It only dawned on me that the title of this exhibition was a play on the words “Zoo” and “Zucchini” when I was explaining to a friend that I was going to visit it at the Perc Tucker Regional Gallery. When you walk into the exhibition, you understand almost immediately why this word play makes so much sense.
Zookini is the children’s exhibition running until the 10th July. The headline artist of this show is Jenny Orchard whose work is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Jenny creates glazed clay creatures, which look like hybrids of animals and plants. She sculpts each one by hand using organic shapes and textures derived from the natural world, far from anything man-made. But she also creates her work in the flat 2D world, starting them out as ink paintings on transparent paper, or etchings, and even develops that work further using digital imaging to add colour and tone. The exhibition features a nice collection of each of her different mediums and stages of work on these quirky creatures that look like a herd of misfits. But if you delve into the accompanying storybook Fixing Kablooky (on sale at the gallery) you’ll find that the creatures are actually quite normal amongst each other, and care about the preservation of their planet. Perhaps we could learn something from them?
Jenny’s work is not made for children. She hasn’t set out to make toys or images for children to enjoy and play with. The fact that they appeal to children so much is entirely of coincidence, but one that the staff at Perc Tucker have fully exploited to the community’s advantage. The team has designed an exhibition, which also includes many local artists who have created interactive areas and activities that mash together with Jenny’s work to involve the visitors. The areas range from a fun dress up corner by Christine Spain and Mel Williams, where children can try on creature costumes, mixing and matching things as they see fit in front of a mirror, to a “Creatures of the Deep” projection realm by Robert Crispe, which invites children to make shapes over the projections using their arms and bodies. Jenny Finn is another artist who helped create an interactive activity. Her mural covers the walls of a niche space at the gallery, titled the Zookini Clay Forest where children can make small sculptures using the coloured clays provided, to help decorate the walls. Lastly, there is the work of Hugh Martin whose work would actually be the first you see. This is because Hugh has created large-scale butterflies and caterpillars which hang from the outside of the gallery, not menacing, but inviting people to find out just what is going on inside. There’s also an activity where children can create a face-plate of their own creature, and paste it on the wall. All of this and more is included in the complimentary activity book which enhances the exploration of the wacky wonderland, encouraging children to draw their own creature, and describe the creatures they see.
The amount of work and interactivity in this exhibition is fantastic to see in Townsville, and scaled up, it would be on par with the kind of things that people see at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane; more so when it’s coupled with the free workshops for children and families that run right up until the end of the exhibit. Zookini is a great way to introduce children to a gallery, and the staff and artists have made it very playful, intuitive, and even educational.