Childish Things at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

The theme of this second collaboration between The Fruitmarket Gallery and curator and scholar David Hopkins is undoubtedly seasonally appropriate.  Just as the joy of a childhood Christmas can have a dark underside, so Childish Things scrutinises the process of children’s play through its artefacts and reveals a disturbing picture indeed.

Rooted in Dada and Surrealism, this powerful exhibition explores its theme through several media, drawing on the physicality of play, whether the interactive play of a puppet show, the artist’s ‘playing’ with the medium of film, or toys themselves.  But crucially, Childish Things acknowledges the embeddedness of play in our social and psychological worlds, to complex and disturbing effect.

The toy-like pieces exhibited range from found objects such as Paul McCarthy’s Children’s Anatomical Educational Figure to stitched doll-like figures in Louise Bourgeois’s narrative piece Oedipus.  Jeff Koons’s Bear and Policeman is striking in its reproduction of a junk shop knick-knack in exquisite, monumental scale.  Decontextualized, the piece is imbued with a garish menace and the original impressions of friendship and cooperation are lost to ambiguity and threat.  Susan Hiller’s An Entertainment, a large-scale, four-screen projection of recordings of Punch and Judy shows, places the viewer within the frightening, abusive world of the show with terrifying results.

If Childish Things has the propensity to draw out the uncertainty, darkness and even violence of childhood, then there is redemption of sorts in Helen Chadwick’s Ego Geometrica Sum.  Chadwick’s work harmonises the artist’s body with objects and shapes from her life in a consciously geometric fashion, rationalising and ordering seminal personal experiences. 

It would be wrong to say that Childish Things is predominantly dark.  As appropriate to its subject matter, there is a great sense of energetic fun.  Don’t be afraid to see it; just be prepared to scratch the surface a little.

Johan Grimonprez at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

Johan Grimonprez at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery is running an exhibition of films by the Belgian artist and filmmaker Johan Grimonprez.  It runs until 11th July so there’s still plenty of time to see it.  It’s well worth a visit but you have to be prepared to sit down for a while as the two highlights last in excess of an hour each.  There are a number of items to see here, the main draw being Double Take, Grimonprez’s newest work written by Tom McCarthy and featuring Alfred Hitchcock meeting his double.

However, most visitors will likely end up remebering the 1997 production dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, a somewhat gruelling film about plane hijackings and subsequent media coverage that will certainly cause you significant stress.  If you’re about to fly in a plane somewhere, I strongly advise you not to watch this!  It’s a powerful and frightening take on a subject that has only grown in our collective consciousness since the film was previewed in the late 90s.  The only solace is that this is an experiment of sorts which demonstrates the shock factor that the media has in reporting terrorist attacks.  That is, when you leave the room at the end, that feeling of pure sickness at the bottom of your stomach is your own little piece of proof that the media do engender fear; your own fear is the evidence.  Why was this solace for me?  Because I realised at that point that Grimonprez is right: this manipulated series of media clips with a voice-over which features extracts from novelist Don DeLillo’s Mao II and White Noise, is put together to show you how horrified the media can make you feel.  In this respect I realised after watching it that this feeling doesn’t necessarily come from terrorists or the threat of terrorist attacks, but from the news, so panic over… for now.

For some light relief, Kobarweng or Where is Your Helicopter (1992) is a good follow-up.  In this shorter film, Grimonprez draws on his experience as a graduate Anthropology student to show how ethnographers have become cultural commodities and status symbols for many Papua New Guineans.  The profound effect that ethnoographers have had in certain villages and especially regarding village rivalries is troubling for the discipline but the symptoms of it evident in this exhibition are quite frankly hilarious.

The time factor is a little demanding for some of these films, especially Double Take and dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, but think of it this way: you’d probably go to see one of these in the cinema at the drop of a hat – they’re so compelling and affecting.  You can see them here for free (but only until the 11th July).

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