Friday of last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Blyth gallery for the opening of a joint exhibition between Leonardo Fine Arts and PhotoSoc, titled ‘Confused Nursery’.
The space is a time machine that will take you back to days you hardly remember and juvenile feelings that you forgot existed (remember feelings?). An eclectic array of children’s toys, many of which you’ll recall fondly, is on display. And although ‘display’ is ostensibly the right word, many of the items in the space are not just meant to be looked at, but to be picked up and played with, enjoyed in precisely the way they were originally intended. There’s no ironic element intended; this exhibition is to be enjoyed simply and sincerely. There is a cardboard box tunnel/fort, but not just any; the epic kind that your six-year-old self would have dreamed of building. There’s a ball pit, and a gigantic crayon doodle on the floor. Slightly disjointed with the rest of the display, but nonetheless effective, is a collection of hanging guns, crafted from plastic bottles and other domestic items. Their silhouettes are cast on the wall opposite, creating an interesting illusion. Smattering the walls is a selection of tasteful, and sometimes thought-provoking, imagery contributed by PhotoSoc.
I heard one guy announce that he didn’t ‘get it’, which highlighted for me the fact that this is not the form of art you will find in the Tate or Tate Modern, for example: unlike other exhibitions, that try their hardest to appear proper and fit expectations, this one isn’t trying to imitate the archetypal Art Gallery. This is its greatest strength. It’s not about standing for ten minutes, reverent and solemn, while you try and unravel some impenetrable monstrosity made by an artist who cares more about being avant-garde than making something you’ll be able to appreciate. In fact, reverent and solemn are two words that have nothing to do with this exhibition. The joy that it contains is immediately apparent, and there is no need to think too hard about what any deeper, darker meaning could be.
More interesting than the exhibition in and of itself was how it came alive on the opening night: wine and snacks were laid out, which for a typical Blyth exhibition is intended to provide a sense of sophistication and decorum. But the exciting atmosphere of the room swiftly did away with formality, and within minutes shoes came off and people could be seen crawling like toddlers as they disappeared and emerged at various points in the tunnel. People sat on the floor, playing with Lego and assembling marble-runs, and dived into hauntingly epic novels such as ‘Elmer the Elephant’. The assigned floor space was doodled upon with great velocity and abandon. There was face painting. No one appeared to embody the spirit of the exhibition as much as LeoSoc committee member Jack Campbell, who, wearing an animal onesie, juice box in one hand, crayon in the other – but somehow with dignity – strolled around the place, just enjoying the whole thing.
The evening was punctuated with bursting balloons which, like at a childhood birthday party, are an unavoidable side-effect, one that strangely brought the whole room together for a moment in shocked gasps, while we figured out that none of us had in fact died. It only reinforced the best qualities of this unique exhibition: inclusivity, authenticity, and fun. Those qualities LeoSoc Dev Sec Sophie Inman imbued so effortlessly into this defiantly cheerful installation, behind which she was the creative and organisational driving force.
The ‘Confused Nursery’ runs until 23rd February, free of charge, and is in the Blyth Gallery, level 5 Sherfield building.