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Gavin Turk creates fairytales in Bexley

PUBLISHED: 13:35 02 August 2012

Gavin Turk and Deborah Curtis. Photo by Melissa North

Gavin Turk and Deborah Curtis. Photo by Melissa North

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A 16th century Tudor home in Bexley is not the place you'd expect to see an award-winning artist showing off an innovative children's exhibition.

Bexley Business Academy students. Photo by Melissa NorthBexley Business Academy students. Photo by Melissa North

But Gavin Turk and his artist wife Deborah Curtis brought their innovative project The House of Fairytales: Mystery of the Hidden League and the Misplaced Museum at Hall Place in a drive to make art more accessible to children.

The initiative has been running since 2006 and has been a registered charity since last year but is in the middle of its longest residency after they were asked to display it in the Bexley property.

The former Young British Artist of the Year said: “When we had our oldest child Curtis 18 years ago it was rare to have children in the art world. We found there were lots of areas that they couldn’t go to and were inaccessible. Our kids are lucky that they have access to art, most don’t have that luxury. We wanted to help open up Hall Place too.

“It’s important for young people to have experiences out of education – things which are child-led and creative, rather than just following tasks which adults set. This is an important part of the brain which needs stimulating.”

Courtney Moore, Jezicca Kirk, teacher Mrs Bishop and Tyreke Pyka (Lessness)Courtney Moore, Jezicca Kirk, teacher Mrs Bishop and Tyreke Pyka (Lessness)

The couple have three children – Curtis, 17-year-old Frankie and Caesar, 11. Spending more time around children led to the pair providing art activities for youngsters which proved a big impetus for The House of Fairytales.

It enjoyed its unofficial opening in Hall Place on April 28 with the somewhat unconventional marriage of the couple at Hall Place, following 24 years together.

Deborah said: “It played with the concept of marriage. The vows were made to the community rather than to each other and there was no guest list – between 700 and 800 people turned up in total. It was quite theatrical.”

Their star-studded ceremony included Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker and Simon Ratcliffe of the Basement Jaxx taking turns on the decks with Blur’s Alex James supplying a home made cheese board.

Jezicca Kirk, Bethany Bishop, Ellie Scudder and Courtney Moore (Lessness). Photo by Melissa NorthJezicca Kirk, Bethany Bishop, Ellie Scudder and Courtney Moore (Lessness). Photo by Melissa North

The exhibition itself is quite spectacular and creative – it is very Harry Potter-esque, with rooms focusing on calligraphy, history and a large dose of magic. There is even a make your own puppet show, where children get given the premise of a story then mould it however they wish.

Coupled with tasks, challenges and games, this adds up to an interactive experience.

It certainly went down well with the two primary schools who were invited into the fantasy world. Lessness Heath in Belvedere and Thamesmead’s Bexley Business Academy pupils were wowed by a type of learning they hadn’t experienced before.

Lessness pupil Bethany Bishop, 10, said: “I’d like to live here. I love everything about it, especially the history stuff.”

Bexley Business Academy youngster Samuel Omoniyi, also 10, added: “It’s cool and fascinating. Whoever created this is a very creative person. It plays with your mind and you can imagine everything coming to life.”

Deborah admitted what the children get out of the experience is the most important thing.

“We try to think about what they will see from their perspective –hence why there are so many objects on or near ground level.

“In the museum, the kids can touch everything. It’s an interesting paradox between having art in a heritage site and a kids exhibition, but nothing has been broken so far touch wood.”

Gavin laughed at the prospect of making money from the project but has received funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation which provides grants for arts and education.

“There’s no money in this. In fact, we’re paying to keep it going which feels mad sometimes, but it’s very rewarding.

“But being an artist can be an isolating experience. I wanted to make this something people could get involved in which means I get great satisfaction out of it.”

The House of Fairytales is open until Sunday September 23, from 10am to 5pm every day. Visit www.houseoffairytales.org.uk

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