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


Top picks for families visiting David Hockney

Yesterday morning I was at Tate Britain, lucky enough to preview the most extensive retrospective of the work of acclaimed British artist David Hockney. Spanning some 60 years of work, this exhibition is an undertaking for even the most hardy of visitors, so how on earth do you take on the task of navigating 12 rooms and over 200 works, if you’re visiting with the kids in tow?

Hockney’s work is brilliantly bold, colourful and popular, which also makes it quite accessible, but underlying this, it contains so many narratives and themes that children (and parents) can easily connect with. How to put your own stamp on things, how to get a reaction, but also how to replicate your own experience of being alive in the world when you’re moving at a hundred miles an hour!

Sadly, and a little short-sighted, Tate don’t appear to have much in the way of family related activities around the exhibition. West London Saturday school and after school group Imagine Art Club are running an Hockney for Kids event in May, which has seen an unprecedented response, but outside of this its pretty much a self-guided experience.

To help you get the most of this colossal exhibition, here’s my top tips for visiting on borrowed time:

Room 1 – Play within a Play
Illustrating Hockney’s playful take on reality versus illusion, this room will kick-start your interaction with the work. Is that a real person squashed behind the glass in Play Within a Play? And is that a circle on a blue background? Or a Rubber Ring Floating in a Swimming Pool? Is Blue Stools a photo or a painting? A great room for guessing games.

Room 4 – Sunbather
The perfect room to plot down with a sketchbook and replicate the stark colours and geometric shapes of Hockney’s 1960s and 70s LA. Here you’ll find sunlight, blue skies, palm trees and space, but look closer at A Bigger Splash, and you’ll find Hockney’s playful presence (painstakingly painted splash-droplets) amongst the flat and the brash.

Room 5 – Towards Naturalism
Home to the acclaimed double portraits, here things become more striking and spectacular, as Hockney began to paint more realistic, life-size representations of close family and friends. Go forth and find your favourite pairing. Although the static nature of this style eventually troubled Hockney (whose desire was to appear more dynamic), children will appreciate the humble imperfections present in much of this work.

Room 10 The Wolds
These large-scale puzzle-like Yorkshire landscapes produced for the Royal Academy show in 2012, continue to shake off ‘naturalism’, borrowing ideas from Van Gogh, with a three-point perspective offering a different window onto the same world. I had to look twice before I determined the real source of the life-like shadows on May Blossom on the Roman Road, and there isn’t a single young visitor that won’t want to get lost in Woldgate Woods.

Room 11 Four Seasons
If you’ve been racing through up to this point, you’ll welcome this unavoidable chance to stop and stare. Here, four, nine screen digital walls celebrate the seasons by repeatedly filming the same journey, in order to capture the experience as an on-the-ground observer. Enjoy the child-like excitement of crispy autumn leaves, the magic of falling snow flakes, and the emergence of spring sunshine.

Room 13 iPads
As parents, the subject of screen time forms endless debate, yet here, we see a master of art embracing technology to experiment with new styles and demonstrate the complexity of their thinking. There are some 78 iPad and iPhone ‘doodles’ in this room, and watching work ‘build’ provides awe-inspiring insight into how Hockney’s subtle touch turns a simple work of art, into a world-beating masterpiece.

Whilst studying at the Royal College of Art in the early 1960’s, Hockney lost direction, intimidated about what might lie ahead. It was at this point that his friend and art contemporary R B Kitaj asked him a poignant question – Why don’t you only focus on the things that you love? This sound advice led onto a lifetime of painting, drawing and photography, presented with unique character and a strong sense of wit. If you’re visiting this spectacular show with children, you would do well to heed the same advice. It’s impossible to do it all, so focus on what you love and all the rest will fall into place, and that’s your best bet for navigating this landmark exhibition.

David Hockney is at Tate Britain from 9th February until 29th May 2017
Tate Britain, Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG
Open daily 10am-6pm
Admission £19.50 Adults, Children £17.50, Under 12s free (up to four per family)

Inside Do Ho Suh’s colourful Passage/s

With one gallery in the heart of prestigious Mayfair, and the other nestled in the streets behind a busy City Road, Victoria Miro doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a destination for families. Yet in recent years it’s played to its strengths, drawing in a broader variety of visitors through its un-intimidating size and more accessible work, such has last year’s popular exhibition by purveyor of pumpkins, Yayoi Kusama.

Now, in a new exhibition by local resident and South Korean artist, Do Ho Suh, Victoria Miro continues in the same vein, through a show alive with themes of home, identity and family, presented in a way that is bold, colourful and playful, yet beautiful and intricate.

Passage/s is focussed on replicating the structures and ideas of home that have formed an important part of the artist’s life, from here in the UK, to his native Seoul, as well as other residencies in Berlin, New York and Rhode Island. Throwing light on the often hurried or forgotten places that fill a journey to the point of destination, Do Ho Suh encourages us to savour these important moments or spaces in-between, and enjoy them as a statement of the here and now. This all rang true for me as an incessantly busy, working mum.

Starting in the upper floor of Gallery I, you can get a good introduction to the detail behind Do Ho Suh’s incredible work. Created from stitching translucent, white polyester fabric, the Exit Series, 2016 casts a ghostly appearance of everyday fixtures and fittings, aspects that were joyfully identified by my young companion. Every light bulb, light switch and door knob is reminiscent of his stint in New York, and an homage to his (now departed) landlord of twenty years.  This section also provides a taster of his newer techniques –  using gelatin tissue to compress his structures into two-dimensional ‘drawings’, and onto handmade paper. More of this can be seen in kaleidoscope colour, and on a much greater scale, back down on the ground floor.

Also accompanying the works upstairs, is a large-scale video installation The Pram Project, 2015 which is definitely worth a watch. Don’t hang by the door like an apologetic wall flower! Get yourselves right into the middle of the space and you’ll be treated to the charming outputs of a series of journeys which were filmed by the artist’s GoPro camera, attached to his daughter’s pushchair. My little one absolutely loved the strolling sing-songs and it felt special to listen-in on the intimate chatter of a father and his daughters (in English and Korean), as they stroll through a range of localities.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is most definitely the Hubs, found through the rear garden and up the spectacular staircase to Gallery II. Having produced his original Hub, London Apartment for a smaller show in 2015, this hub is now joined by eight other structures to create an incredible walk-through experience, occupying the 25-metre-long gallery.

You’ll need to ditch any bags and buggies at this point to avoid making contact with the sides of the structure, but having done so you are free to carve your own path, or (as I did) let the little feet lead the way to a favourite hub. From the breeze blocks of Hub-1 Islington’s Union Wharf, to the ornamental shutters of a Seoul apartment, the experience is both magical and memorable. Without having to rush through, we turned around to enjoy it all over again, having realised that Do Ho Suh had cleverly succeeded in making the destination nowhere near as exciting as the journey.

Do Ho Suh Passage/s is at Victoria Miro until 18th March 2017
16 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW
Tuesday to Saturday 10.00am to 6.00pm, Monday: By appointment only
Closed Sundays, bank holiday weekends and public holidays
Admission Free

Nearby: You’re only a 10-15 minute walk in either direction from two separate branches of The Breakfast Club. Make the journey and you’ll be rewarded with the best pancakes, and the yummiest peanut butter milkshake that you’ll ever have tasted! (No bookings taken, be prepared to queue at busy times).

A Five Star Bouncy Castle has arrived at the Pumphouse Gallery. And it’s art.

If you gave your kids £7000 to spend on whatever they wanted, how do you think they would spend it? Adopt a range of wild animals to keep in the garden? A trip to Disneyworld? Maybe deck out their bedroom with every piece of technology imaginable?

Well artist Pilvi Takala did exactly that with the members of one London youth centre, as part of her project The Committee. The result was a custom-made bouncy castle called “Five Star Bouncy House”, created for their own enjoyment as well as providing the opportunity to be hired out to raise much-needed funds for their club.

More than three years later, in an exhibition for the Pumphouse Gallery, Takala revisits the group to hear their thoughts and feelings following the centre’s closure due to funding cuts. She also reflects on what that piece now means for the children, and for society, in the wake of its demise.

The artist’s documentary forms the main part of the exhibition, but more exciting perhaps for visiting families, is the bouncy castle itself, which is free (yes free!) to explore (yes! bounce around on!) every weekend until 26th March.

There is no age restriction in relation to who can get involved in the inflatable fun, but every visitor will be assessed by attendants, and poor weather conditions might also scupper plans.

That said, every other Sunday from 15th January there will be a series of interactive family workshops with artist-cum-anthropologist Emma McGarry. These are free to drop in to and explore a range of themes from safety, the power of words, freedom and play. It also goes without saying that the grounds of Battersea Park where the gallery is housed, is fabulous all year round, with a recently refurbished children’s playground, a peace pagoda, its own zoo and close proximity to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

Pilvi Takala is exhibiting until 26th March
Pumphouse Gallery, Battersea Park, London, SW11 4NJ
Weds to Sun 11am – 5pm, closed Mon and Tues and when no exhibition is on
Five Star Bouncy House is weekends only, weather permitting
Admission Free

William Kentridge: Thick Time – A quirky sideshow you’ll never want to end

I was hugely disappointed to not be able to attend the opening of William Kentridge: Thick Time at the end of September. Work commitments, children’s parties and general life admin took over and before long it was mid-November and we still hadn’t made it to the Whitechapel Gallery for this acclaimed exhibition by the South African artist.

Drawing inspiration from across the entire arts spectrum, from early black and white cinema to animation, puppetry and literature, with content universally suitable for all and set out at scale in 6 installation-style rooms, this exhibition showed a lot of promise for family visitors.

After pondering the intriguing (yet static) Untitled, Bicycle Wheel (2012) for a moment, we could hear exciting things happening just around the corner. Heeding the caution from the gallery staff regarding the volume of musical accompaniment, we were met by The Refusal of Time (2012); a multi-sensory installation centered around a loom-like generator, whose audio intensity might feel somewhat intimidating for the very young.

We joined the installation at the point where the metronomes began to gather pace alongside the industrial sized breathing sculpture, drowning the room in hypnotic sound and building to a crescendo so irresistible, we were quickly drawn in to keep time. By this point my young companion (age 3) needed to escape, yet the hypnotic nature of this installation meant that she continued to drag me back at least three times, allowing us ten more minutes of the total thirty minute mediation on time and space.

Moving past the giant tapestries (which were a surprise hit), we huddled into a cosy corner to watch Second-hand Reading (2013), a mesmerising flip book film of illustrations which sprung to life on the pages of the Short Oxford English Dictionary, all accompanied by a dreamy soundtrack reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig in the Sky.

Don’t miss the cleverly doctored staircase as you head up to the brilliant (but slightly creepy) miniature model theatre, Right Into Her Arms 2016. You’ll no doubt be side tracked by the social sculpture on the stairwell, a permanent exhibit which never seems to tire as a secret hideaway for younger ones exploring the space.

It’s the second floor where things get really playful; not just in the form of a sensor activated sewing machine for those who get too close, but in the intriguing array of doors which pay host to Kentridge’s politically charged O Sentimental Machine (2015) – a five-channel video installation with four megaphones. The doors are obviously out of bounds, but visitors are welcome to contemplate this atmospheric montage of historical events on the rug or the chairs provided.

There’s nothing more fascinating than watching an artist at work, and the show culminates with our personal highlight from Gallery 9, a 9-channel video installation, capturing the creator. Here, work is both created and uncreated, from magical vanishing murals to child-like animations such as Journey to the Moon, this work feels so alive, we were convinced that when the artist comically climbs a ladder in 7 Fragments, he would pop right out of the top of the screen and right into the room beside us. Every screen captured my little one’s imagination, so much so that it gifted me at least ten minutes to absorb what was on offer here and even more time enjoy and discuss it together.

Exciting to navigate and highly visual, Thick Time has the feel of a curious and quirky sideshow that you’ll never want to end. Enjoyably noisy and endlessly entertaining, this exhibition just keeps on giving, and for once you’ll have the luxury of being able to soak it up in a ‘low risk’ set up, perfect for those visiting with kids of any age.

Whilst The Infinite Mix has been the highlight of our arts calendar this year, this audio visual extravaganza comes a very close second. So don’t drag your feet to the tune of a super-slow accordion, get yourself there quick, before it all ends on 15th January.


William Kentridge: Thick Time is at the Whitchapel Gallery until 15th January 2017
77-82 Whitechapel High St, London E1 7QX
Tuesday to Sunday 11am-6pm, Thursday 11am-9pm, Closed on Monday
Admission from £11.95, children under 16 free, concessions available


Want to visit with a little one under 3? Book now to enjoy Whitechapel Gallery’s brilliant Crib Notes session on the 7th December led by Sofia Victorino 

Whilst you’re there: Alicja Kwade’s Medium Median makes a brilliant compliment to the celestial aspects of Kentridge’s work. This mobile installation features twenty four 21st century mobile handsets revolving in 3D, vocalising passages from Genesis as the sky charts receive information from GPS satellites on the current locations of stars.

What’s nearby? A few doors down, the brilliant and spacious Grounded does great coffee, superb breakfasts, healthy salads and yummy cakes. The team are welcoming and extremely family friendly. Spitalfields City Farm is also a short walk away. 

Arts Aloud Review: The Infinite Mix

It’s feels like a lifetime since our beloved Hayward Gallery closed its doors for two years of repairs and maintenance. Until it reopens in January 2018, the gallery’s mission is to focus on its extensive touring programme, collaborating with artists, independent curators, writers and partner institutions, to develop more imaginative exhibitions.

Continuing to fly the brutalist flag by setting up home within trendy creative space The Store, The Infinite Mix (presented in association with The Vinyl Factory) is one such collaboration. Promising a host of thought-provoking stories through large-scale audio-visual artworks, it sounded very much like our cup of tea. If it was anything like the free-to-bail-at-any-time yet all-encompassing-installation work of The Tanks at new Tate Modern, we knew we’d be in for a treat.

Friendly, forthcoming with a map and happy for us to abandon our buggy in the foyer; we were off to a positive start. There were a total of 10 rooms for us to get around, the first of which was presented by Hayward Gallery favourite, Martin Creed.

The entrance to this, the first work was so unbelievably dark, that alongside the other patrons, we found ourselves (unknowingly) hanging around in the walkway for a while. It was a very exciting introduction for all – believing we were already ‘in’ the work, but a few dark twists and turns later and we were greeted by bright yellow taxis and a corner of New York which formed the canvas for Work No 1701, 2013. Accompanied by a song penned by the artist himself, the work documents the unique body movement and gestures employed by a range of individuals crossing the same stretch of a New York street. It certainly was compelling viewing, wondering who might be along next and how – a guessing game of sorts and a perfect opener to win over younger viewers.

Having extracted my companion, we caught a brief glimpse of Luanda-Kinshasa, 2013; Stan Douglas’ endless jazz-funk jam. Brilliantly filmed as if you’re watching a live performance, this lively account was absolutely impossible to stand (or sit) still to.

The surprise hit of the day was Room 3, Ugo Rondinone’s THANX 4 NOTHING, featuring beat poet John Giorno. The rise and fall in the verses in this retrospective (and somewhat whimsical) ‘thank you’ poem, reminded me very much of everything I love about the lyrical delivery of a Cassette Boy creation. For my little one it was mesmerising. “He’s everywhere” she said, gasping at the giant installation screens and endless TVs. “And he’s got no shoes on” she continued, rolling around on the floor, moving consistently in whichever direction the surround sound seem to talk to her. We were well into the second run before I could persuade her to leave.

Thanks to a wonderfully astute gallery assistant, we bypassed Room 4 Kahlil Joseph’s m.A.A.d, 2014 and Room 7 Cameron Jamie’s Massage the History, 2007-9. If visiting with the family, you might want to do the same. The external signage might be a little recessive but these rooms contain visual content which is both violent and sexually explicit, and definitely don’t count as artistic immersion. Yes, you’ll miss some of the hard-hitting stuff, but with an abundance of family friendly content that can also feel pretty intense, you’ll do well to skip past and avoid the nightmares.

Some alternative views for family visitors are Room 5: the ever-so-slightly hallucinogenic Bom Bom’s Dream – if you lap-up the incredible music, graphics and bizarre chameleon, and ignore the (sometimes) inappropriate bumping and grinding, and the eerily holographic illusion OPERA (QM.15), 2016. Also awe-inspiring is Cyprien Gaillard’s Nightlife, 2015 which is housed in the final gallery of the exhibition, Room 10. Don the 3D glasses and sway with the windblown trees, before you exit to a well-deserved pat on the back for reaching the end of something truly outstanding, all with the kids in tow.

Billed as “a contender for show of the year” by the Evening Standard, The Infinite Mix certainly deserves the plethora of accolades that have been bestowed upon it. As an exhibition, it is a vibrant melting pot of all that is great and good when you bring together so many different artistic genres and stories, and tell them from the perspective of cultures far and wide. Plonk it in an incredible space, where even the wall-art in the stairwells has an impact on the visitor as they move around, and you’ve got world-beating art that anyone can enjoy.

We might have to wait for a year to enjoy the magic of the Hayward back in its South Bank home, but this assault on the senses has been a timely reminder of what we’re all currently missing.

The Infinite Mix is at The Store, 180 The Strand until 4th December 2016. 
Tuesday to Saturday 12 – 8pm, Sunday 12 – 7pm
Admission Free