The Days of Future Past

"The toy is the child's earliest initiation into art, or rather it is the first concrete example of art."  Charles Baudelaire

"When the urge to play overcomes an adult, this is not simply a regression to childhood." Walter Benjamin

Benjamin rejects the notion that imitation is the primary motive for children's play and their toys. Play is more primal, more energetic and ultimately productive. One is lost and, simultaneously, found in play -- either through fabricating a world in a scale more in tune with the body, or cutting the puppeteer's strings and taking the drama of life into one's own hands.

Not unlike the best of children's literature, this work is meant to appeal to viewers young and old. At once looking back into a promised future, these new images focus on classic tin toys.

All Toys are metaphors. Children are instinctively drawn to the suggestive nature of toys; they act as a malleable metaphor for a world the child inhabits and is, at the same time, withheld from. For more than 15 years, Toys have functioned as an active metaphorical device in my work. Most recently, I concentrated on "composition dolls" to explore the aging process. Previously I utilized toys to disrupt the given scale of a cityscape, or to stand in for the absent player in a scene. My recent work with toys has shifted my attention to tin toys as a primary subject and agent in my photographs. Previously the dolls, or now the tin-type toys serve as an allegorical relay to scenes always already encountered in our childhood play • either experienced or imagined • but in each case real.

Since the 1940s and earlier, with the advent of modernity, tin robots have captured the imagination, especially of boys. I am interested in the visions of the future that toys project to young boys. These tin toys of robots and rocket ships act as catalysts for the imagination, particularly of adolescent males, forming their notions and expectations of a future that is already pictured and yet to be constructed.  How these visions relate to the techno-fetishism so predominant in the past decade fascinate me.

"The fact is, that the perceptual world of the child is influenced at every point by traces of the older generation, and has to take issue with them. The same applies to the child's play activities. It is impossible to construct them as dwelling in a fantasy realm, a fairy tale land of pure childhood or pure art. Even where they are not simply imitations of the tools of adults, toys are a site of conflict, less of the child with the adult than the adult with the child. For who gives the child his toys if not adults? And even if he retains a certain power to accept or reject them, a not insignificant proportion of the oldest toys (balls, hoops, tops, kites) are in a certain sense imposed on him as cult implements that became toys only afterward, partly through the child's powers of imagination."

From "Toys and Play" Walter Benjamin Selected writings Volume 2: 1927-1934

My ongoing work investigates these allegorical uses of toys. I have made over 200 pieces that utilize the theme of play and delve into the poetic and evocative nature of toys in a social context informed by the here and now.

The historical trajectory of the readymade also influences my work. Tin toys are always already consumer objects recontextualized as art objects. The nostalgia industries transform Penny toys into highly charged and valued items. They represent a past which is lost and at once within reach to the collector.

My work in photography attempts to imbue an image and an object with a sense of aura, thus returning to the photographic image something lost to a work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. At the same time, I aim to call attention to the ahistorical drives of our period of late capitalism • drives which often replace lived or available historical memory with a branded image of consumerist nostalgia.

This work draws on the existing vocabulary of the advertising image and product shot. I want my images to be read along side images that are both consumed daily and facilitate daily consumption. The aim is to inject allegorical content into these readymade objects and images, and thus return the reader / viewer / consumer to a moment of consideration before the transaction inevitably takes place.

These pictures conceive the world of images as already made and structured along lines of desire expressed in our cultural moment. Subsequently images of the past play as prominent a role as those of an imagined future. This opens up the work to a series of pre-established influences and forces encompassing the machine and Modernism. This is a past that I was at once not a part of and yet am a product of. We were each sold a vision of the future as children and adolescents. Buck Rogers for some, Green Hornet, The Jetsons, Captain Kirk, Luke Skywalker and Buzz Lightyear for others. Someone wrote these futures. I did not. But they arrived as both heritage and a promised fiction. A model of work, entertainment and leisure was inscribed therein. This forms the back-story of my work as well.

Each image is created as a 20 x 24" Polaroid photograph. The format - a futuristic product in itself driven by the demands and desires of a post-war consumer for immediate image gratification - is wholly in tune with its subject matter. These lush pictures - each a unique image - present a number of paradoxes and structured anomalies: the new for old and back again, or the futuristic located in the folds of nostalgia. Within the Polaroids frame, large takes the place of small as in the TV set piece or the man standing in for the boy. A reversal of the roles of nature and culture also happens, as in the diorama display of a natural history museum. My props are fictional digital devices that exist only in an analog world where model and image are collapsed as one. Ultimately I feel these conditions speak and relate to digital ideas and theories of futurology and technological progress that encompass the future as predicted, if not indeed promised. These toys • allegorical devices and artistic props in my hands • make up the content of childhood and yet equally will survive into their own future as a plaything for the purse strings and surplus desires of the adult imagination. My Polaroids are in parts an investigation of these processes, a celebration of time-laden icons, and a hectoring mirror.

This is work that is intentionally positioned between the modern and postmodern simultaneously. It could conceivably occupy no other ground. By glorifying the mechanical objects of the industrial age of toy production these images address ideas that modernism embraced. And yet, these images ultimately reflect the unfinished project and failure of that which waited before us: an unconstrained leisure made possible by mechanical robots and clean and tidy intimacies provided by pets and partners that would not let us down. As ever, the future we each will experience still waits to be written.

Terry Towery