Sensing Spaces at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

The success of the recent(ish) Sensing Spaces exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts can probably be summed up by my reaction to the first installation we came across.

I stopped short and breathed WOW! in an awed voice.

 A huge squareish wooden War of the Worlds alien dominating what in the normal run of things is a very classically proportioned room

Well, you would wouldn’t you? A huge square wooden War of the Worlds alien, dominating what in the normal run of things is a very classically proportioned room, complete with gold angel trimmings? It was impressive stuff, especially when it turned out you could scramble up and down twisty steps in the legs or run up and down a series of shallow ramps to get into the box on top and squint though slits at the punters below or the ceiling mouldings above.

We did that a lot. I do like a good staircase. My Wonderful Big Brother liked the ramps. Mama liked the spy holes. Something for everyone.

We also approved of the room with the tunnel of straws. Of course, manual dexterity is not really my Wonderful Big Brother’s thing, so he didn’t really get involved in the suggested activity of adding our own creations made from long coloured plastic tubes. And I would have preferred removing the fruit of the other visitors’ labour. But it was nice to be able to touch something so visually attractive and tactile, and nice to see the many many adults’ little faces all lit up as they all threw themselves enthusiastically into the crafting opportunity.

Adults adding brightly coloured straws to a plastic honeycomb tunnel

Next up was dashing around a stick-walled maze, interspersed with lots of little wooden wendyhouse type rooms for us to explore. At its heart was a pebble room, which made truly satisfying crunchy noises as we stomped around it. We spent quite a bit of time in there building cairns. Just like being at the beach! Without all the inconvenience of being boiled by the relentless sun, covered in eye-stinging sunscreen, getting sticky from ice cream, or having to deal with all that salty wet stuff. Mama definitely approved, and wonders why more playgrounds don’t replace the unpleasantly gritty sandpit with a nice pebble box instead.

A pile of pebbles at the Royal Academy

Not everything was to our taste. There was an exhibit which mostly involved standing still and looking up rather than whizzing around and touching stuff which we were less impressed by although the big people seemed entranced. And while Mama LOVED the dark rooms with the mysteriously lit thin sticks we all thought looked like fire, I found it positively frightening  refusing to let her into the second part altogether, and my Wonderful Big Brother lost interest when he realised he wasn’t allowed to fling himself into the middle of the flames.

Thin bamboo sticks twisted into flames and lit up in the dark

 

But overall it was by far the most interesting high art experience Mama has dragged us off to, and it’s a shame she can’t recommend it because it has now closed, and the various exhibits sold off.

There is a wider point Mama wants to make here though.

The reason we went to this exhibition in the first place was because the RA had made an effort to market it at parents and their children, going so far as to host a get together of Brit Mums bloggers in their cafe (with the opportunity to go round Sensing Spaces for free afterwards). The reason why we went back with my Wonderful Big Brother in tow and paid actual money to get in was because Mama was impressed on this visit by the staffs’ genuine commitment and enthusiasm for getting the kids in and letting them have at it, and damn the noise and sticky fingers. Even the doorman was jolly.

Admittedly, this sort of attitude did encourage all the many many kids who were subsequently taken along to Sensing Spaces to think of the exhibition as a playground, and so the whole experience was a tad confusing as we were all were alternately encouraged to get stuck in and then sharply pulled up when we did, nearly bowling over an elderly art patron or shattering a large mirror in the process. As a result, the air did rather ring with desperate cries of ‘Not quite THAT fast/ loud/ energetically, honeypie!’ as the exhibition did rather too good a job of stimulating us. Mama also wondered if the non-children-encumbered patrons were enjoying the chaos as much. But the atmosphere seemed pretty good humoured, and our enthusiasm certainly got a lot of amused glances. She is forced to conclude that perhaps everybody was secretly delighted by the opportunity to wreak a bit of havoc in an art gallery.

Long colourful straws inserted into a plastic honeycomb tunnel

Anyway. Mama thinks the Royal Academy might be worth keeping an eye on. It’s a wrench, of course, to part with a full £14 in a city where there is so much free stuff to enjoy, but certainly the next time they say their latest offering is child-friendly, then we should probably believe them. And if they say it often enough, there are membership options to consider. Just leave the pushchairs at home. There isn’t room in the cloakroom.

More Information

The Royal Academy of Arts’ website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the world’s most beautiful buildings.

Address: Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD.

Opening: Sat to Thurs 10am -6pm, Fri 10am -10pm.

Price: This exhibition was £14 for adults, under 17s free.

By tube: Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines) and Green Park (Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines). 

By bus: Lots of buses!

By car: Just don’t.

Sir John Soane’s Museum, London

I am forced to admit that the Soane Museum, based on the collection of architect Sir John Soane (1753 – 1837), is not for the fainthearted toddler mamas out there.

Soane Museum

Housed in a perfectly ordinary London townhouse and the two either side Sir John bought when his collection of architectural knickknacks started getting out of hand, it is both cramped and stuffed very full of really fragile objects. A bit like the British Museum, but on a less national scale. Or Papa’s loft, but with fewer amplifiers, turntables and many many cables and more bits of cornicing, gargoyles, stone urns, sarcophaguses and busts of random strangers. It is, in fact, very much the sort of place where people whose first instinct is to run around with outstretched sticky hands and whose second is to find anything breakable within reach are not particularly welcome. And it is not pushchair friendly, not pushchair friendly at all.

So Mama was quite smug that she had anticipated all of this and turned up without my Amazing Big Brother and with me in a sling, forethought that had the museum authorities direct a distinct look of approval at my immovable status. They still made Mama leave her big bag at the door, only permitting her to take her valuables round in a clear plastic bag held strictly in front of her to prevent, I suppose, accidental brushings up against precariously perched bits of statuary. Mama’s usual habit of feeding me rice cakes to keep me quiet was also vetoed – no food and drink of any kind inside the house. Or stilettos. I don’t know what they are, but they sound like fun. Mama says not though. Be warned. Plan accordingly.

As for the museum, Soane’s special interest being something my Mama knows nothing about, she really should have bought the guide book, particularly as this is a museum somewhat lacking in explanatory labelling or any apparent logical order to the items on display. The attendants are happy to chat about the rooms, however, and what Mama did glean is that while Sir John was pretty successful as an architect, most of the money used to buy the collection came from an unexpected but massive inheritance by his wife. Acquiring the collection dented this so little that Sir John left such a vast amount of money in his will that it was only relatively recently that the museum has really had to work hard to search out more funding.

Did the man not have anything better to do with his (wife’s) money, I hear you cry? Well, he quarrelled badly with his two sons, and seems to have set up the museum as a way of keeping them from getting any (more) money out of him. Mama remains rather worried about the sons, despite the evidence they were extremely unsatisfactory offspring. She is a sucker for put upon children stories these days. I blame hormones.

Of course, Mama is also prone to saying things like, shame the wife didn’t get to choose what to spend her own money on.

Still, Mama thoroughly enjoyed poking around all the rooms, a total lack of intellectual understanding of what she was seeing notwithstanding, because it is such a glorious monument to rampant eccentricity. She says. And they have lots of pictures by Hogarth, which Mama, the former historian with an early modern bent, finds absolutely thrilling, and who seems to have had a sharp sense of humour for the ages.

I’m not sure what this picture is all about, but it looks like fun. Mama says yes.

The Rake's Progress - orgy

Obviously in such a small space they don’t have room for frivolities like a coffee shop (although they do have a souvenir shop) so when the call of the cool tactile objects became to much we repaired to Lincoln’s Inn Fields opposite the museum. Surprisingly, it isn’t a field. It’s a large London public garden with plenty of space to run round and have something to eat. We’d bought a picnic, but there’s a café, which looked nice. Mama thought. She does like her coffee. I got to hang out with two dance students casually trading moves on the bandstand, much to Mama’s delight. She thinks my dancing is amusing. Mama enjoyed watching all the office workers doing bootcampesque exercise on their lunchbreak. Mama says it’s called schadenfreude really, but that word is a bit long for me for everyday use.

Anyway, I recommend the Soane Museum to all those toddlers still small enough to be firmly immobilized, to very well behaved children, and to their parents. Mama even took Papa there when they had some time to themselves when my Amazing Big Brother and I were staying at my Grandparents recently, although what they wanted that break for I do not know. Papa enjoyed it so much he donated actual money.

This is very high praise indeed.

More Information

The museum’s website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide has to say about the museum.

Address: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3BP.

Opening: Tuesday to Saturday 10am-5pm.  Last entry 4:30pm. Closed every Sunday, Monday and bank holiday.

Price: Admission is free.

Tube: Holborn (Piccadilly and Central lines).

Bus: Nearest stop at Holborn tube station.

A Green and Rosie Life