Text by Michelle Collier.
Funhaus is part social experiment, part nostalgic ode to kids TV and the wacky “tumble jungles” of our childhood – remember them? A somewhat collaborative affair, the ambitious installation was developed and constructed by a band of creatives under the artist’s instruction, enabling McLeavy to take a flexible approach and adapt his vision in response to the loft style gallery space and the materials available to him.
The show also takes a collaborative stance towards its audience, offering the more adventurous a chance for interaction. In fact, Funhaus is as much about the audience as it is the pieces themselves. Interested in the user experience of the art world, and finding that the act of looking can sometimes be quite “limiting”, the Sheffield-based artist instead chose to ask: how can an arts space generate or facilitate fun? And, what happens when you encourage the audience to do more than merely look: to have a go, and become part of the show? With that in mind, McLeavy has set out to create an exhibition environment in which you can “touch, smell, and move the work”. In leaving a certain amount open to chance, he aims to generate spontaneous (and hopefully interesting) responses, which may impact or modify the typical social dynamic you might expect from an art exhibition.
To that end, Funhaus is strewn with colourful giant boxes, makeshift viewing stations, and a playpen of sorts; a host of familiar interactive elements ready to be climbed on or played with. However, with little to no direction for the audience (bar some scattered, brightly coloured arrows, which are more ruse than instruction), it’s hard to anticipate what, if anything, is expected of you. The show feels very open ended, and without direction (a simple clue or invitation perhaps), it’s hard to say exactly what McLeavy is trying to create or what the outcome might be. But all the familiar iconography of childhood is there, so have some of us simply forgotten how to play? Or is that we are so conditioned to “look but not touch” in the art world?
Funhaus is perhaps made for the extroverts and the exhibitionists, those who need little encouragement to show off or get stuck in; children, parents with children, or handsome individuals who quite like having their photo taken in a cloud of balloons! The more introverted characters are to be found pacing the invisible outskirts of the exhibition, or spectating from the custom made bleachers. After a while the atmosphere becomes one of social experiment, but maybe that’s the point? To replicate a familiar environment in a strange anachronistic way, and then observe what happens: the natural social groups that form, and individual willingness (or otherwise) to play and spectate. McLeavy himself suggested that it might be a few months after the event that he finds out what he learnt from Funhaus, and begin to uncover the true depth and meaning of the project. Perhaps we’ll have to wait and see.
Funhaus runs until Monday 5th May at Toast, (6th Floor, Federation House, M60 0AF). Following this there will be a series of live interactive events: Fun-Run (Friday 25th May), Contemporary Art Youth Club (Sat 26th May), and Prime Realestate with Isaac Briggs (Sunday 27th May).