Playing with Light | Ipswich Art Gallery

Girl writing name with torch

Brisbane Kids may already be spoilt for choice these Christmas holidays but if you are looking for a fun, cheap and educational day out with the family then you really can’t go past a visit to the Ipswich Art Gallery to see their latest exhibition Playing With Light.

With child-centred activities and events constantly filling their gallery spaces, Playing with Light is once again a masterful, family-friendly exhibition that gifts children the perfect indoor playground to explore in, learn from and interact with.

This exhibition was created by SCITECH, Perth, Western Australia

Playing With Light – What Is It All About?

It’s easy to take for granted the immense role that light plays in our day-to-day lives.  Whether that is via a natural phenomenon like rainbows or through advanced technologies in medicine and communications, the numerous ways it affects and benefits us is profound. Even so, how it works and why is something that many of us, especially children, don’t always understand or appreciate and it is for this reason the exhibition provides not only a visual but also an educational feast for young minds.

Spread generously over both levels of the gallery, Playing With Light is exactly that.  An exhibition that invites visitors to explore the different ways light is used through engaging and entertaining interactive activities – and with 22 different ones to wander through your biggest challenge will be making sure you allow enough time to experience them all!

The Exhibition Highlights

Bendy mirrors, concave reflection domes, giant cameras with multiple lenses to play with and an Optics Lab are just some of the fun things you can immerse yourself in when visiting the gallery.  To give you a more detailed snapshot of what to expect I have listed below some of the main highlights  – the standout activities that my children were drawn to time and time again.

Phosphorescent Shadow Wall

Playing with light

A clear favourite for pretty much every child I saw enter the exhibition was the phosphorescent shadow wall.  Phosphorescence is a process where light is absorbed by a material and then slowly emitted again, usually at a lower energy.  Science lesson aside, the kids loved posing up a storm against the large wall of material prior to a blinding flash of light being emitted. Once the light subsided they delighted in seeing their shadows remain as they danced away and then drew elaborate designs on and around them using just the light from simple torches.  The overall effect was quite mesmerising and meant my children were absorbed by this activity for some time.

Tip: If you pose with your arm stretched out, torch pointing out you can draw an illuminated line from it once the shadow remains.  This looks like a light sabre from Star Wars!

Laser Security Room

Kids in laser beam security room

This activity was the perfect combination of science and imaginative play.  What child doesn’t instantly imagine themselves as a character in Mission Impossible as they contort themselves cleverly beneath and between the fine line of laser beams that fill the darkened space?  I may or may not have also felt challenged to make it through the obstacle (and silently rejoice when I made it through).  Make sure you don’t touch one of the beams though as you will set off an alarm if you do!

Shadow Screen

Giant Shadow Box

This giant shadow screen is situated in a back corner of the first level and was one that always seemed to have a small crowd of eager visitors surrounding it.  Standing in front of a screen of light, children were able to dance around and watch their shadows move in unison on a large white screen directly opposite them.  The best part?  Depending on the particular movements they made they could conjure up some very cool effects on the screen too.

Tip: Clapping hands brings confetti, hands above heads rounded creates bubbles and if you stretch your arms out horizontally so that your fingertips touch you can get either wings or a rainbow!

Infrared Light Painting

Kids painting with infrared light

Next to the shadow box is a small, darkened room where you can ‘paint’ a wall using infrared light torches.  With a large ‘brush’ one child is able to draw on the wall and another can be dictating which colour will be emitted by clicking on a palette of coloured splotches.  Kids love painting almost as much as they seem to love drawing on walls (why is that?!) and so although this activity was only in a small room it provided them with a lot of joy.

Giant Kaleidoscope

Ipswich Art Gallery

Reflections upon reflections upon reflections. What’s not to love about that?  This giant kaleidoscope meant little people could thrill in watching multiple versions of themselves jump, dance and twirl within a small triangular space.  Made up of three large flat mirrors arranged in a triangle, each mirror reflected what is seen in the other two, therefore, producing multiple images of the one object – in this case, my bewitched child!

Colour Shadows

Playing with Light Ipswich Art Gallery

Another play with shadows but this one meant kids could revel in watching the almost psychedelic effect of their shadow in three different overlaying colours.

Mirror Madness

Playing with Light

It may be simple and you may have seen it plenty of times before but that doesn’t make this enchanting mirror any less effective and enjoyable.  Much hilarity ensued whenever someone stepped in front of the giant ‘bendy mirror’ with children unable to contain their laughter as, depending on which button was pushed, their body was stretched, squashed and twisted before their eyes.

Overall Comments

Playing with Light offers something for everyone and is an exhibition that caters for children (and adults) of all ages.  I visited the gallery with my three children aged 4, 6 and 9 as well as my father (let’s just say he’s of pensioner age) and I can say without a doubt that it was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Whilst my young son was simply captivated by all the visual play with light my two girls, especially my oldest, were interested to read and ask why the effects were taking place.  This inevitably leads to more questions about science in general and I found the attendants all very knowledgeable and eager to answer each question (and there were many) in a way that was easy for the kids to understand.  My father, a keen science enthusiast, was just as captivated by the exhibition and quite often wandered off to analyse the different tools, taking his time working through the interactive displays.

The exhibition itself is widely spaced, allowing for people to move freely and easily throughout each activity.  There is no set order in which you need to view things and so once my children had experienced each activity they continued to return to and move between their favourites time and time again.  Although it got busier as the day progressed (yes we were there for a few hours) we found we could move quickly into whichever activity the kids were keen to try next and if there was a line up it was only usually a few minutes wait before we could have our turn.

One thing to maybe note is that some very young children may get a little frightened in some of the spaces.  As the exhibition is all about playing with light it does mean that there are many dark rooms to go in and out of and in the case of the phosphorescent wall a very bright flash of light.  Rest assured though, if you do have a young child who may be a little wary they can always play in the designated toddler play areas which contain some fun, light up blocks and shapes for them to enjoy.

Exhibition Information


Saturday, 1 December 2018 to Sunday, 28 April 2019

(closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day & New Year’s Day)


10am – 5pm daily


$5 per person or $15 for a Family Pass (admits up to 5 people. Must include at least 1 adult).

FREE for under 2s


No Bookings Required for Families/ Individuals.* Pay at the door. EFTPOS available.

*Vacation Care/ Groups of 10 or more, please complete the Booking Form and email to [email protected]

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