Exhibition at Plymouth Museum, 6th February 2016 to 18th June 2016
‘War Games’, a travelling exhibition from the V & A Museum of Childhood, explores the relationship between conflict and play, providing an insight into how toys have been influenced by warfare since the 1800s, as well as exploring propaganda and espionage from around the world. This thought-provoking exhibition reveals the sometimes surprising links between play and wider attitudes towards warfare.
When I first saw the exhibition I thought it was timed purely to coincide with half-term: that the exhibition was purely for children, and to be honest there were a lot of children in the museum. Many of them who were doing the ‘Find the military symbol’ task. This in itself was great to see, but there was a genuine interest in the exhibition from the adults as well. Covering two rooms of the museum, divided into four areas, it was clearly a successful well-thought-out concept. I particularly liked the ‘airfix kit-style’ wall display and the mock bunker/ shooting range. These hands-on exhibits certainly added to the viewer’s experience and enjoyment.
Action Man Space Ranger, Palitoy England, 1970s-80s © Victoria & Albert Museum, London
The exhibition is arranged with a red strip to guide the visitor though the timeline of the different wars represented, starting with soldiers from the Battle of El Teb in the British Sudan Campaign of 1890. Within the second room, there were more interactive elements and the toys were more modern; of the two rooms this was definitely the busier one. A third of the room was dedicated to a toy battlefield, including daleks. Around the room were four stations where votes could be cast, with question such as ‘Which would you defend, a castle or Death star?’ Votes were cast using a toy army figure. If you are interested I went for the Death star.
Toy soldier set, German army medical service, 1936, O M Hausser and A G Lineol, Germany, c.1936 © Victoria & Albert Museum, London
I can easily see the nostalgia associated with this exhibition, with Plymouth marking the anniversary of the Blitz and the centenary of the World War I, and also in the objects selected for exhibition. One of the toys, Optimus Prime, from Transformers, was a clear favourite of my brothers when we were growing up. I had never before thought about this toy’s connection to war; however, its presence there explores the concept of computers and machines taking over and becoming more intelligent and powerful than we humans.
Toy soldier set, Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, Britains Ltd, England, 1900 © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
Donna Gundry, Plymouth College of Art