Transmutations attract teenage audience

My seven-year-old wavered at the door of Transmutation, Banbury Museum’s new exhibition of fantastical creatures by artist Michaela Bayley. “Will they be… scary?” she asked, making a hasty retreat when I didn’t immediately reassure her.

But hardier youths plunge into the darkened corners of this exhibition to find its various horrors, from a monstrous skull to a full-size caged female alien. A soundtrack by Anya Ustaszewski – created partly from the sound of clashing frying pans – adds to the atmosphere of doom and gloom. And dystopia is definitely playing well with the teenage audience. ‘Freaky, scary but cool’, reads one youthful comment in the visitors’ book. ‘It was so scary I could of cried!!!’, ‘You should do more scary stuff’.

Banbury Museum has appealed successfully to a youth audience before – memorably with Jan Niedojadlo’s sculptural pods which became a destination for older teenagers in 2009. Transmutation also offers a trancily-lit area with beanbags and stools, and various resources on sci-fi and special effects to browse under the gory gaze of surrounding creatures.

‘Teenagers are really enjoying the den area’, says Dale Johnston, the museum officer behind Transmutation. ‘They gravitate there, and text their friends to come and join them. With the 11 and 12-year-olds, we find they like to challenge themselves and each other with the scariness of the creatures.’ The museum encourages unaccompanied young people to visit from the age of 12.

And even though the unique model creatures are very susceptible to damage, there aren’t any ‘don’t touch’ signs. Dale explains their thinking: ‘We’ve caged in the most vulnerable creature – it’s actually for her protection, but she’s so terrifying that it appears it’s for ours.’

With fangs and a nastily wounded shoulder, this nightmarish alien is the undeniable star of the show. But my personal favourite is a model of a man’s head, with intriguing ears and the most incredibly realistic skin and hair. Somehow, knowing that Michaela Bayley can create such a compelling human makes her aliens and monsters all the more unnerving.

Transmutation is at Banbury Museum until 7th May. Entry is free. Image thanks to Jon Lewis/Oxford Mail.

This review was published by Kids in Museums.