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Kid size

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A highly successful international touring exhibition for Vitra Design Museum, Germany, curated by Lucy Bullivant and Jutta Oldiges, curator at the Museum, with ethnologist and psychotherapist Barbara Fehlbaum, in major global demand for eight years (preparation: 1994-7; inauguration: June 1997, Kunsthal, Rotterdam, the Netherlands; world tour: 1997-) exploring cross-cultural patterns of design for - and in some cases by - children and their everyday living environments in and beyond the Western world. The first full scale exhibition of its kind ever to tackle this theme, Kid size illuminates changing relationships between children and adults across cultures and through time, expressed through a wide range of furniture and other artefacts, imagery and video.

Exhibits are grouped into five sections defining the areas of a child's life: patterns of sleeping basic functions, play, mobility and formal learning cut a broad swathe through many cultural movements that expressed ideas about children's lifestyles, including Biedermeier and Shaker, and investigate patterns of provision in a myriad of cultures, from Papua New Guinea to China, from North American Indian to Sub Saharan Africa.

Drawing on social history, psychology and anthropology, the exhibition reveals changing attitudes towards the child's physiological development, the role of intimacy and order in the family; ideas about control, autonomy and personal territory, about the changing ideas underlying environments of formal learning, and above all, the role of play, a force that transcends period or culture. A commissioned video, Play Me, reveals how children's play has influenced design, drawing on a variety of types of archive film footage dating from the 1930s to the present day.

Each venue has made a creative contribution to the project by adding their own local exhibits for their own showing. Curator of decorative arts Elisabeth Agro at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, for instance, identified quintessential mass-produced American items: a plastic Big Wheel tricycle, the new $750 Bugaboo Frog stroller, Radio Flyer wagon, the Evenflo ExerSaucer as well as a 1660 hand crafted wooden cradle from Plymouth, Massachusetts. She also commissioned Anne Mundell to design individual 'house' entrances to each section of the exhibition, each one including play activity areas.

The Space of Play, a symposium on children and their relationships with the threshold spaces that link private and public urban environments, with lectures by psychologist, cultural theorist and author Dr Franco La Cecla and Lucy Bullivant, was staged at the Royal Society of Arts, London in May 1999.

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