from the Not So Cute and Cuddly exhibition catalog

by Elisabeth Dunbar

Play can also serve a therapeutic function for children, enabling them to come to terms with traumatic or significant personal events. In these scenarios, dolls and stuffed toys are often surrogates for the child and other real individuals Issue that are difficult for children to discuss with others - for example, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, sickness and death - are more easily dealt with through role-playing. Children can transfer their feelings of pain and shame onto dolls or stuffed toys, allowing them to unburden harmful emotions and distance themselves from the source of trauma. Several artists in the exhibition utilize doll play in their work to engage in identity-projection, sometimes fictional and sometimes autobiographical.

According to the husband and wife team of Davis & Davis, the dolls that populate their photographs have experienced a horrible trauma, or have expressed some sort of problematic behavior that has led to their being cast out by their original owners. These abandoned (or lost) toys, many of which were rescued by the artists from parking lots, playgrounds, and thrift stores are cast in dramatic reenactments of the imaginary events that brought about their expulsion. In some scenarios, these synthetic thespians paly the roles of children, while in others, they act as adults. In either case, the resulting mini psychodramas suggest a momentous episode in the real lives of real toys that served as surrogates for the conflicted children who left them behind.

In Dottie, a cute little girl with pigtails stands naked before a mirror. Why was she abandoned? What trauma did she suffer? What crime did she commit? Given her polka-dotted body, we might conclude that she was afflicted by an illness or disease, perhaps one that was highly contagious, degenerative, or possibly even fatal Isolated from the other toys, she was perhaps quickly relegated to the toy box where she was soon forgotten. Or, maybe Dottie was discarded because she was no longer physically perfect, or had issues with her body and sexual identity. In whatever scenario you choose to believe, the tainted Dottie met with the same outcome - she was no longer loved. Similarly, Tack Boy has a number of possible histories. With his mouth open wide in surprise or pain, we might assume that the little boy just sat on the tack on the chair next to him. Relentlessly harassed by his mean-spirited peers, he is a victim with whom we can all identify.

While Dottie and Tack Boy refer to the problems of adolescent children, Spool Baby focuses on an infant's ability to cause parental stress and contribute to domestic chaos. In this photograph, an unruly baby has transformed his mother into a tightly wound, disheveled mess. We might conclude that the mother, unable to cope with the hassles and pressures of parenthood, abused or deserted the child.

The photographs of Davis & Davis are simple still life dioramas involving just a few objects and props, yet they elicit complex and mixed responses. Lighthearted and funny, serious and disturbing, their works suggest a complicated childhood that is not always a happy time. Approximating the childish play of their original owners, these toys are not the cherished reminders of a joyful youth, but are instead rejected and forgotten playthings that contain repressed memories of deep-seated traumas and guilt.