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.


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.

Colour me happy at the @SerpentineUK Pavilion 2015

Imagine if, instead of a cocoon that was drab and brown, Eric Carle had given us a sneak-preview of our friend The Very Hungry Caterpillar as a magnificent multi-coloured butterfly. Well this year’s 15th annual Serpentine Pavilion is a great indication of exactly what that might have looked like.

Approaching through a sea of greenery that is the beautiful Kensington Gardens, prepare to be hit by a wall of colour followed by a frisson of excitement at the prospect of losing yourselves in this brand new magical space.

Designed by Madrid based architects SelgasCano, this unusual polygon, made from panels of translucent, multi-coloured polymer, was inspired by the chaotic yet structured way that us Londoners move around our city. The result is a maze-like structure, with ‘secret corridors’ between its outer and inner layers, creating a fun, interactive and welcoming space for visitors of all ages.

Wherever you choose to enter or exit the Pavilion, each path walks you through a variety of colours and fractures of light before eventually leading you into the kaleidoscope interior. The process of walking in and out of the tunnels will feel strangely addictive, with an overwhelming feeling of wanting to rush back in as soon as you find yourself on the outside of the fun.

For visitors hoping to find an airy shade for little ones on a sunny day, you might be disappointed. On the day of my visit, the temperature was upwards of 25 degrees, creating a near greenhouse effect as layers trapped warm air inside rather than providing free-flow. That said, however, once you’re inside, you’re definitely in the best place, with Fortnum & Mason in residence serving cold drinks, ice cream scoops and even a Knickerbocker Glory, providing the perfect compliment to this colour therapy for keeping everyone happy.

As well as a playful public space by day, the Pavilion is a forum for learning, debate and entertainment by night, with Park Nights bringing together art, poetry, music, film and literature, every Friday between July and September.

With such a stunning setting, it’s easy to while away a day here with the kids, particularly if you are considering combining it with a visit to Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground, Serpentine Lido or even the nearby Science Museum or Natural History Museum. Visit on Sunday 5th July and you’ll get the added treat of the gallery’s Family Day (12-5pm, admission free) promising free, artist-led events open to families with children of all ages.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion is open daily 10am-6pm until 18th October 2015, admission free.

** NOTE The Pavilion is closed to the public on 2nd and 3rd July for private function**

Nearby: Walk 5 minutes over the bridge to neighbouring Serpentine Sackler Gallery, where kids will marvel at the work of artist Duane Hanson, who has created incredible life-like sculptures portraying working class Americans in everyday life. With meticulous details such as body hairs, veins and bruises, every figure makes you double take, particularly if your little ones are prone to giggling and staring at statue street performers for hours on end.

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.

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.

5 Arts Aloud Easter Treats

This Easter, Arts Aloud is going Stateside, hoping to bring you the best of the US family-friendly arts scene. Whilst I am away, here are 5 Easter treats that I don’t want you to miss.

My First Ballet: Swan Lake, Sadlers Wells
The icing on the cake of Sadlers Wells’ Spring season, My First Ballet is an exciting collaboration with English National Ballet inviting children as young as three to experience an adaptation of a classic ballet production for the first time ever. Narrators and shortened musical scores help little ones to follow proceedings in the relaxed space of the Peacock Theatre (2-12 April, Tickets £10-£20, Advance booking essential).

The Idol by Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, New Abbey Leisure Centre
Commissioned by Create, this world-beating 3-storey soft play area devised by Turner Prize nominee Chetwynd, centres around a fantastical creature called The Idol and invites children to explore his monochrome world through a series of walkways, chambers and ramps (Year-round, Centre Opening Times: Mon-Fri 6.30am-10pm, Sat & Sun 8am-9pm, check website for specific session times)

Magnificent Obsessions, Barbican Art Gallery
Providing unique insight into the influences and obsessions of a range of artists, this awe-inspiring exhibition brings together popular collectables, rare artefacts and one-of-a-kind curiosities and is sure to pose a challenge to any curious toddler (12 Feb-25 May, Adults £12, Under 12s free, Concessions available, Advance Booking Recommended)

The Boy Who Bit Picasso, The Albany (Deptford Lounge)
A heartwarming story of a young boy who became friends with one of the greatest artists who ever lived, this interactive theatre show is packed with music and storytelling as well as the chance to make your very own masterpiece. Dress for mess!
(9-10 April, 12.30pm & 2.30pm, Tickets £7, Family Ticket £24, Recommended age 4+)

Chorus, Southbank Centre
If you’re one week into the school holidays and already struggling, bring some harmonious melodies to the heart of your family through the Southbank Centre’s annual Chorus festival. Celebrating the power of singing together, the festival plays host to a range free events and family workshops including your chance to be one of 1000 voices filling Royal Festival Hall on Easter Sunday (Until 12 April, Free, Suitable for all ages).

Happy Easter! Looking forward to hearing about your adventures.

*Ticketed activities are subject to availability at the time of publication.

Arts Aloud: Family Friendly Half Term Highlights

If you’ve been too busy to organise activities and you’re panicking that half term is just around the corner, fear-not. Here’s some inspiration from across the family friendly arts scene:

Meeting Mr Boom! Exploring the themes of building relationships and overcoming life’s challenges, this live music and dance show is performed on an inflatable set, and then offers an irresistible opportunity to stay, play and bounce after the performance (The Albany at Deptford Lounge, 19-21 February, 12pm & 2.30pm, Admission £7, Age 3+).

50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) If you want to use half term as an excuse to strike and brave something new, this is just the ticket. Inspired by the book of the same name by Julie Spielger and Gever Tulley, acclaimed German theatre-makers Fundus Theater give your kids the chance to do it all. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and give them unimaginable tales to take back to school (Unicorn Theatre, 14-22 February, 11am & 1.30pm, Admission Adult £16, Child £10, Age 3-10)

Imagine Children’s Festival Promising to deliver over half of the programme this year absolutely free of charge, it’s never too late to plan a day out at this incredible spectacular. Check out my top picks.

Follow the Coloured Brick Road Inspired by the Wizard of Oz, artist Elisa Cantarelli invites you to add to her collection of coloured bricks that will sprawl across the gallery floor, connecting her various work on display. There is a free craft activity in the gallery (Recommended age 3+) plus a workshop for older kids to try their hand at her unique dotting technique (artsdepot, Exhibition 15-21 February, daily 10am-4pm, Admission free, Dotting workshop 20 February, 11am & 2pm, Admission £5, Age 8+).

Figures, Creatures and Tea, by Julia de Greff As well as some great shows topping and tailing the half term week, this vibrant collection of paintings and prints of animals include a giraffe, chickens, kittens, horses, cows, and a glorious whale plus a host of small exotic birds. To accompany the exhibition there’s a children’s gallery trail and a host of chalk boards to create their own versions of the work (Gallery @ Half Moon, 16-21 February and until 13th April, Mon-Fri 10am-6pm Sat 10am-4pm, Admission free).

Once There Was…The Wonderful World of Oliver Jeffers Renowned for their rotating programme of interactive family exhibitions, this magical exhibition allows little ones to venture into the world of some of their favourite characters. A priceless opportunity to climb inside a space rocket, row a boat with a penguin or conjure up a feast from the life-size fridge. This long-running feature is one not to miss (Discover Children’s Story Centre, 16-22 February and until 6 September, Mon-Fr 10am-5pm, Weekend 11am-5pm, Admission £5, Age 3-6)

London Children’s Book Swap A great way to kick off half term, this literary initiative asks children to bring along a book that they’ve enjoyed and swap it for someone else’s recommended read. A chance to share old favourites or discover new stories, as well as make their very own bookmark (Various London venues and times, 14 February, see their Facebook page for your nearest venue or follow the event on Twitter @LDNChildBkSwap, Admission free, All ages)

Roald Dahl Picture Book Week Whether they are familiar favourites or a first-time listen, this week-long storytelling event is a fantastic chance to celebrate the genius mad-cap stories of Roald Dahl. There’s also a chance to make an animal mask (all day, drop in) inspired by the characters from the books (Discover Children’s Story Centre, 16-22 February, Various times, Admission £5 , Age 3+ and 6+).

Comedy Club 4 Kids Just like a normal comedy club, but with less rude bits, a greater chance of being heckled and a time of day that kids can enjoy. This unique event sees the best stand-ups and sketch acts from the UK and international circuit, do their thing for an audience of children and their families (artsdepot, 22 February, 12pm & 2.30pm, Admission £7, Age 6+. Also touring other venues nationwide. See website for details).

Family Art Days Minutes from busy Upper Street, this hidden gem of a gallery is hosting two creative family days during the half term, inspired by the work of Renato Guttuso. Kids can bring along their own favourite object or choose from a selection of weird and wonderful items to create a still life arrangement to draw. Another event invites them to add their thoughts to the interactive colour wheel and make their own spinning colour palette (Estorick Collection, 17-18 February, 11am-4pm, Admission free for children with a paying adult, Adults £5, All ages)

Play in a Day: Chinese New Year Inspired by their resident theatrical production Yeh Shen (a Cinderella-style story from China) this Chinese New Year themed workshop introduces kids to a range of performance techniques including mime, physical theatre and improvisation (Polka Theatre, 17 February, 10.30-am-3.30pm, Admission £30, Age 5-7)

Behind the Scenes: Character Costume Making If your little one is a budding costume designer, then here’s a workshop to let their imagination run wild, with the help of a real life theatre designer. Whether their costumes are inspired by characters of their own or borrowed from their favourite stories, everyone will get the chance to show them off in a fashion show at the end of the day (Polka Theatre, 19 February, 10.30-am-3.30pm, Admission £30, Age 7-11)

Tuttle Families If you were inspired by my feature last year around Richard Tuttle’s Turbine Hall commission I Don’t Know. The Weave of Textile Language, then you might want to return for Flock. Part of the Tuttle Families series, Flock is a free performance workshop for all ages and abilities, set to an original soundtrack and guided by dancers (Tate Modern, Turbine Hall, 14 February, 12-4pm, Admission free, Age 5+).

Ooo Mmm Open Studio If your kids prefer to lead the creativity, then perhaps instead pay a visit to the Ooo Mmm Open Studio created by artist Kate Squires, where you can create amazing art together as a family (Tate Modern, Clore Studio, 19-22 February, 11am-1pm and 2-4pm, Admission free, All ages).

Happy half term everyone, see you on the other side!

**Disclaimer: Ticketed events subject to availability at the time of press. Free events based on capacity and first come first served basis.