The Van Dyke Vanishments

Photo: Richard Lakos By kind permission The Milo Wladek Co.,
My son helps turn two dimensions into three Photo: Richard Lakos
By kind permission The Milo Wladek Co.

Last weekend I went to Games Expo, East Kent, or GEEK as it’s more commonly known, in “London’s Famous Margate”. What drew me there was The Van Dyke Vanishments. Billed as an immersive experience through “art, theatre and gaming,” how could I not go? With limited availability we snapped up the last tickets for Saturday and drove across to Margate after lunch. At the Turner contemporary, we had just enough time to scout round the Self exhibition gathering clues for the password that we’d need on our adventure, have a cup of tea while we tried to solve the anagram (the answer was sunflower, but I liked slower fun), then head off to the storefront of Endless Horizons Ltd, the art tourism company.

To be honest, they were a bit unprepared. Their TranspARTation machine was still at an experimental stage, so my son and I, and another family, had to sign extensive waivers before we were allowed into the lab. Which was empty. So we waited, but didn’t have that long to admire the photos of the frequent employee of the month winner before something came lumbering up the stairs…

Helmeted, with a mirrored visor and breathing apparatus,  the humanoid creature moved strangely about the lab as it … made a cup of tea. “It” had to take the helmet off to drink the tea of course, and we saw it was a young woman who introduced herself as Smith and after reciting the terms and conditions, led us down into the basement, and the machine…

Which wasn’t working. Of course. So, we had to remind Smith of the password, witness the machine have an existential crisis and shut itself down, rewire it (using the handy artist/colour code we all learned at school – Klimt = yellow apparently), thump it  and literally deface two valuable self portraits (this one, and this one) before we got it working. Then the third painting took us (through quantum mechanics and a brightly painted tunnel) into the very mind of Anthony Van Dyke.

He was somewhat surprised to find us there.

Smith had the brilliant idea of getting the old master to restore the damaged portraits (which we’d had the presence of mind to bring with us). Of course he was disgusted by them – the scrawlings of children he said. So the answer was no. But Smith persisted, and suggested, that now the TranspARTation machine was working, she could open another quantum warp into the mind of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, and we could all, Van Dyke included, explore the thinking behind his art. Tony (I don’t think he liked me calling him that) was intrigued enough to agree, and so we found ourselves in a cubist hell.

Van Dyke didn’t like it at all, but we found flat panels among the geometric shapes on the wall, and points to thread strings from, and together we built a 3D fish out of 2D shapes, giving Van D (and ourselves) a quick lesson in cubism. Then we were off through the Quantum Wormhole into the very white mind of Patrick Heron. There we constructed a deconstructed picture of St Ives, and in doing so, freed Van Dyke “from the tyranny of reality.”

Thus educated in the modern movement, he agreed to restore the paintings we’d defaced. All was well. Until we got Van Dyke’s own portrait back out of the TranspARTation machine, to find he’d become a Modernist a few hundred years too early…

Overall it was a great experience. My son enjoyed it, and the other family I was with got right into character as we helped Smith smooth over her mishaps. I felt I learned something too which, given I’ve already had four years of art history under my belt, suggests they managed not to dumb-down the learning while making it accessible. I could get picky about the details of Van Dykes clothes, and part of me of a bit disappointed in the “game” element of the experience – apart from solving a few puzzles, the ludic element ran “on rails” and was more of an immersive theatre experience.  But, there was a board-game version on offer, which sadly we didn’t get time to have a go with when we spent the next day at GEEK. There was a digital game version too, which I wasn’t even aware of that until after the event. I’ve found a beta version of it on-line, if you’d like to give it a go. It seems to use the same script, but of course the performances aren’t quite as good 🙂

I follow Van Dyke into a wormhole Photo: Richard Lakos By kind permission The Milo Wladek Co.
I follow Van Dyke into a wormhole
Photo: Richard Lakos
By kind permission The Milo Wladek Co.

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