The Idol

The IdolA major sculpture and permanent soft play centre by Marvin Gaye Chetwynd for the Abbey Leisure Centre in Barking

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s permanent indoor play area for the Abbey Leisure Centre in Barking, titled The Idol, brings art into the social space of a municipal facility and embodies the eclectic and exuberant mood of Chetwynd’s performances.

The project takes as its starting point the vernacular of soft play which first became prevalent in the 1980’s. With its wipe clean vinyl and heavily prescribed health and safety protocol, soft play carries a set of aesthetic and social conventions which become the medium for this new work.

Large-scale black-and-white printed walls and floors envelop children in a chaotic, fantastical world of images. Ancient and modern spectacle collide and merge; from Greek myth to ancient Egyptian statues to Sci-Fi cyborgs. The walls teem with glimpses of different historical eras in the form of architectural fragments, sculpture and robots.

In her research for the project, Chetwynd worked with children and parents living in Barking and looked at subjects as diverse as ‘glamour’, ancient civilizations and the Pompidou Centre in Paris (whose structural and utilitarian fixtures are famously displayed on the exterior).

At the centre of the space is The Idol, a two-storey-high climbing frame that takes the form of a towering, cage-like robotic figure with labyrinthine chambers, ramps and levels. Children are able to climb into the Idol’s head to look out of its two giant eyes. Part machine and part totem, it takes inspiration from the Dagenham Idol, a Neolithic figure discovered in the borough in 1922.

While colourful and cacophonous in its subject matter, the play area is a monochrome environment consisting entirely of black and white. It stands in bold contrast to the conventionally multi-coloured aesthetic of soft play areas. Chetwynd has brought to the commission the same spontaneous energy and dreamlike imagery of her performances, and she staged a performance at the official opening of the commission in March 2015.

This major permanent work of art will engage over 700,000 young children and families from across east London in its first ten years.

In the below film Chetwynd was interviewed by children at Gascoigne Primary School about The Idol and her life as an artist.

As part of the official opening of the The Idol, Chetwynd presented a performance titled Copycat Slammer. Watch a short film of the performance, directed by Joe Campbell and Oscar Oldershaw with additional footage by Amy Gwatkin, below.

Visit the Abbey Leisure Centre’s website for a full list of opening times. For further details please call 020 8227 3338.

Soft Play is delivered in partnership with Barking and Dagenham Council with support from the Arts Council of England.

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd (b. 1973, London) is a British artist whose practice includes performance, sculpture, painting and video. Her performances draw on the traditions of folk plays, carnivals and street spectacles, encompassing both classical references and popular culture. They feature handmade props, costumes and scenery, which often constitute sculptures and installations in their own right. Chetwynd’s work sees her blend folk traditions with sci-fi, 1960s ‘happenings’ and contemporary moral issues. She has previously addressed subjects as diverse as John Milton, Dante, The Addams Family and Star Wars.