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Group Exhibition
Soil Art Gallery
112 3rd Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104
November 30, 2011 - December 23, 2011

These Are Not To Be Toyed
by Jessica Powers

Even the most “electronically enlightened” among the gallery world typically top out at straight-faced promotion or very slightly tongue-in-cheek use of mainstream web-marketing techniques that end up feeling even cheaper when they try to sell you art rather than say, a real product. It is for this reason that I commend Klara Glosova and SOIL gallery for the actually convincing way that they chose to advertise their current show; 11 Most Dangerous Toys of 2011. W.A.T.C.H. (World Against Toys Causing Harm) is a consumer-protection group that annually catalogues and details the hazards of popularly available children's toys, with a low-budget but serious website that speaks to their focus on the welfare of children and the no-frills way in which they pursue their mission. Glosova and her co-conspirators manufactured a facsimile site branching off of the SOIL homepage that apes the W.A.T.C.H. site exactly and displays each of the eleven locally produced pieces in the same America's-most-wanted manner. I think that in many ways this page and the accompanying piece of fantasy news, a Reuters article about the naming of the aforementioned eleven toys, are the twelfth and thirteenth dangerous products on display.

In many ways, information has long been the most primal and ultimate of all toys.  Residing in the pure webway of information, news articles and watch-dog groups (professional or amateur) form a large portion of what is considered unacceptable to falsify or distort. The root of danger and its primary manifestation is the insecurity of the unknown, the fear of what we simply cannot account for. Falsified information engages this danger in a direct way, blurring the line between what a threat is and what is mere conspiracy, or between who is a dutiful authority and who is a fear monger. Art is not synonymous with information, but it might contain some false or distorted information. And more importantly, how dangerous can an art object be? Isn't art in some ways just a high-concept toy?

Far from a literally lethal Serra, Most Dangerous Toys contains a number of different interpretations of what is dangerous and how we should consider danger. Perhaps the most conceptual take is Amanda Manitach's Wallpaper Designs for the Nursery, 2011, which posits that the creation of labeled spaces and identities is itself a danger, something that will irrevocably shape the course of a child's life. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ian Toms tries to scare us with an untitled set of IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices] that points at literal violence and lost limbs. These IEDs are small, round, and innocuous—they're not a clear and obvious weapon like the set of fishhooks from Brad Winchester. That is not to discount Winchester's hooks, which are packaged ingeniously in a case made of dryer lint and cardboard, and the execution is just as resourceful as any terrorist or freedom fighter. Wynne Greenwood’s Tired Pebbles, 2011, a throw pillow of the titular cartoon character, seems like the most obviously non-dangerous toy in the whole show. Still, boredom is dangerous, and perhaps even more dangerous is the notion that an art-ish object is capital A art. After all, if art is false or distorted information, then the most dangerous art is the art that calls into question the status of art itself.

Each piece in the show ratchets up the tensions of insecurity in their own ways, but as a whole the collection begs the question of what is dangerous in the first place, putting the insecurity of insecurity front and center. If you Google “most dangerous toys” you'll find a litany of real websites each peddling their own dangers. The construction of the dangerous toy is a seduction, an enticement to be afraid. Whether it's the real websites or the real art, everyone is trying to sell you on some combination of real threat and false conspiracy. Ultimately buying into one fear over the others is akin to picking out your favorite toy, and everyone has a childhood favorite. 

Jessica Powers

Top Image: Wynne Greenwood, Tired Pebbles, 2011, Cotton, synthetic fabric, thread, polyester stuffing, pen ink, worry. Courtesy the artist and SOIL, Seattle. 


Posted by Jessica Powers on 12/13/11

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