The Forests – Comparable with that moment on an aeroplane, when finally the in-flight entertainment comes on; a rare moment to focus on your own destiny. No head is too small to don the 3D headset and headphones to embark upon a night journey through a snow-covered forest, which eventually forces you to see double. If that’s too much for your 2 year old, the Start and Reset buttons are hours of fun.
Fara Fara – A bit like standing in a multi screen cinema without the seats, this two-screen video installation is based around the music scene in Kinshasa, Congo. Before you even get in the room it sounds like there is an all-night party going on that you need to be part of. The spirit of this piece picks you up and keeps you there. My 2 year old groover had to be dragged out kicking and screaming.
In summary, Decision offers visitors just that; a choice. A choice when, how and why to interact with a series of installations, devices and situations designed to throw all the gallery rules out of the window and liberate even the most inhibited audience.
For me it was the ultimate meeting of art and science, theatre and fun all wrapped up with a healthy portion of visitor camaraderie – something you don’t experience much of when you visit galleries with under 5’s. So if you are lucky enough to experience the Two Flying Machines high upon the roof or exit by hurtling down the Isomeric Slides (and not through the gift shop), you might have a rare moment of peace to ask yourself the age-old question; “..but really, is this art?” The Decision is yours.
Decision is at Hayward Gallery until 6th September 2015 (Mon 12–6pm, Tues, Weds, Sat & Sun 11am-7pm, Thurs & Fri 11am-8pm, Standard Admission £15, Children under 12 free).
Nearby: Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love has more explorative installations on the riverfront terrace, as well as pop-up theatre, live music and daily free activities for kids of all ages.