On Thursday evening, 15 January, the Counihan Gallery had its first exhibition opening of the year and launched its annual program of exhibitions.
“Trouble in Toyland” is a gem of an exhibition; a small group exhibition by five notable artists from Australia’s eastern states, “exploring the seductive, sinister and anthropomorphic qualities of toys.” Toys are an obvious theme in contemporary art from Jeff Koons’s “Pink Panther” (1988) to Takashi Murakami “The castle of Tin Tin” (1998). Toys are a feature of contemporary life for both children and adults. Every movie has action figures (even “Reservoir Dogs”) and the computer game industry out grosses Hollywood.
Toys, like art, are part of the excess of culture. They occupy our spare time and are bought when the necessities of life have been paid for. Toys, games and art are part of the same excess in culture. “Poetry and pushpin” are not alternatives for pleasure as Bentham suggested but are part of the same excess that is the source of pleasure.
Martine Corompt’s kinetic sculpture “Scared chair with anxious cat” was very popular with all the little kids at the exhibition opening. The kids enjoyed the anxiety of the wondering if the toy cat, with a bass shaker fitted inside, would fall off its little chair as it vibrated around.
Christopher Langton’s very large inflatable figure “Plastic Man” also impressed the kids, along with the adults “Plastic Man” is modeled on Captain America and it is capable of shock and awe by its size, but it is not as friendly and ultimately just full of air.
Michael Doolan’s ceramic toy figures with platinum luster look beautiful. The toys that they are modeled on were not beautiful or elegant but cute and sentimental. Once they were soft and plush; now they are ultra shiny and hard ceramic forms highlighting the superficial quality of beauty.
Van Sowerwine has a series of videos using dolls and stop motion animation along with photographs of this miniature world. Using dolls Sowerwine creates a child’s world full of pathos. In contrast to the videos and photographs Sowerwine also exhibited a shadow-box sculpture with hand-cranked animated figures, a simpler version of the same vision.
Anna Hoyle’s whimsical delicate and detailed drawings of fluffy animals and psychedelic glitter decorations were the small stars of the exhibition. Squirrels wearing gym shoes pamper pompadour pets with phallic blow dryers. Hoyle creates a fanatic world of toys, consumer culture beauty treatments with a cute overdrive.
In the back half of the Counihan Gallery was Keiko Murakami’s first solo exhibition: Kizuguchi. (I presume that Keiko Murakami is no relation to the more famous Takashi Murakami). Keiko Murakami’s paintings and prints also depicts a troubled child’s world; the exhibition’s title ‘kizuguchi’, means a “wound or cut to the body” in Japanese. Murakami’s Goth-Lolita figures all bare a symbolic wound, a vaginal symbol imposing reality on their doll-like qualities.
The world is not safe for children; that is why they grow up.