South Hill Park Arts Centre
South East England

At Play 3 is the third in a series of four yearly exhibitions held across the gallery and mansion spaces of South Hill Park. The exhibition aims to explore the notion of play; through both adult and child perspectives and encourages the viewer to engage with the artworks with a view how it makes them feel about their own sense of play, through memory or escapism.

At Play 3 features work from local and emerging artists, using a wide range of media; from painting and sculpture to digital media and installation.

The exhibition approaches the concept of play through various methods from the way in which a child uses play to make sense of the world to the way an adult would use it to escape from it. The exhibition also aims to uncover the more sinister aspects of play including obsession, aggression and addiction.

By demanding a response from the viewer, either through recollection of their own childhood experiences or their adult escapism, the exhibition is confronting its audience and using participation as one of its main goals.

The Silicon Boys by lead artist Tom Hackett is one of the highlights of the exhibition and demonstrates perfectly the aims of the exhibition. The multiple heads, scattered across the floor of the Bracknell Gallery draw the viewer in aesthetically, with the use of bright and vibrant colours and a very tactile material; silicone rubber which is my opinion, gives the nostalgic impression of giant jelly babies.

However, on closer inspection the following can be observed; the heads are bodiless, floating in the middle of the gallery facing out (although one faces in the opposite direction, going against the grain) They are expressionless, void of emotion and mass produced which gives them a robotic quality. The contrast between these observations echoes the transition from a colourful childhood to awkward, static adulthood.

The Silicon Boys are juxtaposed with Jenny Kiehn’s The Knitted Room, a giant room hand-knitted from acrylic yarn which again, is a very tactile artwork. It is soft and gentle in comparison; the artist intended it to be a room to hiding in, a space for privacy and escapism. This, in comparison to The Silicon Boys, is very personal; the artist spent six months creating The Knitted Room, and displayed opposite are photographs; Knitting the Room and Walking with Room, which document the artist during its creation. In this respect, the artist is displaying her affections and desires for the piece, exposing herself to the audience. There is a definite vulnerability to this artwork.

South Hill Park Arts Centre aims to create new dynamics between observation, education and participation. This exhibition actively encourages the audience to participate and constantly engage with the artworks. This challenges the conventions of traditional gallery space by seeking the viewer’s response from physical engagement, opening up a new way of interacting and understanding the artwork, taking the viewers experience from purely aesthetic to a much more thought provoking experience.