Wednesday, 5 August 2015

V&A War Games

Fascinating exhibition entitled full of wonderously interesting old school gaming stuff put on by @MuseumChildhood:

 19th C (?) Cutouts  on loan from the Nurenbug Spielzeugmuseum

Sci-fi War Toys

The Swiftian proportions of the diorama become clear!

Obviously the exhibitions curators are bound to contextualize play, and play about warfare as a socially meaningful activity rather than just "mucking about with toy soldiers" - producing discourse about attitudes to both childhood and conflict, a sensitive area.  The large 'sci-fi' diorama contains both references to Swiftian fantasy-satire in it's content and a more formal reference to the Chapman Bros, Hell, and perhaps tabletop miniatures wargaming makes it very interesting.

There are loads of other artefacts, toy guns, Action Man packaging, Daleks, running the whole gamut of 'I had one of those' to 'they don't make them like that any more!'. The Museum of Childhood has long been one of my favorite museums, speaking to the past through play and play-objects has an (I think) very special way of connecting to people, if the 'hands off' is a bit annoying for children. That it is only just round the corner from the E.Pellicci cafe makes it all the more enticing.

War Games at the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood  also has as a fantastic collection of short essays, that accompany the exhibition which include such statements as:

"There is now an established academic literature that argues that much of our understanding about international politics comes via reference to popular culture." - Sean Carter

"The arrival of space age cultural narratives created a new space for popular geopolitical expression." - Tara Woodyer

" help to 'naturalise' certain ways of thinking about global politics." - Sean Carter

"...interest in toy soldiers was indeed far from restricted to boys and men." - Mary Guyatt

As well as featuring the hugely emotional War Toys Project work of photographer Brian McCarty, working with children in areas effected by war and conflict to express their experience through drawing and reconstructing those as toy dioramas.

Hope to catch it at some point.

All photos (c) Daniel Turner 


  1. The sight of the little Manta Force men as Lillipuians gave me a huge eighties-child-smile :-)

    1. Oh, good catch! I had no idea that's what they were - Manta Force must have completely passed me by, being knee-deep in Zoids and Space Marines.

      I did recognize the Star Wars Lego prequel Droids and the classic Britains Space (which I'm after for reasonable prices) and of course the Action Man. The Green Ladies with the shoulderpads are exquisitely weird, almost look like novelty erasers.

  2. Reading your post reminded me (perhaps somewhat randomly) of a memory from grade 4, when - during a Remberance Day ceremony - our teachers showed us a movie about the horrors of war. The 'actors' were all poorly animated toy soldiers and we watched as the gunned each other down, blew each other up and bayoneted each other's guts. Even at the time, I knew that I wasn't quite feeling the emotions that my teachers and the film makers clearly wanted me to feel. I felt immensely relieved when, after a particularly violent explosion, my best friend exclaimed to the whole class "AWESOME!"

    Anyway, I know I learned something about war toys and violence on that day. I'm just not sure what it was.

    And now, thanks to your post, I have to visit the V&A. Thanks...

    1. That's a great story. I'd like to see that film, sounds like something Jan Svankmejer might have made.

      From the look of the exhibition the curators aren't trying to impose a moral on the objects - as it appears your teachers failed to do! - but engage visitors with the questions that arise and the whole spectrum of responses to the theme.

    2. I was looking around on YouTube for the movie, but had no luck finding it.

      Since writing my last comment, I've been thinking about this memory. It captures my ambivalence about wargaming -- that is to say, in real life, I'm a pretty pacific guy, and even cringe when I see children running around with toy guns (although of course I did it myself). But there's nothing I like more than lead soldiers - painting them, playing with them, writing about them. Oh well, one definition of happiness is the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in your mind at the same time.

  3. Thank you for this. The perfect tonic!