When art is a dangerous ride back to childhood

The Independent Collector
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LUCY WOOD'S artworks can kill and maim. They are found objects - playground climbing-frames condemned as unsafe. She picks them up in hired flat-bed trucks that she drives herself.

Spruced up and gloss-painted, they look harmless enough - like ethereal, drawing-board designs. But, whenever they are put on show, attendants mount guard to stop children - and adults - from climbing on them. A glance at the list of genuine casualties, displayed alongside, is usually enough to scare them off: "Fatality, head and spine injuries, damaged testicles, concussion, fracture, open fracture, fractured wrist and elbow, fractured arm and wrist, injured shin and knee, laceration ..."

Wood signs indemnity agreements with the donors, local authorities, promising that the dangerous playthings will never again be played on. Contractors who remove them from playgrounds are happy to let her drive off with them for nothing. And safety organisations have helped her to compile casualty statistics. But she is unpopular with manufacturers, who refuse to tell her the whereabouts of newly-condemned equipment.

Charles Saatchi bought for pounds 3,000 Wood's early work, Can't Play, Won't Play! - a trampoline with a sheet of glass where the canvas should be. That work led her to seek other, forbidden objects that seduce the viewer into wanting to use them. Condemned children's climbing-frames fitted the concept, ready-made. She inserts strips of glass into them, to emphasise the danger.

Wood, 29, a graduate of Camberwell College, London, says: "I'm playing psychological games with adults whose competitiveness probably dates back to the days when they played on such frames. Now, they are faced with a dilemma - `Oh, but it's dangerous'. It's a shock that makes them confront their competitiveness as adults. Some of them step back like children and look panic-stricken."

She first clapped eyes on the tank - now entitled War Games - on a bleak council estate in Romford. "All you could see was this tank on top of a hill, seemingly blasting the tower blocks. I thought to myself, `What on earth were those designers thinking of? What has happened to the softness of childhood? No wonder some children feel aggressive.'"

In her south London studio she has a collection of condemned frames and a roundabout. But she has not yet found a conical "witch's hat" swing. This weighed a ton. Yet gangs of children could lift it off its ball-pivot and crush themselves - or pull the swing to one side and release it to hit a bystander. The swings were destroyed in the Seventies.

Wood has exhibited at the South London and the Tannery galleries and at Spacex in Exeter. This year's Whitechapel Open showed her Fatal Attraction, a car-shaped climbing-frame condemned for trapping children. The car is for sale at pounds 3,000, the tank costs pounds 6,000, a rocket-shaped frame, Open Fracture, is pounds 4,500 and Spun Off, a roundabout, is pounds 6,000.

Her dangerous gym equipment is at the East International show of 25 young artists at the Norwich School of Art and Design, 13 July-5 September (01603 610561). Spun Off is at Alice, an exhibition of childhood at the Corner House, Manchester, 17 July-23 August (0161-228 7621).

JOHN WINDSOR

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