What?: The Japanese House: Architecture and Life After 1945 is an ambitious interactive exhibition exploring some of the fascinating examples of experimental domestic architecture constructed in Japan in the wake of the Second World War, and the intrinsic link between home and self in Japanese culture. When I first read the exhibition overview it immediately made me think of how the character and function of our flat has changed in the wake of the tornado that is Bab, and how much I wish someone would come along and design us a childproof house without carpets to throw up on and smush bits of satsuma into, and with somewhere to put the cat’s litter tray so that Bab can’t crawl into it and mistake turds for toffees.
What really got me excited about this exhibition though was the promise of an immersive, sensory experience, which sounded right up Bab’s alley. I contacted the gallery to make sure it was ok to bring a small, shrill, slithering infant, to which they replied yes, as long as I was aware that there were endless small props such as ceramic cat sushi stick holders, very small figurines and very fragile pieces which may prove hazardous to her. I was totally cool with this. Our flat is absolutely packed with ceramic cat sushi stick holders and very small figurines, as I’m sure yours is too. I could definitely handle this.
The space, as those of you who’ve been to exhibitions at the Barbican will know, is laid out over two storeys, with a dozen display rooms on the upstairs balcony level and the main double-height exhibition space downstairs. This exhibition kicks off on the mezzanine, though I couldn’t really tell you exactly what was going on up there because I was a bit distracted by Bab, who spent half the time screaming from her pushchair and the other half crawling into things and weeping. After a lot of “what’s wrong”-ing – a question I ask repeatedly knowing fully well she’s completely incapable of answering me – I realised that thirst was the issue so we snuck off to a dark corner for a bottle (not of wine), despite being told on arrival that we should leave the exhibition if either of us needed a drink. Sod that though, you know? Anyway, the top floor was a bit boring for toddlers because all the little models were on pedestals and I can’t lift Bab for more than about 30 seconds without suffering a hernia, so we retreated downstairs.
This was where the really good bit was, with full-sized, fully furnished houses to casually wander into, complete with microscopic gardens and hip living rooms where you could sit and sift through imaginary people’s weird CD collections. There were tiny bathrooms, kitchen tables hidden under staircases so you’d smack your head on the ceiling as soon as you got up from dinner, and leather couches where you could lounge and pretend to read Japanese angling magazines. All in all it was a bit like going on a day trip to an upmarket Asian Ikea. That’s not a criticism by the way – I bloody love Ikea.
Where & When?: The Japanese House is at the Barbican until June 25th. Barbican (Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith & City) is a five-minute walk, Moorgate (Northern, mainline) is seven and St Paul’s (Central) is 13.
Best Bits: I find Japanese culture endlessly fascinating, mostly because it’s so different to British culture, but even if Japan’s not your thing you can’t help but be captivated by this incredible show. While you’ll probably have more fun if you don’t have to take the kids, or at least not ones as disaster-prone as mine, I’d definitely recommend it as a cute family day out. If you can though try and go on a weekday as this will add to the sense of escapism, which is something I increasingly find myself chasing.
Worst Bits: Even when you’re given the green light to trash the joint you still feel like you’re round your friend who hates kids’ house – you know, the one with the white carpet and nice hair – and will find yourself smiling apologetically at the guides who, let’s be honest, probably don’t give a shit how much soil your toddler is consuming. Actually that reminds me: you also need to remember to try and keep your child alive, so you might want to steer tiny ones away from anything that looks vaguely swallowable/breakable/poisonous. You will probably also be shot a few disapproving glances from passing old people who think that an art gallery is no place for an infant and you should both return home immediately and wait there until your offspring comes of age.
Facilities: Step-free access; kids eat free in the bright and airy Barbican Kitchen, which also has high chairs; baby changing.
Price: Standard tickets are £14.50 and under-14s go free.
Bab wonders what all the boxed metal circles are about at The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945 at the Barbican