South Hill Park Arts Centre
United Kingdom

‘Drape’ by Freyer Gabie creates an immediate impact in the Mirror Gallery and forms part of an exhibition devoted to the widest interpretations of ‘play’ and the second in a series of the ‘At Play’ exhibitions at South Hill Park, Bracknell. Gabie’s contoured wall of folds and crevices is cleverly constructed from slices of corrugated cardboard and evokes memories of hide and seek and peek-a-boo… or maybe Aladdin’s cave.

Once past this divider, the main gallery is a short distance away on the first floor where an oversized luminous pink, fluffy chair dominates the Bracknell gallery. ‘This is MY chair’ by Francesca Galeazzi provides a photo opportunity for both children and adults alike, who are encouraged to “engage with it, play, and relive that sense of childhood.” There are plenty of takers.

Also on a bigger scale is the life-sized marionette by Helen Edling which encourages visitors to pull the strings (all weighted down with sandbags allowing the puppet a return to the default position). Those controlling the chords become centre stage and viewers are entertained by the tension between operator and marionette.

Interactivity is an important feature of this show which also includes the elegantly designed and constructed board game, ‘Danger Money’ by Cally Trench. Whilst people queue to play this ten minute game, adults crouch on the floor to build Brancusi like towers with plastic cups. They mirror ‘Reconstruction of an Endless Column’ (Arnaut Moinet) which is looping on a video nearby – and reminiscent of ‘Blue Peter’ model making – minus the sticky back plastic.

From fluffy pink to a sombre blue, the mood of the exhibition suddenly changes in the far corner of the gallery. ‘Muffled Bedroom’ by Imogen Welch requires the viewer to wear blue felt mitts and shoe covers with instructions” to look and not touch” before entering a detailed reconstruction of the artist’s bedroom dating back to her teenage years. A single bulb lights a room where every surface is skilfully wrapped in blue felt. It is apparent that this is an eerie return to a childhood repressed. The felt muffles, dulls and suffocates. No solace in this space.

Neurosis is also explored in the Nicola Pomery video ‘Untitled’ which focuses on scratching frantically at the floor, lifting fragments of tiles. The resulting squawky, squeaky, chalky noises add to the tension.

Amongst the videos, interactive games and colour is one of Hockney’s etchings, ‘The Haunted Castle’ inspired by Grimms’ fairy tales. Sadly, it is also ‘swallowed’ up by the ‘noise’ and activity in the Bracknell Gallery. Whilst a ‘heavy weight’ can draw in the crowds and ‘The Haunted Castle’ is delightful and it fits the criteria, this etching needs more space to breathe.

The exhibition continues in the Atrium where Cariona Dunnett‘s series of digital montages are beautifully manipulated to look like miniature potrait paintings. The viewer is drawn to the intense colour and detail which could easily be bypassed because of the pocket-size dimensions.

By the window, Jackie Berridge’s canvases take an uncomfortable look at playground politics, focusing on group dynamics and isolation… a scenario which can be replicated in the boardroom, the office and the staffroom.

Dotted all over South Hill Park, inside and out, are playful instructions on boards in ‘joined up’ writing by artist, Daniel Lehan to play games. For example, “follow someone and touch them on the shoe”. Even on leaving the show, the visitor is left smiling with a prompt by one of these signs on the way out.

With over 30 exhibits and lots of visitor participation ‘At Play 2’ has a great deal to offer on many different levels. Much of the work is layered and many pieces can be enjoyed on a visceral level … but more excitement can be achieved just beneath the surface.