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25th July, 2024 – 11th August, 2024
Staffordshire Street
49 Staffordshire Street
SE15 5TJ

Prepare to be transported to the aqueous, forgotten fantasia of a London orbital waterpark in the mid-1990s. The siren of the wave machine; the fug of chlorine and deep fat-fryers; the connective ridges of the water flume on your back. Consisting of sculpture, immersive sound installation and large-scale drawings, this collaborative, multidisciplinary exhibition explores the social significance, evocative power and formal playfulness of these lost leisure spaces.

Fantaseas advertisement feature in Times Reporter spread 1991, Dartford Library, taken by Madeleine Famurewa

This plays out in the space as an exploration of nostalgia, escapism and the hazy memories of an unverifiable, pre-internet age. The range, variety and communal spirit of the work invites us to consider the value of these fantastical, urban oases, and youth-centred sites of play, at a time when economic pressures and shifting tastes have put them increasingly under threat.

Pipe Dreams
Installation prototype by Madeleine Famurewa

Looming at the figurative heart of the exhibition is Fantaseas: a sprawling, wildly ambitious Floridian-style waterpark that operated at sites in Chingford and Dartford in the early 1990s. The parks captured the imagination of a generation, and then abruptly closed amid whispered rumours of adolescent misbehaviour, building subsidence and financial mismanagement. Here, Fantaseas and its Greater London counterparts – a chlorinated constellation including Woolwich Waterfront, Wavelengths in Deptford, Croydon Water Palace and Hemel Hempstead Aquasplash – are the springboard for a droll, lively interrogation of these cathedrals for imaginative play. A central sculpture repurposes found objects to evoke gravity-defying, serpentine slides and people shrunk down to restive pets.

Drawings depict an intestinal tangle of jutting, outdoor flumes in profile, highlighting the contrast between the magical and the mundane. A gaping ‘Black Hole’ slide threatens to both cocoon and consume; a meditation on risk, exploration and the
waterpark’s integral sense of controlled danger.

Elsewhere, oral history recollections and field recordings from leisure pools that are still operational swirl and echo in the space. Here is the blare of the wave machine siren and the excited screams that always accompany it; here is the jet engine roar of hair dryers in the changing room. And here is an eclectic chorus of voices – from former lifeguards and lapsed lazy river obsessives to Fantaseas regulars and flume-addicted seven-year-olds – talking about the youthful independence, utopian architecture and ephemeral thrills that turn a waterpark into such profound, formative environments. The sound installation repeats, shuffles and invites you to explore the space, all while considering the importance of play, the transporting power of water, and the giddy, dreamlike loop of an infinite, half-remembered flume.

Image courtesy Staffordshire Street

Alongside this, the themes of the exhibition will spill over into a highly collaborative, community-minded program of events. A family-oriented day will feature a making workshop, plus local swimming experts and advocates sharing tips and talking about the benefits of getting in the water. ‘Open Water’, a separate evening event, will feature a hosted panel discussion with notable swimming creators Jenny Landreth and Olivia Smart about the importance of accessibility and inclusivity in swimming culture.

PIPE DREAMS: JIMI FAMUREWA & MADELEINE FAMUREWA opens on the 25th of July, 2024 until the 11th of August, 2024 at Staffordshire Street

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