Category Archives: Exhibition

Where War Is Child’s Play: War Games at London’s Museum of Childhood

toy soldiersToy Soldier Set, Germany, c.1936, pieces by O & M Hausser and A. G. Lineol. Image via the V&A.

In line with this week’s informal theme of children, guns, and play, the Museum of Childhood in London opened War Games, a new exhibition that explores the material culture of war-themed toys and children’s ephemera.

According to The Guardian’s Mark Brown:

Co-curator Ieuan Hopkins admits they were not short of potential exhibits. “The first thing we did was go through the museum’s collections and the amount of material we had relating to war was incredible, it was quite a surprise. War has always been a part of children’s lives.”

Brown also mentions the exhibitions’ look at war propaganda aimed at children — how toys are so easily co-opted as political tools. It reminded me of a section in last summer’s Century of the Child exhibition at MoMA that featured a similar theme.

I think there’s something particularly discomfiting about the combination of childhood innocence and violent or racist propaganda. Children aren’t usually equipped with the critical thinking skills to know when an image or political message is manipulative. And it makes one question one’s own assumptions and beliefs. If they were stacked between “Clue” and “Monopoly”, would I have been an eager player of the “Get Those Japs” darts in War Games or the Nazi-themed “SAKAMPF” board game from Century of the Child?

Text on the War Games website acknowledges:

War play is controversial. It is actively discouraged by many parents and teachers, as it is thought to encourage aggression. But aggressive play, a type of active play, is not the same as real aggression, in which a child intends to harm.

Research questioning whether war play and aggression are linked is inconclusive. Fears that they are may come from personal beliefs and assumptions influenced by the pacifist and feminist movements of the last fifty years. War play can also bring benefits. It can help children to distinguish good from bad and right from wrong. And it can help them to explore their feelings and understanding of an often violent adult world.

Reminds me of yesterday’s post on prop oriented make-believe. There’s even a section of the exhibition displaying toy guns improvised out of sticks by the curator’s own son. Sound familiar?

War Games is at the Museum of Childhood in London from May 25 through March 9, 2014.

Thanks to @cat_rossi for the tip!

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3D printed gun displayed in exhibition at the New Museum

Adhocracy via New MuseumImage via Adhocracy exhibition site

From Ken Johnson’s lukewarm NYT review of the exhibition, one has the sense that the curators didn’t fully cash-in on the interpretive potential of displaying this gun:

The exhibition, in the New Museum’s annex at 231 Bowery, does not make a big deal about the gun. Organized by Joseph Grima, editor of Domus magazine and co-curator of the 2012 Istanbul Design Biennial, in which a version of “Adhocracy” first appeared, it presents mostly benign projects by architects, designers, artisans and inventors. It is mainly devoted to the sorts of positive, self-empowering things that people can make and do for themselves, like build their own furniture and bicycles; make new appliances like coffee makers and vacuum cleaners using the functional parts of old, broken ones; and raise money for bigger projects through Kickstarter.

Guess I’m going to take a field trip and see this thing for myself. Stay tuned!

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