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.

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