You don’t have to be a South Park or Simpsons fan to know the potential that childhood forms like cartoons can have for taking on adult themes. Recently, however, the strategy got an artsy Canuck spin with the opening of “Toys Gone Rogue” at the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina. According to curator Jeff Nye, the five artists in the show use toys subversively to “remind us that [our childhoods] were likely less innocent than we remember, and that these times may be less serious than we think.”
Toronto artist and musician Dallas Wehrle, best known as the bassist for the Canadian indie band the Constantines, puts an adult edge on kid hobbies by using airplane model kits to reproduce wrecks of actual plane crashes. Inspired by the clichéd “Indian whooping” sound her five-year-old learned while watching Scooby-Doo, Regina-based Cree artist Judy Anderson has installed hundreds of plastic cowboy-and-Indian toys on the floor of the gallery. Arranged in the four First Nations directions—white (north), yellow (east), red (south) and blue (west)—all of the Indian figures (and their concomitant stereotypes) are left standing, while all the cowboys have fallen.
Following a recent project involving automated-horse rides, Ontario-based Kwakiutul artist Mary Anne Barkhouse revisits the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with rocking horses based on different art-historical sources, such as a John Mix Stanley painting of a First Nations rider and an 1885 painting by Assiniboine artist Hongeeyesa. Regina composer and performer Jeff Morton puts a different riff on horseplay with All the Horses and the Egg, an interactive installation of audio toys altered to play the “wrong” tracks. Here, a dinosaur plays an electric guitar lick, a pig makes swashbuckling noises and a tiger and lion sound like cell phones.
Four pieces from Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft’s well-regarded Group of Seven Awkward Moments series round out the show, exemplifying these artists’ tendencies to, as Nye writes, “disarm us with their use of toys to tell different stories that amuse, while destabilizing the innocence associated both with history and our childhood memories.”