‘I destroyed you. I love you. You have value for me because of your survival of my destruction of you…while I am loving you I am all the time destroying you’.
Psychoanalyst DW Winnicott’s theory of object relations and use of toys or ‘transitional objects’ was a starting point for Supertoys, an arts/education project, exhibition and book. Begun in 2007, this was an arts collaboration between artist-educators Kahve-Society, 90 children from Headley Primary School in Bristol, the Arnolfoni Gallery and UK government funded initiative, Creative Partnerships.
The general principle of the project, that children are largely disenfranchised in that they play with toys, but have little input into their design or production, remains relevant in our increasingly commercialized, high-tech commodity cultures and societies. Using psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott’s object relations theory, Melanie Klein’s notion of the ’perfect’ object which is in pieces, and much like the character ‘Sid’ in Pixar’s animation Toy Story, children broke up old toys and inventively recycled or rebuilt them into ‘mutants’. As Winnicott’s idea was that an object must be capable of withstanding the destructive and loving impulses in order to become real, the project enquired into what made play ‘real’, working towards children examining play and designing toys for themselves, including robot toys (as seemingly ‘perfect objects’ but in reality flawed, transitional ones).
SUPERTOYS EXHIBITION: ARNOLFNI GALLERY, BRISTOL, 21 Nov 2008 – 17 Jan 2009.
The children’s work formed the starting point and a substantial part of an exhibition featuring Codemanipulator, Chris Cunningham, Michael Anastassiades and Dunne & Raby, Natalie Jeremijenko, Kahve Society, Alex McLean, Philippe Parreno and Unmask Group held at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol in 2008, where a ‘toy factory’ was installed in the gallery for visitors to destroy donated unwanted toys and reassemble new ones which were displayed on shelving. Hugely popular with the public of all ages, the exhibition produced hundreds of new toys and displayed a film about the project, which, with some digital images and text of the original project are still available at: http://www.anti-thesis.net
SUPERTOYS SYMPOSIUM: “HELLO TOY” ARNOLFINI GALLERY, bristol, 13 Jan 2009.
The Supertoys Symposium, “Hello Toy”, included new media/engineer artist Natalie Jeremijenko and Lo-Tech Songs/Servo Drive performance artist Paul Granjon and selected speakers from academic institutions interrogating theories of play such as Dylan Evans, Seth Giddings, Helen Kennedy, Claire Pajaczkowska, Victoria de Rijke, and Paul Hoggett. The symposium also took its cue from Winnicott to explore some of the themes of the exhibition: play, affective machines and object relations.
Supertoys: A user’s Manual (2008) presents new ways for children to think about and playing with toys – part instruction manual and part gallery of mutant toys made by children. The work featured is thanks to school children from Headley Park Primary School in Bristol and Raglan Junior School in London, as part of an arts project deconstructing /constructing toys.
SUPERTOYS: A User’s Manual, London: Cornerhouse Publications
The Supertoys project, exhibition, book and website had international interest and continue to provoke arts and educational spin-offs in the UK. In 2011, Victoria de Rijke presented ‘Supertoys: are they playing with you?’ at the Play Creativity & the Imagination Conference, Columbia University, New York. Toy Story ‘mash ups’ in the US include:
- http://learnxdesign.org/learnxdesign_record/toy-mashup/ 2014 New York Hall of Science
- http://tinkering.exploratorium.edu/toy-take-apart 2015 Science Museum, California
A few artists’ toy stories: