Musings on the nature of things
There’s just one week to go before we start installing “Wild Worlds” the Herbert’s summer exhibition aimed at families. From last year’s “In the Big Treetop” installation we discovered that mole-hill shaped piles of MDF shapes were incredibly alluring to children. Many children just wanted to stand on top of them, or jump from one to the next, or claim them as ‘territory’. We also observed toddlers just beginning to walk would hang on to mum’s hand and walk back and forth over them again and again, seeming to love how they were irregular, yet dependable.
Lindsay, one of our learning team who has heaps of experience as an artist in early years’ settings, told us she found platforms offered something special, that there is almost a taboo on playing off the ground while indoors.
Our designers have taken these ‘floor blobs’ and put them at the core of our installation this year, and we can only wait to see how well they work.
I’ve observed a category of things (for which I don’t have a name) which seem to work especially well in creative play. These things need to be both unfamiliar and immediately understood by children. A mini-hill of layers of MDF is something quite new, but they understand what it does very rapidly. They sometimes check if the pieces come apart, or if it slides on the floor – both critical qualities to understand how safe it is – and then walk across it, stand on top as if it is a mountain, all with complete confidence.
Another example we’ve used repeatedly are wooden pebbles. We made these from light timber from packing crates, all differently shaped, but roughly the shapes and sizes of seaside pebbles. Children immediately understand what they do and don’t do, and they are collected, arranged, hidden and balanced on top of each other.
Perhaps lengths of cloth fall into this category – children can wrap themselves, build dens, create rivers or skies, but often they check for permission, possibly because different rules apply to cloth (eg curtains) at home.
These sorts of objects are dramatically neutral – they can be used to represent anything at all, and don’t exclude themselves from any sort of fictional game. Things which are more clearly themed, for example a badger hand puppet, would be far harder to include in an undersea world.
I suspect there are some interesting reflections on the wider context of a museum, the place devoted to the idea of things having meaning, but I’ll ponder on that another time.