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. 

Speeding around Electronic Superhighway with a toddler in tow

So if you’re a parent to very young children, you’ll know that the days of taking a slow and luxurious meander around an exhibition are long gone. I for one, feel very fortunate for the amount of work I have managed to see in the last (almost) 6 years with the children in tow. But nothing prepared me for the rate that my toddler was keen speed around our recent visit to Whitechapel Gallery’s brand new multimedia exhibition; Electronic Superhighway.

Named after the term coined in 1974 by South Korean video art pioneer Nam June Paik, who foresaw the potential of global connections through technology, the exhibition brings together film, painting, sculpture, photography and drawing by over 70 artists. Starting in the current day, and working its way back in time, ending in the 1960’s.

We were lucky enough to grab the last place on their fantastic Crib Notes session. Held for every major exhibition, Crib Notes is a unique opportunity for parents with children under 5 to enjoy a dedicated tour of a current exhibition, without the fear of ruining the enjoyment for other patrons. Staff are well briefed, relaxed and genuinely empathetic to visiting parents, whilst parents can (for a moment) feel at ease with the surroundings and pride at sharing something more than just the usual playgroups and kiddi-haunts.

The retractable belt barriers outside the exhibition entrance might as well have been a starting block, as my toddler could not wait to zip these back and get inside. What better place to start than being greeted by James Bridle’s Homo Sacer; a projected ‘hologram’ similar to those increasingly ‘keeping us company’ in stations and airports.

Sadly, this was the last I heard of the tour by Assistant Curator Séamus McCormack. I was being dragged back in time almost as quick as Doctor Who, by a toddler exploring at her pace. ‘This is a disaster’I thought, and then it dawned on me. Her pace was not so much about her lack of interest and her impatience at having to stop, stand and listen. It was in fact the complete opposite. It was her insatiable appetite to see more and more and more. To seek out the kind of works that she was interested in seeing, which in this instance, was anything and everything with a screen.

Highlights for our visit, therefore included:
More Songs of Innocence (Thomson & Craighead) – This karaoke machine installation pokes fun at the Dickensian english and strange translations used by the many unsolicited spam emails that we receive as part of modern communication. Toddler’s dulcet tones left our group in fits of giggles. Luckily she can’t read.

A Family Finds Entertainment (Ryan Trecartin) – The artist himself stars in this weirdly warped and colourful video installation which reflects on the chaotic culture of celebrity and reality TV that we now live in. Hypnotic viewing for toddlers, but keep it brief!

Substrate (Thomas Ruff ) – Plenty even for the very young in this kaleidoscopic abstraction which takes Japanese anime images and distorts them beyond recognition, exaggerating their neon colours and detaching it far from its original source of reference.

Glowing Edges_7.10 (Constant Dullaart) This first ever picture to be manipulated using Photoshop has undergone a range of treatments resulting in what the toddler referred to as a ‘wobbly’ wall.

Surface Tension (Rafael Lozano- Hemmer) Continuing the theme of surveillance which underpins a vast amount of work in the exhibition, this Big Brother inspired eye (Orwell, not Endemol) follows your every move, barely letting you out of its site.

In addition to this, Gallery 8 also plays host to the hypnotic Internet Dream (Nam June Paik); a video wall consisting of 52 stacked monitors to form a large image surface which streams content from multiple information sources. I chose not to include it in our highlights as oddly it drew no reaction whatsoever from toddler (despite it being the screen to end all screens). Proof that too much screen-time causes them to implode.

A celebration of how long the digital world has been influencing our lives, there is so much to see here. For once, this is actually a big plus for parents, ensuring they can leave still having seen a great deal for their admission fee, however speedily they might be led around by little ones.

Electronic Superhighway succeeds where previous exhibitions like Digital Revolution and more recently Big Bang Data fail. It isn’t overly techie and it doesn’t live or die by over-interaction. There are no silly queues nor a bun-fight over the big-ticket exhibits. It’s held together by its exciting variety of work and fantastic storytelling. Not completely what I expected, but in many ways a very pleasant surprise too. Much the same as every time I take a deep breath and allow my toddler to explore a major exhibition.

Electronic Superhighway is at the Whitechapel Gallery until 15th May
Tues-Sun 11am – 6pm, Thurs 11am – 9pm
Admission £13.50 (incl Gift Aid) £11.95 (without) Under 16s Free

Whilst you’re there: Loose yourselves in some classic computer game graphics by standing in the middle of Harun Farocki’s multi-screen installation Parallel I-IV (2012-14), Admission Free

The gallery is also hosting a Family Day around this exhibition on the 12th March, providing a chance to explore digital technology in art and take their new activity trail (Booking advised).

Adventures of the Black Square: Changing the world, and changing the rules.

It’s no secret that we’ve been frequenting more than a bit of abstract art, from Sigmar Polke at Tate Modern to the more recent Reiner Ruthenbeck at the Serpentine Gallery. With the arrival of Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract and Society 1915-2015 at the Whitechapel Gallery, I relished the opportunity to extend our interest, visiting something with lower stress levels, where more work would be hung on the walls, than on the floor, tempting toddlers.

Smack bang in the heart of the East End, the Whitechapel Gallery stands proud, a magnificent building with one toe in today’s trendy Shoreditch and the other in the scruffy Whitechapel of old. 10 minutes early, we had just enough time to guide the creation of the first ever babychino in the café, before starting our journey around the downstairs gallery.

Bringing together over 100 works by modern masters and contemporary artists, the show is presented across 6 galleries with 4 themes, each looking at the role of abstract art in society during this time; Utopia (starting with the headline act – Malevich’s Black Square), Architectonics (looking at space), Communication (impact on social change) and Everyday (role in everyday culture).

The collection was vast and daunting. Seeking out the familiar, it was no coincidence that the most popular pieces for us seemed to be recognisable shapes; Piet Mondrian’s Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red, the familiarity of Dan Flavin’s Monument for V. Tatlin (previously seen at the Tate), the playfulness of Painted Wood cubes by Rasheed Araeen and the obscureness of Blinky Palermo’s Blue Disk and Stick. The surprise hit of this gallery, however, was Oskar Schlemmer’s The Triadic Ballet. Unclear whether it was was the novelty of the headphones, the theatrical costumes or the wonder of the shapes cast by the tippy-toed ballerina, but this installation soon became unmissable, and one to return to again and again.

Feeling relieved that we had almost made it around the whole of the downstairs, without a warning from gallery staff, my heart jumped into my mouth when I turned around to see my youngest making her way across an area of large grey slate set across the floor. I dashed after her apologetically, but was soon reassured that it was artist Carl Andre’s intention for visitors to walk across his 16 Pieces of Slate. Hmmm, I thought. How do I explain that slate is ok, but Araeen’s Painted Wood is most definitely out of bounds? The same conundrum faced us as we looked at Andrei Monastyrski’s cuckoo clock up on the wall. Do we stick our fingers in it? Or don’t we?

It was time to flee the confusion and move to the upstairs gallery, but not before passing more interactive uncertainties on the stairscase. Annie Ratti’s social sculpture You and Me was begging to be sat on, two sumptuous red chairs, face to face in a huddle. It says ‘social’, but it doesn’t say ‘sit on me’. What to do? The answer was to steer clear and keep our eyes on Tobias Rehberger’s spectacular above us. Adaptation 13, was a worthy distraction, an incredible series of lamps built from brightly-coloured acrylic, creating an incredible light feature born out of simple utility.

Upstairs the exhibition really came to life, with the magnificent knitted achievements of Rosemarie Trockel’s Who Will Be In ’99? and the loudspeakers of Zvi Goldstein’s Element C-14, just begging to be shouted into. Next we were treated to a whirling kaleidoscope in Gunilla Klingberg’s Spar Loop. We stop to identify all the shapes present in nature, a star, a flower, a Tesco, an Aldi, before moving on to Sarah Morris’s epic film focussing on the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This cosy installation theatre showcasing padding ducks and dazzling ceremony, was proving difficult to extract the little ones from.

Browsing the penultimate pieces, there was just enough time for the kids to be encouraged onto Andrea Zittel’s Bench. Looking strikingly similar to a John Lewis rug display, it was now really becoming a challenge trying to understand when to get involved and when to stay back. Where have the white lines gone? And what about our ‘rules of the gallery’ that I tirelessly drill into them on every visit? (No touching, just looking).

Thank heavens for David Batchelor’s closing pieces, bringing us back to spectator-status as we admired his fantastic felt pen skills in the form of The October Colouring-In Book, a customised version of the long-running monochrome art journal.

Adventures of the Black Square is an immense journey, following abstract art from its beginnings, to its development across the globe, it’s a place to appreciate not just the contribution of the headline acts, but also give dues to some game-changing work from lesser known artists too. With a century-long exploration of paintings, sculptures, film and photographs, the mix of media here is impressive, however, it’s the mix of messages, from protection to interaction, that family visitors could find a challenge from room to room.

If you’re keen to know where you stand, don’t by-pass the famous Black Square but focus more on the work in the upstairs galleries. Or you could just relax and enjoy David Batchelor’s Monochrome Archive commission in Gallery 2 (Admission free). Here you are treated to a walk amongst a multi-screen installation, showcasing all 500 images from his commission, following what appears to be a global urban phenomenon; the ubiquitous white rectangle.

Alternatively, you can save your visit for their Family Day on Saturday 14th February (12-4pm, Admission free) where, alongside various activities, artist Abigail Hunt promises to help families navigate the gallery and explore the exhibition. Those with kids under 5’s might want to book ahead for their popular Crib Notes session on Wednesday 4th March (10am-12pm, Admission £8.50, includes refreshments), where Assistant Curator Candy Stobbs will guide you through maze of exhibits, signposting what’s what for you and your curious companions.

Further family listings can be found on the Whitechapel Gallery website.

Adventures of the Black Square is running at the Whitechapel Gallery until 6th April 2015 (Admission £13.50 gift aid, £11.95 without gift aid, concessions available).

Arts Aloud: 5 family-friendly highlights for January 2015

If the impending doom of Monday morning’s school-run is starting to ruin the precious few days that you have left with the family this Christmas, set yourself to planning mode!

January is packed with family-friendly exhibitions and events in London, and best of all, some of them are absolutely free. Perfect for those of you that had too many well-behaved children to reward this Christmas.

Here is what I’ll be up this month:

1. Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915 – 2015, Whitechapel Gallery 

Admission £13.50 (including Gift Aid donation) £11.95 (without Gift Aid)

From 15th January expect a whole lot of “mummy what’s that?” as the Whitechapel Gallery pays host to a major new exhibition tracing the history of Abstract art from 1915 to today. Promising over 100 works including paintings, sculptures, film and photographs by modern masters and contemporary artists such as Carl Andre and Aleksandr Rodchenko, the admission sounds well worth it, even if the little ones struggle to make it beyond Gallery 1.

Nearby: V&A Museum of Childhood provides the perfect space for kids to be kids, with usable rocking horses, an indoor sandpit, dolls’ houses and a life-size robot, plus a baby sensory area for the very young.

2. Variety Spectacular 2015, Hackney Children’s Theatre

Admission £5 or £16 for family of 4 (booking fee applies)

Every second month of the year, the eighteenth century St. John at Hackney Church is transformed into a family-friendly theatre by local theatre company Adrenalindance. This month’s must-see event is their annual Variety, which presents a crazy mix of circus, magic, mime and dance, plus lots of surprises. Suitable for all ages.

Nearby: Head to Victoria Park, one of London’s oldest parks, home to two playgrounds, two cafes, a skatepark and a superb splash park (summer only).

3. The Great Londoners, Hoxton Hotel, Holborn

Admission free

Last chance to see Nicholas Goodden’s street photography exhibition which captures the quirks and diversity of Londoners in all their glory, going about their daily life.

Nearby: Coram’s Fields is a unique Central London playground and park, including two large sandpits, an adventure play area with aerial slide and a paddling pool in the summer months.

4. Mapping The City, Somerset House (New Wing)

Admission free

Showcasing a range of work from established and emerging artists, Mapping The City represents the intimate and unique relationship that graffiti and street artists have with their home cities, through their own cartographic representations, ranging from literal to  the highly abstract.

Nearby: Head to Covent Garden Piazza to soak up the free entertainment, everything from street performers to free lunchtime opera.

5. Cirkus Spectakular, Half Moon Theatre

Admission £6

Completely unrelated to the Hackney event with a similar name, this one-off magical theatrical production by Angel Heart Puppet Theatre brings together the colours and sounds of Eastern Europe to tell the touching story of Pavlo and his quest to feel like he ‘belongs’.  Recommended age: 4+.

Nearby: Stepney City Farm gives children a chance to meet a range of farm animals  as well as hosting other events and activities from learning to grow food, to arts and crafts.

Don’t forget, if you’ve seen something interesting on in January and you aren’t brave enough to go it alone, get in touch. I’m happy to do a test run and report back for you.

Happy New Year!

Richard Tuttle @Tate Modern: 15 minutes of play-filled peace

As many of us have discovered, Tate Modern is always a reliable choice for art-loving parents who want to combine a lovely day out spotting boats and buskers on the South Bank with introducing their children to modern art in a relaxed and inspiring environment. Well this autumn, Tate Modern is rewarding us richly with a magnificent sculpture in the Turbine Hall by American artist and poet Richard Tuttle.

I Don’t Know. The Weave of Textile Language, is a major collaboration to celebrate the work of Tuttle, who has made his name through his delicate and playful work, combining sculpture painting, poetry and drawing, often using every day materials such as cloth, paper, rope and plywood. This commission in the Turbine Hall, features in conjunction with a major exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery surveying five decades of his career.

The sheer size of the structure, measuring over twelve metres in height, draped with brightly coloured fabric, drew an immediate “wow” from my two young viewers. From the viewing gallery beyond the main entrance hall, the section suspended from the ceiling was, to them, like the most exciting bridge you’d ever want to cross, whilst the larger support section rising up from the lower ground floor formed a giant beanstalk in their imaginations. Down in the vast hall itself, the kids loved running underneath it, seeing something different each time they looked up.

The good news is, for once, you don’t need to rush as the Whitechapel Gallery exhibition is running until 14th December, and the sculpture will remain resident at Tate Modern until 6th April 2015.

Want to see more? This bite-size beauty is perfect if you don’t think the kids will manage a whole room or exhibition at the Tate, but if you do want to see more, the Whitechapel Gallery is hosting one of their fantastic Crib Notes sessions on Tuesday 4th November at 10am. The session dedicated to parents and carers with children under 5, costs just £5 and includes a tour of the exhibition with Assistant Curator Poppy Bowers. For those of you with a buggy, the majority of the exhibition is on the ground floor, but there is a lift that can take you to the work featured on other floors (although be warned, the rest of the building can seem some-what maze-like). Failing that, you are welcome to leave your buggy with the cloakroom.

Whilst you’re there: Just along the river, enjoy a free lunchtime concert at the Southbank Centre with Mastercard’s Friday Lunch sessions. From classical and jazz, to folk and world, this is a great opportunity for the little ones to experience live music in a family-friendly (and easy-to-escape) space.