Tag Archives: Villain

Toys Make the Human

Toys are as much cultural artefacts as sculptures, although generally not considered as valuable. As a cultural artefact toys can shows as much about the culture, its values, traditions and beliefs as a small sculpture. Toys show part of the collective consciousness; they are miniature version of the adult world.

Soldiers doing ablutions survive at the Munich Toy Museum

Toys are part of an ephemeral culture and most of them are loved to destruction. Conscious of this history and like many aspects of ephemeral culture, toys have become collectable design objects in themselves. Some toys are now consciously created as collectable design objects, marketed to adults, remain in their original packaging as part of a complete design statement. (More do not touch signs and glass cases.)

I’ve been to toy museums and also the occasional a customized toy exhibition or art exhibition using toys. (I should note that I still have a collection of 25mm lead figures that I painted when I was a teenager and won a prize for some of them at Arcarnacon I.)

Toy museums are always interesting places to visit. I have enjoyed my visits to the Munich Toy Museum (Spielzeugmuseum im Alten Rathausturm) and the Mint Toy Museum in Singapore. Curiously both of these museums are extremely vertical, their exhibits crammed into several small narrow floors. Fortunately their exhibits are all on a small scale. The Mint Toy Museum concentrates on the influence of popular culture with toys associated with the space age, politicians, the Beatles, Disney films etc. It has a great collection of Japanese tin toys especially robots. The Munich Toy Museum specializes in teddy bears but also in the past preserved in miniature with toy vehicles, kitchens and armies. There was a whole history of kitchens, the military or transportation told in those toys.

Doll house kitchen in the Munich Toy Museum

President Nixon’s ping pong diplomacy preserved in toys at the Mint Toy Museum.

A few years ago at Villain I saw one of their “Munny” shows (I’ve seen others since at Villain but this was the best – I wish that I’d had my camera that day). A Munny is a customisable toy figure with a simplified round cartoon form either as a standing figure or in a small car. It is customisable in that all kinds of media can be applied to its plastic surface. They are amongst other brands of customisable toys that are for sale at Villain. Every year or so Villain assembles an awesome collection of modified Munnys for an in store exhibition. That year several of the artists exhibiting in the show from the street art scene: Phibs, Deb, and Junior. Phibs sushi crab version of the Munny car was out standing. There were some amazing and fun modifications of the original toy, some beautiful painting and excellent modelling. Some of the modifications left the original form far behind, like Agnieska Rypinska’s large impressive elephant with howdah. One of the works on display was by Katherine Dretzke, a customer who had brought her, now decorated and winged, Munny back to the store for the exhibition; a genuine interactive consumer experience.

Maybe we should look more deeply at toys; maybe they are more than just artefacts that represent our culture but symbols of what makes us human. Desmond Morris argues in the Naked Ape (1967) that humans retain many juvenile ape features and that this juvenile nature has been turned to an evolutionary advantage. The human ability to remain a juvenile and play allows the human to continue to learn as adults.


Vandalism @ Brunswick Station

The large wall at the far north end of Brunswick Station has been covered with excellent aerosol art for years and repainted annually sponsored by Villain (stockists of spray paint, designer toys, art, books and clothing). Villain has been presenting this wall for three years, with a different mural each year. These murals have been defaced before but this time something different happened.

Adnate, Slicer, Itch, Morta, Deams, Zode, AWOL and UDS were repainting it this year. It was almost finished when the painting was defaced by a vandal, who slashed it with lines of pink spray paint. It was an angry and aggressive attack. The vandal revelled in ruining the work of these artists before it had even been completed. The vandal was some guy called Paul – he wrote his name along with angry messages with the same spray paint. It was like he looking for a fight.

Part of the wall in its slashed state.

Paul also trashed some of other pieces and not others – so obviously he had a particular antipathy towards the artists painting the wall. He also damaged two new pieces just around the corner from the large wall and a large blockbuster style AWOL that has been up at the station for many years. Paul clearly doesn’t like AWOL’s work and has been spraying over it around Brunswick.

Part of AWOL's restoration that was again slashed.

Inspired by the vandalism, AWOL cropped the piece by buffing parts of it with a paint roller into a blockbuster style version of AWOL. Undeterred, Paul vandalized this but with the cropped buffing form it was easy for AWOL to quickly return it to its second state incorporating Paul’s spray-paint into the piece. Now that he was just another contributor to AWOL’s piece, Paul gave up. AWOL retouched his old piece, but two pieces were not so easy to repair and remain slightly damaged by Paul’s aerosol slashes.

Both AWOL and Paul are spraying on Brunswick Station walls; the difference is that AWOL’s work is beautiful and creative whereas Paul’s actions are ugly and destructive. Finally AWOL added the last word to the large wall in this aerosol battle: “AWOL – Always Winning Over Losers”.


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