Tate’s new Turbine Hall commission promises to be a grower for families

Now, I have it on good authority, that scaffolding isn’t just the obsession of my 5-year-old daughter. I think it might be due to its appearance as the ultimate climbing frame, but everywhere we go, from South London to the South of Spain, scaffolding is excitedly drawn attention to. So if your child shares this strange obsession, the inaugural Hyundai Commission in the Turbine Hall of the Tate, is definitely one for you.

Unveiled today, Empty Lot is the first in a new series of site-specific commissions by renowned international artists, to occupy the iconic space, whilst they work towards a new Tate Modern due for opening in June 2016.

Best known for creating sculptural works from local and natural objects, artist Abraham Cruzvillegas has created two giant triangular platforms, propped up by a network of scaffolding towers to hold a geometric grid of 240 wooden planters filled with compost and soil contributed from parks and gardens across the capital.

Taking inspiration from a number of the artist’s interests, from seed bombing and guerrilla gardening to his Mexican heritage, including ancient ‘chinampas’, small grids of earth used to grow corn, peppers and tomatoes in an area that later became Mexico City, the artist is keen to instil the idea that anything can be useful and beautiful.

From the main viewing gallery, look out across the sea of curious planters, each waiting patiently for nature to decide their destiny from the many seeds or bulbs that could have found their way into the soil donations. Whatever grows will be welcomed; flowers, mushrooms, weeds and they also provide a fantastic reason to revisit the gardening experiment over the next 6 months to make new discoveries.

Family visitors might be disappointed that closer exploration of the planters isn’t possible and I expect every young visitor will want to walk amongst the rows to make their own discoveries, but rest assured; the world beneath the platforms gives way to other adventures.

Head down the steps and you’re treated to a maze of dimly lit structures, where the run-away space of the Turbine Hall that you’ve been used to has been transformed into an exciting network of pillars in which to hide and seek, or shelter from the strange world above. Using the colour key on the wall as a guide, look up to the underside of the platforms above and you can make out a map of London as it contributed to the project in colour spots. In the spirit of unity and accessibility, council estate collections are given equal place in the project alongside that of Buckingham Palace Gardens, with neither holding any certainty for what might grow and when. Part of the task of the work has been to question the relationship between city and nature, and this area creates the perfect underbelly; transitioning you into a space where light is less abundant and personal space minimised.

Although the artist was keen to respect the boundaries of his sculpture and keep the public off the paths, Tate will be updating their community on any discoveries that they make, plus there’s nothing stopping you making your own contributions to the planters. Tate is not actively encouraging seed-scatterers, but rumour has it that some cheeky visitors have already thrown in a few surprises. So with a sporadic plan for irrigation and the warmth of the growth lights, alongside the curious scrap-material lamps, who knows what surprises lay in store as time goes on? Bring a pair of binoculars and a curious mind, and see what you can spot.

Hyundai Commission 2015: Abraham Cruzvillegas: Empty Lot will be in the Turbine Hall until 3rd April. Opening Hours: 10am-6pm Sun-Thurs, 10am-10pm Fri & Sat. Admission Free.

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5 arts-inspired family day trips from London

If you’re still feeling that your world has shrunk a little too much since having kids, the summer months are a great excuse to venture further afield, with a reduced rush hour, no school run traffic and (hopefully) more hands on deck. Here are 5 family day trips from London with fantastic arts appeal:

1. Explore Henry Moore’s giant sculptures in the open countryside

Henry Moore was an early pioneer of modernism and large-scale public art in the UK and a visit to his former home in Perry Green, Herfordshire offers the chance to be dwarfed by over 20 of his monumental sculptures in the setting that he always intended. Kids will love exploring the 70 acres of sheep-filled gardens and fields, as well as curious barn-based galleries and studios.

The Henry Moore Foundation, Perry Green, Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, SG10 6EE
Sculpture garden’s open Weds-Sun & Bank Holidays, 11am-5pm, 1st May to 25th Oct 2015, admission £15.70 for a family of 4

2. Visit an artist’s enclave with a difference in Dungeness

This other-worldly outpost on the Kent coast has so much for visiting families; a historic lighthouse with panoramic views, a ride on the small and rickety Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway and incredible bird life but curious beachcombers will love treading the delicate pathways to marvel at the curious collection of flotsam and jetsam in the garden surrounding late filmmaker Derek Jarman’s house. Particularly if fish and chips at The Pilot pub lie at the end.

Prospect Cottage, Dungeness, Romney Marsh, Kent TN29 9NB
Lighthouse open daily throughout August, 10:30am-4:30pm, admission adults £4, children £2.50, under 5s free

3. See how Charlie & Lola started life at Mottisfont house and gallery

It’s never cheap visiting any of the magnificent National Trust properties that grace our home counties, but Mottisfont is proving a big draw this summer with an opportunity to explore The Art of Lauren Child. The award-winning creator of Charlie and Lola will be exhibiting 50 original art works in the gallery of this stunning medieval riverside property, alongside other objects that helped inspire the stories, such as Lola’s pink milk glass. Activity weekends extend the theme with craft activities, storytelling and face painting. Outside in the grounds, kids can also try their hand at building a den in the hidden hide out of the Wild Play Trail.

Mottisfont, Hampshire SO51 0LP
The Art of Laurent Child until 6th Sept. Gallery open daily throughout August, 11am-5pm, admission adults£14, children £6.50, National Trust members and under 5s free

4. Seek out hidden street art in Brighton

You don’t need many excuses to jump on a train to Brighton with the kids this summer. Since the development of the amazing seafront boardwalk scattered with artisan stalls and loved by kids of all ages, from roller-skating teens to scooting pre schoolers and bumbling toddlers, Brighton has started to feel like the UK’s answer to Venice Beach. But who’d have though just a few metres back from the seafront, hidden in a the sneaky side streets off of Trafalgar Road, as well as between George Street and St. Andrews Churchyard, and North Laine would be Brighton’s answer to San Francisco’s Mission district? Street art in Brighton really brings to life a different side of the city’s arts community. Be sure to see the incredible music mural on the side of the Prince Albert pub. The kids might not recognise most of the subjects but that didn’t make it any less impressive.

Street art is free to view by all ages, all over the city of Brighton, but Visit Brighton’s top picks is a great place to start.

5. Re-imagine a theme park as a Pleasure Park at Dreamland

Following a 12 year campaign led by The Dreamland Trust and £18m in public funding, the once popular theme park is back from the dead having been stylishly restored under the watchful eye of internationally renowned designer and local resident Wayne Hemingway. Rather than simply create just another theme park, Dreamland pays homage to the golden age of British seaside holidays by recreating the entire experience; right through to the sights, the sounds and the smells. The result is a visual feast; carousels adorned in original traveller art, lovingly restored rides and amusements (including the famous Hurricane Jets), a ballroom, a roller disco and a plethora of sideshows. It needs to be seen to be believed.

Dreamland, 49-51 Marine Terrace, Margate, Kent, CT9 1XJ
Daily, 10am-5pm, admission adults £17.95 adults, children £14.95. Reduced admission Thurs to Sun after 5pm.

9 family-friendly arts activities for this summer

If you’re looking for something different to do over the school holidays or struggling to find ways to occupy toddlers now that the playgroups are on summer lock-down, fear not! You haven’t already missed out on booking those one-off sought-after events and you don’t have to spend a fortune on big-ticket activities. Arts Aloud has a host of arts-based family fun that you can’t afford to miss!

1. All aboard the Floating Cinema Various London locations (including Regents Canal near Broadway Market E8 and Canalside Steps near Kings Cross, various times, admission £TBC, 20th Aug-20th Sept)
As well as a chance to venture off to some of London’s hidden canals and waterways, this is far more than a chance to watch a few films on a barge. UP Project’s award winning architectural structure returns to London this summer bringing a programme of film screenings, participatory events, workshops and talks, many of which are suitable for visiting families. This year’s theme, curated in partnership with artist / film-maker duo Somewhere (Nina Pope & Karen Guthrie) is a journey beyond earth and into space, and is set to include an immersive space odyssey, open air screenings of sci-fi cult classics and a summer space school. Sign up to the mailing list to hear full details of the programme when it launches.

2. Banish a rainy day in London’s artiest soft play Abbey Leisure Centre, Barking, Mon-Wed & Fri 10am-7pm, Thurs 10am-6pm, Sat & Sun 9am-6.30pm, admission for £1.50 for under 1’s, £4.50 under 3’s, £5.50 3-12 yrs. Age & height restrictions apply to some areas. Check website for details
Everything about this soft play is extraordinary, including it’s Barking location. Flying in the face of conventional multi-coloured soft play, The Idol’s monochrome appearance was the brainchild of Turner Prize-nominated artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd and took inspiration from a Neolithic figure discovered in the borough in 1922. Kids can climb the two-storey-high climbing frame, venture into the mythical creature’s head and look out of its two giant eyes, before heading down a giant slide.

3. Explore poetry written just for kids in a secret corner of the Southbank Centre The Saison Poetry Library, Southbank Centre, Tues-Sun 11am-8pm, admission free
Believe it or not, during the school holidays you can still find a cosy quiet corner of the Southbank Centre. Take the marvellous JCB singing lift to the 5th floor and while away the day exploring some of the 200,000 items making up Britain’s most comprehensive collection of poetry, including a dedicated children’s section. Read your favourite poems and discover new ones, plus listen to poets perform on CDs and DVDs. Kids can even try their hand at writing their own using rhyming dictionaries. Plus for the very young there’s Rug Rhymes (24th Jul 10.30-11am, 25th July 11-11.30am, foyer spaces).

4. Listen to the sound of a masterpiece at Soundscapes The National Gallery, daily 10am-6pm, until 6th Sept, admission free for children under 12, adults £10, concessions available
If you’re intimated by by taking the kids into the silence of a gallery space, then worry not! Here’s one exhibition where they’ll be drowned out by the soundtrack. Soundscapes exhibition commissioned musicians and sound artists, from classical composers to club DJs, to select a painting from the collection and compose piece of music in response. The result is an immersive experience that allows you to ‘hear’ the paintings as well as see them.

5. Lose yourself in the Serpentine Pavilion Next to the Serpentine Galleries, Kensington Gardens, daily 10am-6pm until 18th Oct, admission free
Explore the secret corridors and pathways of this colourful cocoon by Madrid-based architects SelgasCano, and reward yourselves with a knickerbocker glory when you reach the middle. Read up on my most recent visit.

6. See the best in free street theatre on the National Theatre’s River Stage National Theatre, South Bank, various times, 24th Jul-30th Aug, River Stage admission free, fees apply to NT workshops
If you’re struggling to find theatrical delights to entertain kids of various ages, you’ll love the drop-in nature of this summer’s brand new River Stage. Playing to the strengths of its South Bank location, the recently created Riverside Square will be showcasing a host of free public performances at family-friendly times, including street theatre, live music, circus and dance. There’s also a programme of hands-on workshops for families and children to discover the skills and secrets behind productions in the Clore Learning Centre.

7. Discover playground design from the post-war era at the Brutalist Playground RIBA, 66 Portland Place, Mon-Sun 10am-5pm, Tues 10am-8pm, until 16th Aug, admission free
In contrast to today’s risk-averse playground surfaces, this part-sculpture, part architectural installation harks back to an era of post-war design which prioritised creating areas of play space for children within social housing, through making the best of the ruins of wartime devastation. Commissioned by Turner Prize nominees Assemble and artist Simon Terrill, this revival of now-lost Brutalist landscapes is a softer-squidgier version, recreated using foam-blocks to protect your little cherubs should they fall.

8. Take a baby-friendly gallery tour at the National Maritime Museum National Maritime Museum, Sammy Ofer Wing Foyer, 5th Aug, 11am, parents & carers with children under 1 year, admission free, booking recommended
Finally another London arts institution inviting parents and carers with very young babies into their gallery space, to enjoy a talk with a squawk! Step forward the National Maritime Museum’s Curator of Art, Dr Melanie Vandenbrouck, who will lead you on a tour of art highlights around the site, including Yinka Shonibare’s Ship in a Bottle. If you need to divide and conquer, older kids (6-12 years) can join Punchdrunk’s immersive theatrical journey through the museum’s incredible maritime history, by joining the crew of HMS Adventure in Against Captain’s Orders (Daily until 31st Aug, admission £19.50, booking advised).

9. Follow the bear around an arts trail with a difference Pick up a free Pawprint Trail map from the Paddington Shop, Paddington Station, Mon-Fri 7.30am-7.30pm, Sat & Sun 9am-7pm
Last summer was awash with arts trails, from buses to bears. For those still crying into their marmalade sandwiches, lamenting the loss of Paddington from the streets, cry-not! Instead, seek out some familiar faces from last summer on the brand new Pawprint Trail. There’s 4 uniquely decorated Paddingtons to spot, as well as a Water Maze, unusual mechanical bridges and a Puppet Theatre Barge, all housed in this hugely underrated area of West London. Grab a map from the Paddington Shop in Paddington Station, where you can also buy a furry friend to take on your way. Read more in Londonist.

Carsten Höller @HaywardGallery: What every parent should know before they visit.

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.

Last chance to see: Batteries Not Included @LollipopGallery

It’s not often I head out to explore the arts with somebody else’s children in tow, but one Thursday night, along with my friend and her 7 year old son, I found myself in the enviable position of being invited to the opening of a mesmerising new exhibition by London-based street artist, Louis Masai.

Masai has made a name for himself through painting animals in the urban space, always with a human reference, using his striking visuals to bring to the attention of the viewer a cause that might otherwise feel too large for him to take on. Masai himself makes it clear that he’s an artist, not an activist. Last year’s Save The Bees project is a perfect example, a street art campaign designed to highlight dwindling bee populations and drive public awareness of the effect that this would have on the environment should they disappear.

Batteries Not Included, his solo show for the Lollipop Gallery, is once again a rallying call, documenting some of the most endangered creatures on the planet and challenging the viewer to imagine a world where only film characters, toys and souvenir depictions of these species remain.

Visiting with a 7 year old I realised there there is so much for kids to appreciate in this exhibition. Familiar characters are dotted throughout, whether playing a central role (such as Dumbo and the plight of elephants) or something more subtle, something that they might have to search a bit harder for, such as a hidden Ninja turtle perched upon a picture frame. There’s Angry Birds watching over some of our most precious feathered friends and even a guest appearance by Cheetara from the Thunder Cats. And for those of you who feel that children aren’t mature enough to take on the burden of the theme, you’re wrong. The fact that most of the images are set on discarded and recycled pieces of wood, proved a talking point in itself, prompting consideration around why you would reclaim and reuse items from the world we live in. The alternative artist canvas is a great example of how with a little love, even things that are on the verge of being lost for ever can be given new lease of life.

The exhibition is only on until 30th May, so if you’re pottering around near Brick Lane, or rummaging through the markets in Spitalfields, this is a very welcome diversion. Keep your eyes peeled for the many public murals also supporting the theme, London-wide.

Batteries Not Included: A Solo Show by Louis Masai is at Lollipop Gallery, 58 Commercial Street, London, E1 6LT until 30th May (Tuesday to Sunday, 11am – 7pm, admission free).

Nearby: Spitalfields City Farm is an oasis of calm. As well as your farmyard favourites (chickens, pigs, cows, donkeys), there’s a large vegetable garden, an interactive bug hotel and a full-size tree house that even adults can fit in.

Carlos Amorales invites kids to create a boom with a view

Granted, Margate doesn’t immediately spring to mind when you’re asked to name some of the country’s most spectacular settings to enjoy live music, but a brand new exhibition by Mexican artist Carlos Amorales at Turner Contemporary is about to change that.

Until September, as part of the British Council’s Year of Mexico in the UK, visitors to its magnificent Sunley Gallery will be treated to an interactive installation; We Will See How Everything Reverberates (2012), whilst they enjoy the unmissable vistas of the North Sea from its double height windows.

Inspired by the work of 20th century sculptor, Alexander Calder, over 30 suspended cymbals have been brought together to create a large-scale mobile structure and a unique musical instrument in its own right.

Once an hour (for 15 minutes) visitors young and old (but mainly young) are given beaters and invited to play the cymbals in whichever way takes their mood. Little ones found it so much fun to walk amongst the structure playing their own instinctive tunes, crashing along perfectly to the waves visible beyond, and creating the perfect soundtrack to our rainy May Bank Holiday Sunday.

It didn’t take long for my pounding head to work out why the 15 minute time limit is applied. Reclaiming the beaters also provided the perfect opportunity to restore order to our gallery conduct, after this brave masterpiece allowed us to break all the rules.

Carlos Amorales: We Will See How Everything Reverberates (2012) is on at Turner Contemporary, Margate until 6th September 2015. Admission Free.

Conrad Shawcross is sending kids loopy in Dulwich Park

Just yards from South London’s popular Dulwich Picture Gallery, Dulwich Park has built a reputation for extending resident exhibitions and providing a platform for public art.

Three years ago the park’s bowling club house became adorned with a brand new mural, a result of a collaboration between the gallery’s Ingrid Beazley and street artist Stik, recreating old masters on the streets of the area. This popular piece is still highly visible close to the children’s playground (currently undergoing a refit). Over the years the park has also been home to a unique Barbara Helpworth sculpture, Two Forms, designed in 1969 and installed in 1970, that is until it was stolen by metal thieves in December 2011, leaving a dearth of public art in this popular family space.

Conrad Shawcross’s work Three Perpetual Chords, commissioned by Southwark Council, hopes to address this with a brand new collection of cast iron sculptures, forming a permanent installation in the park and promising to be theft proof. The sculpture work was unveiled last weekend, and was launched to coincide with his exhibition Counterpoint, currently on display in the Gallery’s Permanent Collection.

As fairly local residents, we were lucky enough to be early on the scene for giving them a test run, and I have to say, they proved popular with children of all ages. All three of the imposing knot-like sculptures are visible from a single viewpoint, creating an exciting challenge for kids, as they follow the trail to negotiate the progressively more complex frames.

Interestingly, on our visit, there seemed to be a trend towards navigating the structures barefoot to try and gain some traction, something that I am sure will have the health and safety teams at Southwark Council holding their breath. But, like a breath of fresh air against a newly ‘gentrified’ playground of tree houses and exposed wood, these felt like a nod to the old-school climbing frames of the 1980’s, the ones that were almost impossible to negotiate, no matter how old you were.

Shawcross’s exhibition is only on until 14th June, but thankfully these interactive wonders are here to stay. And for once, it’s the adults standing on the sidelines looking confused, whilst the children, like some kind of second nature, seem to understand exactly what to make of them.

Conrad Shawcross: Counterpoint is showing at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 14th June 2015 (Tues-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat-Sun 11am-5pm, Admission £6, Children under 18 go free).

Three Perpetual Chords are closest to the Court Lane Gate, Dulwich Park.