glue magazine january/february 2000

All Dolled Up

Davis and Davis give new life to old toys


Scott and Denise Davis tell stories of childhood trauma in their latest photographic series "Childish Things." Under their nom d'art, Davis and Davis, they take abandoned toys - most of them found while walking their dogs by a grammar school and place them in simple situations: a doll standing on a chair lifts her dress to a friendly, phallic worm; a flexible bunny holds a carrot in front of his crotch; a father doll rushes to catch a falling baby.

Otherwise innocent playthings that were headed for the trash are put into new context. "We try to reverse-engineer the toys and figure out why a child would abandon it," says Scott Davis. "We try to imagine what traumatic experience the toy reminds the child of."

The large-format photographs, which at first glance recall the simplicity and colorful innocence of childhood, take on loftier meaning upon closer inspection. "Daddy's Girl" shows a girl doll with a hole in her face, her out-of-focus parents hovering behind her, obviously suggesting child abuse. "Bend Over Boy" is just that, with his mouth noticeably absent. Other images depict less horrific childhood milestones such as being sick or feeling lost. And while some images point to unspeakable acts, their execution is playful and slick (the team used to work as fashion photographers). "lt looks easy, but it's not so easy to do," Scott Davis says.

Looking at the entirely man-made candy-colored scenarios, it's easy to think of their creators as lost in their own world. "We used to work separately," Denise says, "but then we started to work together to reduce the competition in the married unit." Living in the Valley and staying married for 7 years only underscores the notion of their self-containment.

But their work shows they are not completely cut off, at least not from other photo-based art; the "Tong Baby" piece pays homage to Cindy Sherman through a tight close-up of a doll's face covered with a bloody afterbirth-like substance. And "Piss Baby," immersed in yellow liquid, is an obvious (and hysterical) tribute to Andres Serrano.

They began the "Childish Things" series in 1995. Like their previous series "Modern Romance," which depicts couple dramas, this one encompasses about four dozen images taken over several years. "Modern Romance" showed all over the US, but "Childish Things" has only appeared in three shows so far (the most recent being at Holly Matter in Silver Lake). "We've been at it for a few years, but it feels like it's just hitting its stride," Denise says.

While "Childish Things" picks up steam, Davis and Davis are back outside picking through cast-offs. For a [March show at The First Congregational Church in Pasadena], they were given $100 to shop at the Pasadena City College flea market. Art made from those items will be auctioned in the show "Swap'n Shop: Going, Going, Gone."