‘No, don’t touch!” These are probably the most infuriating words for young children to hear when they are being dragged around an art gallery by their parents.
Their frustration is understandable. Often, they find themselves standing in front of an unimaginably eye-catching creation — maybe an oversized sculpture or a colorful painting — and an almost primal urge makes them reach out to touch it.
Socialized adults may manage to curb such instincts — but it’s not so easy with young children (at least in the case of my two children, aged 1 and 3, who, to my consternation, have stamped their fast-moving sticky paws on a trail of artworks across Tokyo).
And so when I heard the words “interactive,” “exhibition” and “children,” in the context of “Mechanisms Unraveled: How Ideas are Cast into Shape,” part of the 2015 Kids Program at NTT Intercommunication Center at Tokyo Opera City in Hatsudai, we were there in a flash.
The moment we walked into the gallery — even before we made it to the dedicated kids program space — the children were transfixed by artworks near the entrance, which form part of its Open Space exhibition.
The first distraction (and a gold-star favorite) were five large scattered speaker-like wooden boxes fixed with oversized horns, which the children instantly rushed up to, stuck their heads inside and started shouting at.
Fortunately, not only were they allowed to touch these (the only person to get told off by a nearby security man was their mother for trying to take a photograph), they were created to be shouted into — with an entertainingly distorted echo of their voices then emitted from the horns.
It took a while to move on from the installation — “Garden of Russolo” by sound artist Yuri Suzuki — as well as Toshio Iwai’s “Marshmallow Monitor,” which creates visual distortions, before we headed upstairs to the dedicated kids’ room.
Here, in a large open space, a series of colorful and interactive projects, mechanisms and artworks by five artists are on display — targeting children from preschool to junior high school age — each exploring the interactive relationship between technology and art.
First, on the left hand side, was Akihiko Taniguchi’s “Captain Taniguchi’s Art Club 3D — new media art version,” consisting of a small model building, a panel of yellow buttons and large screens of anime on the surrounding walls. Children are encouraged to push the buttons to control the screens and the model space.
After a few minutes of button pressing, my 3-year-old ran over to a series of low tables, where she watched older children deal out black and white cards with serious expressions on their faces.
They were playing the Binary Card Game, created by Toru Urakawa, which shows children how to create games based on the premise that binary code can represent a range of numbers, images or letters.
It was fun to watch but a little complicated for younger children, and my daughters were soon distracted by moving images projected onto nearby walls — a steady flowing movement of hypnotically visceral textures, colors and patterns by artist Akiko Nakayama.
The biggest hit of the space, however — at least for my children — was just around the corner: “Square of Idea” by Yusuke Shigeta. Here, in dark space, shoes were kicked off before venturing on to a soft black floor, which was peppered with tiny animated images projected in lights weaving beneath us. My 1-year-old, who is rarely motionless unless sleeping, sat still in wonder touching the floor, as it was illuminated with delicate tableaux of tiny stars and planets, plus mini flying animals and cars.
My older daughter was equally transfixed — in particular by the pile of books with blank paper, which were provided in the middle of the space so that children could “read” illuminated stories as they flowed across the pages.
Other highlights included Jun Fujiki’s large wall of primary-colored animation, which appeared to depict a fantasy world that could be altered by waving and jumping in front of it (cue much enthusiastic jumping up and down and frantic arm waving — and that was just my husband).
After a happy stint playing in the Kids Program room, we ventured out to take in the rest of the exhibits around the gallery before finding ourselves back at Suzuki’s garden of sound horns.
And as they jumped up and down, touching the horns and shouting at the tops of their voice one final time, it became loud and clear that “interactive” and “art” are the best formula for children in galleries.
“Mechanisms Unraveled: How Ideas are Cast into Shape” at the Intercommuniation Center, Tokyo Opera City Tower, runs until Aug. 30 and is free to enter. A series of talks, performances and workshops will take place as part of the ICC Kids Program throughout August. For more information, visit bit.ly/nttickids.
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