X Play, Don’t Play. Walala’s immersive maze left us puzzled

Anyone who knows me well will know that public art is one of my passions. As a director of Brockley Street Art Festival, the work of designer Camille Walala has inspired me again and again, producing brilliant examples of how enjoyable and accessible art is right there on the street. Her incredible Dream Come True mural for Splice, brightening up the Shoreditch streetscape. Her inspired Southwark crossing, bringing colour to an everyday pedestrian journey during last year’s London Design Festival. To say I’m a big fan is an understatement. So imagine how excited I was to hear that she’d been commissioned to create an immersive installation of her trademark colours and patterns, at one of my local galleries, just in time for the school holidays.

Described as a ‘temple of wonder’, Walala x Play sees the creation of a maze-like installation at Greenwich Peninsula’s lesser-known NOW Gallery, inviting visitors to fathom out the anomalies and asymmetries in the design, by exploring every nook and cranny of this compact three-dimensional space.

Due to popularity, visitors must pre-book a 15 minute slot to view. Visiting with my daughter (age 6) and our friends (with children aged 6 and 2), the glass aspect of the gallery on approach slightly spoilt the surprise. However, there was still plenty of enthusiasm as we neared the entrance, even after the steely front of house had read and re-read us the rules.

Take a wrist band.
Shoes off.
No running.
Do not touch the walls.
Do not sit on any part of the structure.
Children must be accompanied at all times.
Children aren’t allowed to view the maze from the mezzanine level.
This is an art installation and not a soft play area.

We get it. But did they need to be so heavy-handed that they forgot to welcome us in any way? Or tell us to have fun? And what about the artist and the work? Did they not warrant a mention? Looks like they forgot about that too.

Once inside, we found ourselves amongst some of the most playful ‘don’t-play’ art that we have ever experienced. It was impossible to stay together, as our young companions darted through narrow passages, only to emerge in the most unexpected of places. We gazed into mirrors, but our reflections were elsewhere. Instead of corners, we found dead-ends. Instead of space, we’d been squished. We were fooled again and again, and it was bending our small, medium and large minds. This, together with the dazzling colours and patterns, soon made us feel like we’d been sucked into a human kaleidoscope, twisted and spun around and around.  It was so much fun (sorry), and a brilliant way to experience the creative conundrum that goes on inside this incredible artist’s imagination.

Spat out of the labyrinth and back into the foyer, we marvelled at the super cute mechanical model of the neighbouring Emirates Air Line, high above our heads, before peeking our noses into the cosy cinema. Don’t be fooled by the writing on the wall though, there’s no Timelapse of Walala x Play happening in here. It’s just a hangover from the Walala opening night. There is, however, a clever Minecraft style interactive map of the Greenwich Peninsula and its surrounds, worth a play if you’re allowed and have the time to linger. Outside in Peninsula Gardens there is also more fun (not) to be had, in the form of two unique ping-pong tables adorned with Walala’s lively designs. Bats and balls are apparently available to borrow from the Now Gallery reception. That is if you’re brave enough to go back in and ask for them, or indeed, old enough to play.

Walala x Play is in at NOW Gallery, Greenwich Peninsula until 24th September. 
Opening times: Mon to Fri 10am-7pm, Sat & Sun 11am-4pm.
Admission Free.
15 minute viewing slots should be booked via the eventbrite.

Whilst you’re there: As well as nearby Emirates Air Line, take a 15 minute walk down East Parkside and get close to nature at Greenwich Ecology Centre. From here you can double back along the Olympian Way river path, spying the many flotsam and jetsam sculptures. 

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