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20,000 Foam Tubes Turn This Gallery Into A 3-D Coloring Book

With their sprawling rooms, white-washed walls, and “do not touch” signs, art galleries can feel like sterile, unwelcoming places–especially if you’re a kid. TUBO, an exhibition commissioned for Hangzhou International Design Week, might feel like that at first, too. But in the center, a pool of multi-colored foam tubes invites visitors to transform the perforated white walls and food sculptures into “hairy” works of art.

Created by Italian designers Erika Zorzi and Matteo Sangalli, co-founders of the Mathery Studio, the interactive kids’ exhibition inside a Hangzhou shopping mall is meant to encourage touch and play. When asked to design the exhibition, the duo wanted to do a food-themed space bursting with color. Gigantic mushroom, carrot, broccoli, fried egg, banana, and shrimp sculptures speckled with holes are white until filled with colorful tubes the width of a pool noodle.

“It was more important to give them the feeling that Tubo was a cheerful, abstrac, and colorful place, not an aseptic space,” Sangalli says. A striped yellow wall along the back looks like the inside of a popcorn bag, and perforated white walls stand waiting to be filled in during what the designers refer to as 3-D coloring.

“At a certain age children understand straight away what the Tubo activity is, so what they do is make shapes and write names almost as if they are ‘knitting’ the walls,” Zorzi says. “Younger kids, as soon as they step in the space fall in love with the pool, because of the color. They run towards it and start touching those curious spongey elements. In this case the things they see, being completely new to them, make them want to touch and play around.”

TUBO runs through the end of November at Design Week in Hangzhou, a small town outside of Shanghai, China.

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