Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Art attack: part two

Inside the Serpentine Pavilion

More news on the toddler-friendly gallery front (on the offchance anyone is following what seems to have become what newspapers love to dub an "occasional series"): we stumbled on two more gems this past week. The first is admittedly obvious: Jean Novel's giant red tent - well, at least that's how I sold it to Louis - outside the Serpentine in Hyde Park. It's their annual summer pavilion-cum-cafe; architecture and caffeine, a winning combination. Louis enjoyed the chill out corner, complete with red air mattresses and red beanbags to bounce on (everything's in iconic London red; even the fruit and vegetables growing in the garden) and DJ and I enjoyed the coffee. There are chess tables and ping pong tables, so it might be fun checking it out without Louis too, especially as it's open into the evening.

The second exhibition I picked purely with me in mind. Francis Alys at the Tate Modern. I'd stumbled on him a year ago at the National Portrait Gallery where he'd curated, rather than painted, a room full of portraits of a Catholic Saint, Fabiola. I may not know my religious art, but somehow her image, side one, head hooded with a red veil, is hauntingly familiar. All the more so in fact after seeing 300 or more different takes on her that he scooped up over the years at various car boot sales or what have you and hung in a single room, barely inches apart. So simple and quite outstanding.

This time Alys, a Belgian artist who has lived in Mexico City since the mid-1980s, has some powerful stuff to say about the state of Latin America. Witness a video of a man pushing a giant block of ice around Mexico City on a hot day. Unsurprisingly he is left with nothing to show for his endeavour. Likewise the driver of a VW Beetle that tries to drive up a steep dirt track to the soundtrack of a brass band rehearsing. Every time the band stops, the car stops, sliding back down the track. There's also footage of around 500 people strung out in a line along a sand dune. Spades in hand, they advance, step by painful step, digging as they walk in a futile attempt to move the dune. The video of children building a sandcastle on a beach as the tide turns has a similar message about the futility of life, especially for a Latin American. Ditto the one of children skimming stones into the sea. Plip, plip, plip, plip, sink. Plip, plip, plip, plip, sink.

All those videos made it another perfect exhibition with Louis in tow; the sand and digging an added bonus. Not to mention getting in early with such a vital life lesson. Or is that a bit bleak?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Toddler logic

(A piece of watermelon; but it might as well be a sausage!)

You've got to love a toddler's logic. And here's two reasons why: 

1. Louis and the sausage. 
It's the end of a BBQ at ours. So far, so delicious: Geof and DJ have enjoyed some Mummy-made beefburgers and sausages, while Louis and I have tucked into the usual vegetarian barbecue fare of aubergines, peppers and some halloumi for good measure. There may even have been a corn on the cob. But now Louis is trying to work out how he can wangle some ketchup. I attempt to point out that he can't have any because, "ketchup is just for sausages". So Louis, my darling veggie son who hitherto has turned up his nose at even the scant bit of chicken I've reluctantly offered him, immediately declares: "Louis wants a sausage." 
Me: "Really? But Mummy doesn't like sausages."
Louis: "Louis likes sausages!"
Me: "Really? Are you sure? Mummy really doesn't like sausages."
Louis, smiling: "Louis LIKES sausages." 
Me, grimacing: "Okay then....." 
And, readers, he ate the sausage; well, half of it. Liberally doused in ketchup. 

2. Louis and the bicycle
One of Louis' best books is one that a friend bought him just before we jetted off for DC: Little Louis Takes Off. It tells the tale of a little swallow, little Louis, who can't fly, so instead of flying south with his family for the winter, he has to travel in an aeroplane. After (re-)reading it the other day, I contrast "Little Louis in the book" with "Big Louis" who is reading it. 
Pause, as Louis' brain works overtime to recall all those conversations (aka tantrums) we've had about bicycles that conclude with me telling him that 'no, he can't have a bicycle until he's a big boy'....
Louis: "So now Louis is big, Louis can have a bicycle!"

Tell me how I can argue with that?! 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ernesto Neto: the toddlers' artist

In the interests of balance - well, I am theoretically a journalist as well as Louis' mum - I figured it wasn't fair to moan about the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum without eulogising about the amazing exhibition we went to this morning. (On the dinosaur front, I'm told that first thing on a weekend is the time to go, plus we managed to miss the moving dinosaur that was at the end of the very hot and sticky throng of people in one particularly crowded gallery.) 

But back to today. After giving up on seeking out kid-focused museums, we figured we'd use yet another overcast, dull day we had all together (heatwave; what heatwave?) to check out Ernesto Neto at the Hayward Gallery. The exhibition is part of the South Bank's summer homage to all things Brazilian. Which thankfully stretches beyond the ubiquitous Haviana flip flop. Two things inspired us to go: my lovely and very talented artist friend Sonoko, who is keen to see it, and the much photographed open-air swimming pool that is part of his show and which would have provided respite from the heat, had the weather not been lousy. 

If you don't know Ernesto Neto - and if so, join the club - he belongs to the tactile school of art. He doesn't so much make sculptures as redecorate entire galleries with wonderful interactive creations you can touch, sit on or even climb into. He has transformed the internal concrete mass of the Hayward Gallery into a sensuous living organism, with nylon membra strung from ceiling to floor to create tunnels and caves that suck you in before spitting you on the terrace where you can take a dip in an inflatable, crocheted pool. (Provided you're taller than 1.10m. And have brought your cossie and a towel, which we, inexplicably, hadn't.)

I want to say it was parental heaven. Just imagine: an art gallery where you won't run the risk of being thrown out just because your toddler/child has come within looking distance of an exhibit; an exhibition you're actually encouraged to interact with. But I'm wary of sounding exactly like the sort of nightmare the Independent's art critic feared would regard Neto's work as the ultimate bouncy castle for their "shrieking Toms or Daisys". 

In my defence, I was so busy telling Louis not to touch the sides of the extremely tactile nylon tunnels that the gallery attendant told me not to worry so much! Needless to say, Louis had a blast. And thankfully the Hayward isn't a magnet for the fluorescent-yellow bibbed school crowd that make places like the Natural History Museum such a nightmare so we did too. In fact, I can't wait to go back. If I thought I'd be able to get value out of the members' bar at the Royal Festival Hall I'd pony up for South Bank membership, which would give me a summer's worth of floating in Neto's pool. If I didn't have a sub 1.10m Louis in tow, that is. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dino-sorry we went

To be tired of London, is to be tired of life as Dr Johnson famously said all those centuries ago. But I wish he hadn't. Every time I get frustrated by living here, his words come back to haunt me, making me feel bad for not being more grateful for living in one of the world's great metropolises. Yet I bet Dr Johnson didn't have to queue behind the longest line of fluorescent-bibbed schoolchildren before he could use the loo in the Natural History Museum. Or fight his way across London on the Circle line to get there in the first place. 

And if he'd kept quiet, then chances are we wouldn't have felt the need to schlep all the way to South Kensington to fill a bonus day en famille after the weather gods kiboshed our beach plans. Instead, we'd have been happy with our umpteenth trip to the Tate Modern, just so we could pretend it's walking distance from where we live. (To be fair, it is; it's just a very long walk.) But no, we thought we'd take Louis for that childhood rite of passage that is visiting the dinosaur skeletons, especially as his current favourite Charlie and Lola episode ends with them donating the fossil they have found to their local museum. 

In retrospect, we should have aborted once we saw the queue. To get in. But we dutifully trekked to the other entrance, even if it was at least a mile from the dinosaur in question. It wasn't the distance we minded, but the fact that we had then to negotiate the length of the museum to find the dinosaur hall. And everyone else in it.... On the plus side, Louis did spot a bonus digger, or half a digger, in the lame exhibition about our earth's resources. Or whatever it was. But on the downside, that meant the second we finally made it to the dinosaur, Louis took one look and announced: "I want to see the digger." 

And the moral? Next time we get the urge to test our zest for life we're sticking well clear of anything aimed at children. Art galleries, yes; museums popular with kids, no. I hope Louis took a long, hard look at those dinosaur skeletons because it's the last he'll be seeing of them for quite some time. Until he dons his own fluorescent yellow vest on some future school trip I imagine. Provided London doesn't totally tire me out first.  

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Double trouble

What is it about toddlers? Why do they have such a bad reputation? Louis has just turned two, which by all accounts should make him twice as annoying as when he was one. But frankly he's anything but. I realise I'm tempting all kinds of fate in writing this, which partly explains my recent reticence in posting (either that or I'm still struggling to come to terms with my new look), but if anything life with Louis is getting easier, not harder. 

If I'm honest, I'd always been dreading this. Dreading him hitting two. Double trouble and all that. Babies, I figured I could deal with. After all, they don't want for much beyond copious milk and a warm chest to cuddle. And with enough coffee even the sleepless nights were bearable. Kind of. But two year olds. Quite a different matter. For starters, you actually have to do stuff with them; you can't just tout them around on endless walks and lunches out. And this prospect had, frankly, terrified me. Thinking of them as their own little person, with opinions, and wants, and needs. That, that scared me. 

Yet the reality is quite, quite different from my misguided anticipation. And what I'm wondering is, why? Why is it that everyone fears a toddler? Why do you only ever hear about the tantrums; the frustration - theirs and yours; the potty training nightmares; the sibling jealousy? I'm not exaggerating the bad press they get. Just the other day I got an email at work from some random PR telling me "two-thirds of parents admit their toddler is a thief". (Apparently they filch stuff from shops.) 

So I realise this might be unpopular and I'm prepared for it to come back and bite me on my copious behind, but just for the record I'd like to pay Louis a tribute. Heck, I'd like to pay all toddlers a tribute. They're funny and smart and loving and sweet and darn good company, all at the same time. And that's a lot more than I can say for most of their parents; present company very much included. 

Or am I totally bonkers??