Infantospatialism, or: adventures in crib design

A new installation at MASS MoCA brings experimental architecture, avant-garde spatiality, and oddly structured dream narratives to kids.

[Image: CRIBS by Matt Bua, as photographed by Kevin Kennefick for MASS MoCA].

CRIBS by Matt Bua is a “Kidpspace exhibition” at this sprawling, industrial-warehouse-turned-modern-art-museum in northwestern Massachusetts.
While CRIBS itself features “an overloaded crib complete with hanging mobiles, recorded ‘lullabies,’ and the bars that keep the infant safe,” the exhibition’s second part, …To CRIBBAGE, is a kind of spatial escape act: the crib has come alive and is climbing out a nearby window: “To escape the chaos of the cluttered future that encroaches on it, the crib must breech the gallery walls, pouring itself down on the museum’s entrance below.”
Child-sized visitors can, in turn, crawl inside it: “This piece of crib can be entered outside the museum to experience the collaborative ‘building game’ Bua calls Architectural Cribbage, a game in which he encourages others to start constructing their own small-scale visionary spaces.”
The dinosaur spine-like spaces created by this apparently sentient crib-structure – it’s Lebbeus Woods meets Lincoln Logs by way of vertebrate biology – would seem rather nightmarish from a child’s perspective, I’d imagine, but there’s also a spatial honesty to that. After all, one of the earliest architectural spaces that a modern human being experiences is a small, enclosed space, locked behind bars – so cribs aren’t necessarily reassuringly womb-like environments.
In fact, I don’t mean to show up 100 years late to the child-rearing game here, but surely there has been some architectural writing about the formative psychological influence that such cribs might have?
At the very least, this sounds like an amazing article for Volume magazine: Jeffrey Inaba and Benedict Clouette visit the world’s largest crib designers and manufacturers – in Holland, the States, Canada, Japan – and, amidst on-the-spot New Yorker-style reportage direct from the factory floors (the milling machines, the workers, the design team and their tables full of Macs), they show multiple photographs of different crib spaces. Dimension, color, material choice, layout. It’s the crib as primordial space research.
Pair this, then, with a series of short interviews with development psychologists – and even neurophysicians who have taken research into spatial perception and the infant brain into uncharted realms – and you’re talking National Magazine Award, baby! Damn. I’d read that.
Matt Bua’s CRIBS is on display at MASS MoCA till September 7, 2009.

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