More than words: The V&A’s multi-sensory celebration of Pooh

Back in October half-term, for the first time ever, we made the long but eagerly awaited journey to the Roald Dahl Museum. Outside of the obvious excitement of sitting on an Enormous Crocodile bench, and them finding out they’re as tall as Matilda and a quarter of Roald Dahl, what became apparent to us all was the sheer brilliance and inseparable relationship of illustrator and author. How Dahl’s compelling characters simply couldn’t leave the page without Quentin Blake’s spirited drawings. It is this special sentiment of partnership and collaboration, that runs throughout the V&A’s brand new exhibition on Winnie-the-Pooh. The first in almost 40 years.

Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic is a journey through the evolution and inspiration behind this charming British bear, as well as the lives of creators A.A.Milne and E.H.Shepard. Spanning more than 90 years of history, the exhibition unearths extensive archives to showcase more than 200 works from 1920 to the present day. Each and every one of Milne’s characters feature in some way, shape or form, as well some super cute recreations of their magical homes.

If you’re visiting with very young children, don’t be put off by the initial appearance of a glass cabinet full of exciting relics that they can only dream of touching. Whether it provokes awe or intimidation, the entrance is a great scene-setter. As well as an entertaining opportunity to look at obscure films of Pooh incarnations from around the world, it’s also a chance to pick up the fantastic ‘bee trail’ – a series of thought-provoking panels, placed at child-height and designed to help young visitors make sense of the vast collection of letters, photographs and intricate sketches.

The low lighting can also be a distraction, but this is only in place to protect these very special drawings. So soak up the dreamy impact it has on the room, and head into the (slightly sparse) nursery, where the kids can snuggle down in a real bed and paw through books inspired by Milne’s own childhood and his son, Christopher Robin.

There’s no denying there is a lot of content on offer, but the reoccurring themes from the well-loved books sing through; friendship, community, teamwork, problem-solving. All of these ‘place-makers’ help orientate you into your surroundings, as you dash through after eager little ones, taking in bits and pieces. And it’s definitely not all artefacts, there’s plenty of tigger-style bouncy trouncy fun, fun, fun, fun, fun! There’s secret doors, hidey-holes, dressing up and loads character-based puzzles and games. There’s steps leading to a shhhhh…secret slide and the Pooh-sticks bridge would’ve been perfect if they’d have added sensory panels to detect little feet splashing in the river!

However weary you might feel by the end, try not to miss the large section at the back of the gallery, especially if visiting with primary-aged budding-illustrators. This area provides a fantastic chance to get close to the beautiful drawings of E.H.Shepard, and appreciate how this humble work brought so much warmth to Milne’s cheeky stories and prose. Particularly fascinating were the techniques employed to draw the weather, gracing stories with varying degrees of rain, simply through the score of a knife and the stroke of a brush.

Outside the story of an enduring partnership, this multi-sensory exhibition provides the perfect retrospective. The juxtaposition of intense information with space to think and play, is a fitting tribute to a charismatic bear, and a talented playwright-turned-author, who took his young audience as seriously as his old, and never dumbed things down. The exhibition serves as a reminder to those in galleries and museums, that it is possible to create an exhibition for all. When a character, writer or artist spans so many generations, why not find a way to allow their adoring public explore and celebrate them together.

Winnie-The-Pooh: Exploring a Classic 
9 December 2017 to 8 April 2018
Gallery 38, Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Rd entrance, London SW7 2RL

Admission Adults £8, children under 12 free, concessions and family tickets available. Advance booking recommended.

The V&A is hosting a series of free talks, family and schools workshops around the exhibition. See website for full listings.

Last chance to see…Frieze Sculpture

I’ve haven’t lived in north-west London, so unless visiting London Zoo, Regent’s Park has never been on my radar. Having spent the entire summer holidays intending to head on over but never quite managing it, with the promise of an unseasonably warm Sunday, we packed a picnic ready to explore Frieze Sculpture before it ends on the 8th October.

Featuring 24 brand new works by leading artists including Alicja Kwade and Eduardo Paolozzi, this is the first time Frieze has ever curated a free summer exhibition in the park, ahead of the main London art fair.

Before we’d even found the sculpture walk, we stumbled upon the unusual Marylebone Green Playground, less than 5 minutes stroll from Regent’s Park station. Subject to its own artistic refurbishment in 2013, the space now sports 3 distinct zones, with the original play equipment forming the Traditional Zone, scattered logs and boulders forming the Natural Play Zone and brutalist geometric shapes and rendered walls forming the Art Play Zone. Apart from being surrounded by the building site of the Frieze Art Fair under construction, this hidden gem of a playground, popular with international residents and visitors, was an immediate crowd-pleaser and the perfect antidote to any long tube journey.

With the promise of a picnic, we made the short stroll through the immaculate Avenue Gardens, passing well-heeled ladies, tennis couples and cats on leads (!), to the beautiful English Gardens, a visual treat I’m sure at any time of year. Immediately struck by the scale and variety of sculpture on offer, our excited companions dashed off to explore, leaving us hot on their heels, reading the riot act about no touching or climbing.

With a showcase of work on this scale, in such a playful setting, it’s so tempting for little ones to view it as an extension of the playground, but with some smart ways to enjoy the multiplicity of sizes, shapes and subjects, you’ll soon avoid sounding like a broken record.

Our pick of the bunch which were just as fun to look at, without getting hands on were:

Ugo Rondinone’s Summer Moon (S3) With the appearance of a mysterious ghost tree, this man-made white-enamelled re-creation of a 1000 year old olive tree, creates a magical shimmer in the sunlight.

Rasheed Araeen’s Summertime (S7) The Regent’s Park – Looking somewhat like a multicoloured scaffolding, this window-like structure was fun to walk around, looking across at each other through the shapes and watching them change as we moved.

Michael Craig-Martin’s Wheelbarrow (S8) Seemingly at home in the surrounding gardens, yet completely incapable of holding anything in its reduced flat structure, hours of fun can be spent playing with perspective by taking photos from a distance.

KAWS Final Days (S10) If the weird criss-cross eyes don’t creep the kids out, fun can be had growling and stomping towards this Smurf-like toy-cum-monster, by a once prolific street artist.

Bernar Venet’s 17 Acute Unequal Angles (S17) Welded together from Corten Steel (not wooden as it appears), we found ourselves up-close to maths, walking around and under, counting all 17 angles as we went.

Hank Willis Thomas Endless Column (S15) Impossible to miss, like a beacon of play to most children in the sculpture park, this towering sculpture of footballs was by-far the most photographed sculpture in the park. Inspired by Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column, the piece comments on the room for growth in the relationship between sport, black identity, popular culture.

Beyond the sculpture trail, the beautiful bridges and boating lake can make for a perfect addition to a day out. If the whole family on a pedalo at £28 and hour is too much to stomach, there’s children’s only pedalos in a mini lake at a more palatable £4 per child (20 minutes).

Frieze Sculpture ends on the 8th October
Regents Park English Gardens, Chester Rd, London NW1 4NR
Daily 5am to 7pm, admission free.

Download the Frieze Sculpture Audio Tour and Map for more information.

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. 

Finding more than fair-weather fun at Serpentine Pavilion

I’m usually first past the post to visit the annual Serpentine Pavilion. In fact, i’d go so far to say that I anticipate it.

Over the years I’ve seen more than a few internationally renowned artists take up the challenge of designing a 300 square metre structure to take pride of place alongside one of London’s most exciting contemporary art galleries. With the intention of creating a cafe-cum-social space by day, and an entertainment space by night, I’ve always enjoyed putting the resulting structure through its paces with a young companion in tow. So imagine my disappointment this morning, as we drew closer to Francis Kéré’s bold blue structure, and my 4 year old decided to drop the clanger “I’m not going in there”.

I’ve always relished having kids that were open to everything, but here I was, in front of what was intended to be one of Serpentine’s most inclusive pavilions, and she had bailed. What on earth was I to do? I knew you’d be relying on me. I knew I had to think quick.

The artist was particularly keen on ensuring visitors to the pavilion remain ‘in nature’ whilst they view it, which means there’s plenty of scope to circumnavigate the space, without really feeling like you’re “in”. This was helpful. I could at least talk her into a scoot around the outside, and with four separate entrances and free-standing perforated walls, i’d at least get a good peek inside.

The whole structure is inspired by the canopy of a tree and its role as the centre of community in the artist’s native Burkina Faso. The focal point of the community, the tree offers shade and shelter, but it is also a social space, a meeting place where everyone in the village can come together.

Three quarters of the way round and we struck gold, in the form of a mound of plywood which had been fashioned into what appeared like a slide. A simple accessory to the centrepiece was shaping up to be our main event. Grateful for being thrown a lifeline, I dashed inside to check the rules of engagement with front of house staff, and at the wishes of the artist, we were free to explore. She slid down its shiny surfaces. She reclined in the (not quite) sunshine. She circled it like a mountain, and jumped free from its summit. So much more than a slide, this humble addition successfully recreates the collective gathering of children under the tree, a virtual kindergarten, allowing us ‘villagers’ the time and space to look on, to talk and to share stories.

Now sold on the structure, we ventured inside to the sweet smell of coffee. The central courtyard which kept us connected to nature, was the next big draw and we both loved seeing and feeling the outdoors inside. The seating here is strictly for bottoms and don’t allow the same level of adventure, but the wind in our hair and the stones under foot soon had us lost in our own thoughts, as if we were on a distant beach. All we needed was to be free of the overcast skies above and the world would be perfect.

Keen to quit whilst ahead (and grateful to have turned a thumbs down into a thumbs up), we headed off, over the road to the Diana Memorial Fountain for a paddle.

As we moved away from the pavilion, I could finally appreciate the expanse of the funnel-like roof in all its glory, ready and waiting for the dark clouds above us to kick it into action. Bound to nature, this creation really comes to life when it rains and any water collected on the roof is channeled into a spectacular waterfall effect, before being evacuated through the floor for later use within the park. This surely makes this one of the most simple, yet useful, pavilions we have ever visited.

Whatever the weather, it goes without saying that Serpentine Pavilion should be high on your day out ‘hit list’ this summer. Free, family friendly and lots of fun, it’s a visual feast that neither a grumpy pre schooler nor the British summertime can spoil.

Serpentine Pavilion is open until 8th October 2017.
Admission Free, Open daily 10am to 6pm.

Inspired by Francis Kéré’s stories of gathering, debate and community the Pavilion will become host to a series of picnic talks this summer, every Wednesday at 1pm until 23rd August.

There is also a Family Day on 22nd July. See website for details

Review: Barbican’s Japanese House provides a warm welcome

We might be a little late to the party, but after a busy period of Easter holiday fun, we finally gave ourselves the time to visit Barbican’s first major UK exhibition of Japanese domestic architecture.

The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945, promises a feast of modern and contemporary design. The exhibition features over 40 renowned architects as well as a centrepiece in the form of a full-size recreation of the 2005 Moriyama House, designed by award-winning architect Ryue Nishizawa.

If like us, your knowledge of contemporary architecture could scarcely fill the back of a matchbox, do not fear. The beautiful thing about this exhibition is its accessibility. You definitely don’t need any prior knowledge to appreciate what’s on offer, all you need is a love of design, an interest in the built environment around you and a keen sense of adventure to let yourself and your companion explore.

So, what should you expect?

A brilliant activity sheet
Anyone who has visited Barbican Art Gallery before will know that it is a sizeable space. On this rare occasion, however, the team have played an absolute blinder and devised a fantastic activity sheet to guide you through the more technical upper floor. Starting in the upstairs gallery Inhabiting the Experimental, there’s a chance for little ones to choose their favourite house, peer inside curious models and take some inspiration to draw or design their own.

Plenty of video installations
For my young companion, any screen based installation is a big draw, and there’s plenty of this on offer to keep wide eyes mesmerised. There’s film snippets of Japanese home dramas – devised with minimal plot to simply show off abodes, and a host of beguiling manga cartoons, with video cleverly peppered throughout the exhibition, allowing you time and space to take-in the panels on the wall.

An awe-inspiring Japanese House
Downstairs, the exhibition centrepiece will be met with a shriek of excitement, followed by an opportunity to weave a curious path through Mr Moriyama’s house and garden. Whether marvelling at his well stocked kitchen, perusing his extensive belongings or giggling at his tiny bath, there’s more fun than Ikea to be had here. Move from room to room and ponder the incredible use of space, as well as exploring its garden pathways, hidden terraces and private courtyards.

A tea house as good as a tree house
Set within the garden of the Moriyama House, the tea house is a new commission designed especially for the Barbican by architect and historian Terunobu Fujimori. Featuring a beautiful hand-charred timber exterior, visitors are invited to play ‘house’ through climbing up inside its stark plastic interior and peering out of the circular tinted windows, waving at fellow visitors below.

The gallery environment is also transformed every 30 minutes by lighting that mimics dawn to dusk, ensuring that every visitor can experience the magic of these buildings across any one day.

What should you be aware of before visiting with young children?

Rules are rules
Although very family friendly and highly interactive, the ‘no touching, just looking’ rule should still apply. Yes, you can weave through the arches, climb stairs and explore rooms, but discourage little ones from touching the models or moving items found within the house. If cushions, futons and bunny chairs are devoid of items, you’re welcome to try them out for size, but steps obstructed with books and nik-naks stuck down with glue, give a good indication of what’s acceptable here.

Stick to the paths
The garden area has some fun pathways marked out by stones and interesting doorways to pass through. Be mindful not to walk on the stones, or open and close doors, to protect little fingers and delicate exhibits.

Lose the shoes
When entering the tea house, shoes have to be removed and set aside, but should be hastily put back on as you exit. It’s also one way in and one way out, with numbers limited at busy times.

With such a wealth of space beyond the gallery itself, from the foyers to the fountains, the conservatory and the Curve, the Barbican is such a fantastic destination for families. It is, however, easy to be put off by the often over-zealous front of house team, or the unfavourable reactions of the regular patrons. The experiential nature of this exhibition, however, appears to have turned this temporarily on its head, attracting far more younger visitors and with it, a slightly more relaxed approach from the hosts. Add this safety in numbers aspect, together with the peace and serenity that ensues from exploring a home unscathed by tut and toys, and this house will feel like a home in no time, and one you’ll want to return to again, and again, and again.

The Japanese House Architecture and Life after 1945 is at Barbican Art Gallery, Barbican Centre until 25th June.
Admission Adult £14.50, Children 14+ £10, Children under 14 Free.
Sat to Weds 10am to 6pm, Thurs & Fri 10am to 9pm.
Bank Holiday times vary. See website for details

Review: Tate Modern’s Ten Days Six Nights is fun while it lasts

If only it was on for longer, I thought as I exited BMW Tate Live: Ten Days Six Nights at Tate Modern this morning. This ten-day extravaganza of installations, performances, film, music and choreography, is also a huge missed opportunity, given it finishes before the Easter holidays, despite the mammoth efforts of their curatorial team.

Since opening the new Switch House last summer, performance has been right at the heart of Tate Modern’s refreshed offering. Staged in the unique space of The Tanks, this exhibition celebrates them coming into their own, proving that art can create participation, and can be experimental, yet informal, playful and fun.

So what can you expect to see in daylight hours?

Isabel Lewis will be taking over the Tanks with her site specific installation, which unfolds between the Lobby and the East Tank as the days go by. Dotted with strange plants and impromptu dancers, she aims to host any visitors with everything from music, to food and scent, ensuring that you don’t leave without taking part in some way, shape or form. Her beguiling piece Occasions 2017, was housed in the East Tank today, providing an even greater expanse of foliage and choreography, to the backdrop of Fred Moten and Wu Tsang’s night-time musical and poetic accompaniment.

Moten and Tsang also provide a superb contribution to daytime proceedings, with their interactive installation Gravitational Feel. Using fabric and sound to trigger ‘chance events’, they’ve filled the rear of the Transformer Galleries with knotted fabric rope, suspended from the ceiling on moveable heads, inviting visitors to touch and animate the strands by passing beneath and between.

CAMP, a collaborative studio founded in Mumbai in 2007 are also sharing the space, demonstrating the power of a ‘window’ in a range of interesting ways. From their CCTV spy films taken at the Arndale Centre, to their oversized LED representation of an overheard conversations, their work challenges us to think about the role of electricity and surveillance in our modern lives. Particularly fun is Windscreen 2002, whereby standing in the space between the framed paper squares and the wall fan, will quickly reveal you as the subject of the work.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is Fujiko Nakaya’s immersive fog sculpture, taking pride of place outside on the first floor terrace. The daughter of an inventor of the artificial snowflake, it’s ironic that her work now centres entirely on creating fog. The misty water vapour cuts a ghostly figure of those who choose to interact, creating something similar to Gotham City from the impressive skyline behind (complete with shrieks of terror by water-soaked bystanders).

What’s great about Ten Days Six Nights is that for once, visiting families can put aside their usual feelings of FOMO. With so much of the fun happening in the day, you’re bound to chance upon something fun, even if you’re dropping in as part of a random South Bank mosey. As the name suggests, however, there are also six nights of spectacular work, so if you’re lucky enough to get a night off, re-live the nineties, with Lorenzo Senni’s laser and sound installations, focussing on the hypnotic and repetitive aspects of trance music.

Ten Days Six Nights is at Tate Modern from 24th March until 2nd April 2017
Open daily 10am-6pm, until 10pm Friday and Saturday
Admission Free
See website for details of what’s on each day and each night

Last chance to see: Siobhan Davies Dance: material/rearranged/to/be

We absolutely love the Barbican. Granted, we are very guilty of forgetting to check-in on what’s on most of the time, but if you’re brave enough to venture into quite a grown up domain and wade through the sea of remote workers, you’re sure to be rewarded with an awe-inspiring space for youngsters to explore, as well as a brilliant (if a little sporadic) programme of family friendly theatre, film and art.

Inspired to reacquaint yourself with the space? Well be quick, because for just over a week (finishing this Saturday) Siobhan Davies Dance has transformed the superb (and free) ground floor Curve gallery into a wonderland of installation and performance art, which plays out as an ever-changing moveable feast.

So what’s it all about?

Having evolved from a dance company into a contemporary arts organisation, Siobhan Davies Dance: material/rearranged/ to/be is a performance installation which explores the relationship between science, movement and the mind, as well as the interaction of art with the space itself. The installation features 10 artists, each performing different works at different times, and in different sections of the Curve. Generally there will be more than one performance going on at a time, with film projections and sculpture seen alongside the performance art.

What’s to love?

The performance art itself is absolutely mesmerising for younger viewers. It was thrilling when Helka Kaski made eye contact with my little one as part of her performance Figuring, while the giant shadows cast behind Charlie Morrissey during his performance Actions from the Encyclopaedia of Experience, made this work all the more compelling. It was interesting to see how much my youngster was keen to copy and mimic postures.

Being completely free and on a 4 hour loop, it’s a much less intense gallery experience for you and the kids. With so many performances going on as you journey through the space, we spent a good half an hour exploring, before moving on to have a break in the cafe and a mill around the site, returning later to see new and different material.

Notes for visiting families

Gallery attendants at the Barbican look panicked by the very presence of youngsters, so reiterate the rules of the gallery with little ones just before you head in (no touching, just looking) and reassure them that nothing will be compromised.

The moveable set which forms a backdrop to the performance pieces, can be tricky to negotiate but forms a really interesting layout, and don’t worry if you want to move past before the end of the work. Plenty of visitors were braving a quick pass in front of projectors to get to the next piece. You’re not spoiling it any more, just because you’re choosing to move on with children in tow.

Beware of Matthias Sperling’s Loop Atlas. This sequence is all about the relationship between the mind and the body, but Sperling’s bearded appearance, accompanied by dark glasses, together with the repetitive movements had a slight air of insanity. It’s brilliant to watch but did slightly spook my sensitive 3 year old.

Finally, it took us a while to work out that the headphones on the audio installation aren’t just for grown ups. They are on a pulley, which means they can actually be lowered and listened to by those in wheelchairs and those under 4 feet tall, and we all know how much kids love a bit of audio.

Siobhan Davies Dance: material/rearranged/to/be is on at the Curve, Barbican Centre
Exhibition runs until 28th January
Admission free
Mon to Thurs 12 to 6pm, Fri 2 to 8pm, Sat 12 to 6pm