Whimsical Kidspace installation entertains kids, grown-ups alike

When I first stepped into Kidspace in Mass MOCA, I thought it was just that – a space for kids. The exhibition itself, however, completely subverted the space into one that could be enjoyed by both kids and adults alike.

Colorado-based artist Wes Sam-Bruce’s exhibit, Cavernous: The Inner Life of Courage, is the installation currently on view in Kidspace. The installation takes up the entire back half of the gallery.

From the exterior, it looks like a makeshift tent composed of repurposed and painted wood; from the interior, it looks like one is delving into an old childhood past, one marked with handwritten notes and drawings on the ceilings. The entire installation looks like something out of a children’s picture book, particularly Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. The tent-like exterior draws from the same themes in the childhood novel in which all one wants to do is to escape reality and create a space of one’s own. To enter the installation, one must crawl in through a hole four feet deep. The space is immediately compressed and the lighting is dim. There is painted handwriting on the floor and dangling tissue paper and streamers on the ceiling. Spreading out from every corner are burrows and channels that are entrances to even more spaces with personal markings. The entire experience is whimsical, as one tries to find the ins and outs of the tent-like installation.

After viewing the exhibition, I noticed what I had thought was inspired by a child’s makeshift tent was actually inspired by the Hoosac Tunnel. According to a recent article written on the installation, artist Sam-Bruce “spent a month in residency at the museum conducting local history research and building an artwork that features a cavernous mountain, tunnels and thresholds.” What once appeared as simply a fun experience has a powerful underlying historical context.

According to the artist, “the Hoosac Tunnel construction can be viewed as a representation of an act of courageousness: a journey through the unknown — dark, cavernous, difficult, loss, successful, light-giving, connecting, a triumph, tenacity, and grit.” Since the Tunnel is central to the North Adams community, artist Sam-Bruce views the tunnel as “a symbol of the legacy of a group of people who then and now have acted courageously through the many chapters of the city’s history.” As a result, when one is climbing and crawling through the installation, one can also imagine themselves having entered into the depths of the mountain, deconstructed, deep and dark.

The installation is even more complex than its historic roots. Cavernous: The Inner Life of Courage is also a metaphor for brave endeavors. As visitors delve into the dark burrows and try to find a way out, they are forced to catch a glimpse of what it means to be physically lost. One may even observe that this act of finding a way out is practically obsolete in this day and age when GPS and Google Maps can bring us anywhere. According to MassMoCa, “Cavernous is the third component of Kidspace’s Art 4 Change, a four-year project that explores problem-solving through empathy, optimism and courage.”

The installation serves as a positive light in society even when its very interiors seem to be physically dark and compressed. The dark burrows and small entryways offer a place of rest and provoke a sense of curiosity to keep going until one reaches an exit. Perhaps that is the way that artist Sam-Bruce wanted his viewers to experience his work – without outside distractions to force us to find a way out on our own.

Kidspace is a gallery in MASS MoCA that acts as a workspace and playspace for both kids and adults. Photo courtesy of MASS MoCA.