This summer, the Bluecoat presents a group exhibition of artworks made by leading UK and Northern artists which are specifically aimed at children & their adults. Are You Messin’? has been designed to be touched and explored; to immerse and captivate audiences of all ages and to inspire and stimulate creative responses in young visitors.
During the summer holidays, the Bluecoat’s gallery will be animated by free, regular artist workshops, performances and storytelling events, all led by artists from the exhibition and invited guests.
In Gallery One, Gregory Herbert (Liverpool), collaborating with children from the Bluecoat’s Out of the Blue after-school art clubs, will present an immersive sensory room with stimulating visuals, soothing sounds and comfy spaces – this room will provide a calm and engaging place to dwell. Herbert is interested in the relationship between living organisms and their environments, particularly taking influence from models of collaboration and coexistence. Herbert has previously explored the movements of fungi, sea slugs, frogs, octopuses, sea anemones, gut flora and lichen in his practice, as well as incorporating food preparation and planting.
Herbert has been working with local children from Leamington Community Primary, Four Oaks Primary, Princes Primary and Smithdown Primary schools for nine weeks, collaboratively developing the artworks that will make up his sensory space. The children have been helping him to design the space as part of the Bluecoat’s ongoing commitment to making art accessible to all.
Across Gallery Two, Katie Schwab (London/Glasgow) will layer textures, touchable surfaces and sculptures to create two rooms that invite tactile engagement and learning through play for all ages. Katie Schwab is an artist with a special interest in early-mid twentieth-century design and craft; her practice is emphatically hands-on, collaborative and participatory. For her installations at the Bluecoat, Schwab takes inspiration from a number of twentieth century art & design reference points.
These include the iconic 1950s ceramic tile work produced by Carter of Poole that once decorated the Lewis’s department store public cafeteria in Liverpool city centre and ‘The Tactile Workshops’ book by Italian artist & designer Bruno Munari (1907-98). Munari’s book suggests making a touchable library for children – a collection of materials with different tactile qualities – which are reflected in Schwab’s installation which encourages children to experiment freely. This artwork is a joint commission in partnership with Collective (Edinburgh).
In Gallery Three, artists from the city and wider North present ‘inspiration works’ – prints, drawings and sculptures – as the starting point for creative responses, playfully displayed in a hands-on making artist studio specially designed and scaled for children. The space will feature artworks by Penny Davenport, Kate Hodgson, Aliyah Hussain, Fauziya Johnson, Josie Jenkins, Kohenoor Kamal, Emily Lansley, Millie Toyin Olateju, Niloo Sharifi, Linny Venables with furniture by Crown Building Studios.
The children’s artist studio, complete with making resources, will be animated with regular free live and pre-recorded artist workshops. Bookable activities aimed at babies and toddlers (0-3) and children (4-11 years old) including story telling, demonstrations of techniques and sensory play sessions, will take place mid-week during the summer holidays. The full programme of workshops and events including dates and how to book will be publicly announced by July 2022.
Finally in Gallery Four, children and families can enjoy a contemplative library space with a specially selected reading list including dual language books focused on creativity and identity. The room will be embellished with a hanging mobile by Millie Toyin Olateju (Liverpool). Millie Toyin Olateju makes colourful abstract paintings and drawings that are the result of free play with her materials.
Spontaneous and process led, they are a means to connect to the present moment and joyfully explore colour, shape and texture. Her new artwork at the Bluecoat will take the abstract forms and shapes from her paintings and translate these into the form of a mobile. The artist has also designed an ice-cream cart and gazebo which will serve Cheshire Farm Ice-cream from the Bluecoat’s courtyard over the summer holidays.
Are You Messin’? follows on from recent commissions for children at the Bluecoat by Harold Offeh; Simon & Tom Bloor and Bruce Asbestos, as well as exhibitions for children including Rise Up! in 2019 and Abacus in 2017 which featured a major commission by Emily Speed.