What?: I was unsure what to expect from this Saturday session, whose web page promises to show parents how to get the most out of a gallery visit with an under-five while giving virtually nothing away about how. The few things it did tell me would happen, from “discovering exciting routes and journeys through the galleries” to “being led by your children’s unpredictability”, sounded vaguely ominous in light of past Bab-related gallery disasters, so my massive excitement about trying out a new, gallery-based activity was pretty evenly matched by a fairly strong sense of foreboding.
After an inauspicious start (we got the wrong building), we eventually located the studio and were given a brief introduction to the workshop before we set about making card and cellophane viewfinders to take into the gallery. Obviously Bab, who was probably the youngest one there, can’t be trusted with scissors, even under hawk-eyed supervision, so I was tasked with knocking up a crude, rose-tinted viewing frame while she merrily trotted around the room tipping the contents of every receptacle she could get her hands on onto the floor.
Once our flimsy filters were constructed – and after a pooey intermission in a toilet so fetid it made me glad of Bab’s overpoweringly honky offering – we loaded up the little wooden art cart and headed upstairs, stopping for a quick look at Rachel Whiteread’s Untitled (One Hundred Spaces) – a piece that resembles 100 giant boiled sweets and would doubtless have had Bab’s tongue all over it had it not been cordoned off by a tiny, toddler-height rope, before settling in the Henry Moore room. Here, among the reclining, tiny-headed figures sculpted with varying degrees of abstraction, we set about unloading the cart, which was laden with feathers and fabrics to throw around, Polaroid and digital cameras on which to record our experiences, and of course our DIY specs through which to scrutinise the displays.
Bab immediately took a shine to a spent cellophane roll and began marching out of the gallery with it held high like she was Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, but none of the other kids cottoned on and she soon got bored and resorted to enthusiastically posting the contents of my purse through the gaps in the floor grate as if she was exhibiting a very literal piece of performance art about the menace of materialism. She also did a lot of running from room to room pretending she was going to touch the art but not actually going through with it because she’s just about old enough to understand that touching art is bad but not quite old enough to be an arsehole and touch it anyway.
In fact there were quite a few things that Bab wasn’t quite old enough to do, from making the viewfinder to using the viewfinder, and from operating the camera to appreciating the photos we’d taken as a group when they were projected onto the studio wall at the end of the afternoon – but none of this mattered in the slightest. The session is totally free-wheeling, with everyone in attendance invited to think like an artist and do whatever they see fit. Even the artist running it was happy to go with the flow, encouraging a family who didn’t know about the session but who happened to be in the gallery and wanted to join in to do so, and urging us to follow our children’s lead rather than hers.
What I really liked about this session, and why I would recommend it to those with crawlers and up (though probably no younger) is that it encourages families with kids to get into galleries and stop caring about what tutty bystanders think, because you’re actually invited to be there. Galleries might be centres of high culture but they’re also for everyone, and if sessions like this can go some way to reversing this weird societal custom of prohibiting people with children from enjoying anything remotely approaching fun, then great. Let’s start more of them.
Where and When?: Sessions take place on the first Saturday of every month. The workshop generally begins in the main gallery building’s Clore Studio (not the Clore Centre) before moving into the wider gallery. Tate Britain is located on Millbank and is a nine-minute walk from Pimlico (Victoria).
Best Bits: Places are limited to keep the session as focused, intimate and as un-crèchey as possible. Each artist runs three sessions before handing over to the next person, which I think is a great way to keep things fresh and inspiring – although I also really liked the artist (Rosemary Cronin) who ran our session.
Worst Bits: The Clore Studio not being in the Clore Centre really confused me, but then again most of the other people managed to find it.
Facilities: Step-free access, baby changing, on-site cafe, all materials provided.
Cost: Free but should be booked in advance.
Would We Come Back?: We’re booking onto the next session.
Bab roams among the Henry Moores at Under Fives Explore the Gallery, Tate Britain.