Friday 21 July – Sunday 01 October
Launch 4pm Thursday 20 July
Featuring Simon & Tom Bloor, Polly Brannan, Rhys Coren, Frances Disley, Kevin Hunt, Anssi Kasitonni, Yui Kugimiya, Yusuke Mashiba, Trine Lise Nedreaas, Out of the Blue, Emily Speed, Mark Simmonds, William Wegman, Huw Wahl, John Walmsley / Liverpool Free School.
This summer Bluecoat opens Abacus, a new exhibition that invites children to take over the art centre’s gallery. Artists from the north and beyond have designed or contributed artworks to inspire visitors of all ages to watch, play, draw and make.
Commissions which break the traditional rules of a contemporary art space include Simon & Tom Bloor’s new installation, New possibilities in familiar situations (2017). Here the audience is invited to draw on the gallery walls, transformed into specially designed chalk boards. New possibilities…is inspired by the Bloors’ enduring interest in pioneering teacher and designer Kurt Rowland (1920-80) author of a series of experimental classroom textbooks on art, design and visual literacy. Other twentieth century arts education pioneers cited by Abacus artists include ‘60s radical community arts collective Action Space documented by filmmaker Huw Wahl and the ‘70s free school movement captured by photographer John Walmsley.
Elsewhere in the gallery, in Emily Speed’s Structures for Play (2017) children can dress up in costumes and interact with small scale sets including a miniature courtroom, a church pulpit and an Eton Fives court. Designed by Speed the sets reflect her ongoing interest in architecture and the way ceremonial buildings influence our behaviour. Here she has created an installation in which children reset the rules.
Kids Video Art, a collaboration with Kunsthall Stavanger, features short films and animations by UK and international artists selected to appeal to children. The programme includes Trine Lise Nedreaas’s shimmering hula hoops, Rhys Coren’s snapping fingers and William Wegman’s synchronised dogs.
In our 300th anniversary year, Abacus takes Bluecoat’s two histories as charity school and the UK’s earliest arts centre as its starting point. The exhibition celebrates the importance of contemporary cultural spaces as alternative creative learning environments with the invited artists addressing children as their primary audience.