Hello I must be going: Making Arts Aloud a reality.

After 10 long and busy months, I hope my silence has been noted.

Shortly after enjoying the V&A’s spectacular Winnie-The-Pooh: Exploring a Classic, personal events turned my life upside down. Around about the same time I was lucky enough to step onto the other side of the fence, from visitor to host, landing myself a front of house role following the reopening of my beloved Hayward Gallery.

With both of my children now in full-time education, I mourned the loss of my most authentic mouthpiece and most treasured companions. I missed the luxury of exploring endlessly in term-time, in-advance of busy weekends and holiday hoards.

Now, as I look forward to the opening of our incredible autumn show Space Shifters, one which ironically seems to be the most family friendly to date, I feel it is time for me to complete the loop and sign off from Arts Aloud.

It seems almost fitting that I am sat here watching the curatorial team meticulously lay out Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden. Kusama’s work marked a defining moment for me, following our exploration of her Obliteration Room at Tate Modern in 2012. It wasn’t the first time I had visited a gallery in my new-found role as a mother, indeed, by 18 months old, my eldest daughter was a seasoned gallery visitor. It did, however, mark the realisation that although she had enjoyed the interaction of that ‘break-out’ space, we had missed out on the full extent of Kusama’s retrospective. This seemed ironic given much of the artist’s ‘dotty’ work celebrated the idea of being overwhelmed by a space.

Having worn herself out sticking dots all over the room, my young daughter was left with very little energy to accompany me around the rest of the show. I was hugely disappointed, but perhaps for the staff in Tate Modern, this was the master plan. Somewhere in the midst of our ‘cultured day out’, I had been forced to choose between my toddler’s entertainment and my intellectual stimulation, and so Arts Aloud was born.

In the last 4 years we’ve been to over 100 events at more than 30 different arts venues, publishing reviews of exhibitions, festivals and theatre, including a number of features and theatrical performances on behalf of Londonist.

Having braved many ‘grown up’ exhibitions with both of my children in tow, I learned that children don’t need to be patronised. Each of us usually found some element of wonder in what we saw. We might not all agree, but art is meant to be divisive, and the most important thing is that we were enjoying our visit together. In the absence of any kind of guidance in the space, half of the time, like other families, we are blundering our way around, speed reading and sussing out the rules of engagement as we went, with me trying to play mother, guide and invigilator all at the same time.

Despite some overzealous gallery hosts and misinformed age guidance, time and time again we all agreed that the best place for us to look, learn, appreciate and develop our own views on art, was in the gallery itself, not in some craft-inspired, watered-down alternative that eluded the main event, in the name of making things ‘digestible’.

This experience has left me with one of the most memorable legacies of my existence, and of my babies’ childhood. After 20 years, this journey has also inspired me to return to university to study arts education, with the hope of encouraging and inspiring even more families to enjoy the arts together. In time, who knows? I might event reinvent the role that Arts Aloud plays in their lives.

Until then, thank you for reading. Go forth, be brave and explore! In the words of Anne Tucker, ‘art requires courage’, so make like an artist, expand your horizons and step into the unknown. And if you’re lucky, it might make your children more powerful too.

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


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.