Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s Latest Project Is a Giant Soft Play Center in London

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd,The Idol (2015)Photo: © Emil Charlaff Courtersy Create
Marvin Gaye Chetwynd,The Idol (2015)
Photo: © Emil Charlaff Courtersy Create

The Turner Prize nominated artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd (formerly known as Spartacus Chetwynd) unveils her latest project today: a giant 21,000-cubic-meter soft play center located in Barking, East London. Who said contemporary art was only for grown-ups?

Chetwynd’s The Idol, a project commissioned by Create, is a two-storied climbing frame complete with labyrinthine chambers, ramps, and levels for children to roam around and climb into the idol’s head, and look out from its huge eyes.

Besides being a celebration of playing, The Idol is also a tribute to the Dagenham Idol: a Neolithic figure discovered in the area in 1922 and believed to be the oldest representation of a human form ever found in Europe.

Black and white walls, decorated with Chetwynd’s signature printed collages are to envelop children in a fantastical maze of images of ancient and modern legends, from Egyptian statues to sci-fi cyborgs.

“I wanted the soft play to be as much as possible a shape of a creature, or in this case, a giant cyborg encasing an ancient idol like a Sci-Fi Mech suit,” Chetwynd told artnet News.

“I am more excited about this project then I have been about anything since having a baby!” she added.

The project teases out the vernacular of soft play, which first became standardized in the 1980s. With its wipe-clean vinyl and heavily prescribed health and safety protocols, soft play carries a set of rigid aesthetic and social conventions, which Chetwynd’s project sets to overhaul.

Crucially, The Idol won’t be a riot only for children—the accompanying adults have also occupied the artist’s thoughts: “I wanted the adults to be as excited to go to the soft play as their kids,” she said, revealing that the seating and cafe areas have also received the “Chetwynd treatment.”


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