Childish Things (4 stars)

Childish Things

Fruitmarket Gallery, until Sun 23 Jan 2010

David Hopkins, curator of Childish Things, has created a wonderfully subversive tribute to childhood. The title is deceiving: the imagery and atmosphere of this exhibition is not designed for children – at least, not for those who are faint of heart. Rather it is a look backwards at the images and objects we once cherished, presented in a manner that is familiar but jarring.

Jeff Koons’ larger-than-life ‘Bear and Policeman’ welcomes entrants in a most sinister manner. Almost immediately Susan Hillier’s four-screen multimedia documentary ‘An Entertainment’ beckons through a dark tunnel. All time stops as you immerse yourself in the Lynchian multimedia installation, which allows adults to witness Punch and Judy shows from the perspective of the child, in an immersive and often frightening fashion. The mangled tones of the puppets are translated by a polite voiceover, while women and babies are beaten (and all is shown in quadruple glory) culminating in a disorientating cacophony of sound and movement that could stir even the sternest of hearts.

Wandering, dazed and confused, out of the darkness you encounter Paul McCarthy’s ‘cisuM fo dnuoS ehT / The Sound of Music’, a rare opportunity to watch a childhood favourite backwards and upside down, complete with reversed singing. Remarkably, it works, despite the menace of the Von Trapp family retreating from the mountains to perform in front of the assembled Nazis. The upper floors offer a less immersive experience, but the general feeling of unease continues with another piece from McCarthy in the form of ‘Children’s Anatomical Figure’, whose innards spill glibly out onto the floor as if attacked by clumsy giant toddlers. Childish Things is an intriguing and overwhelming experience – enter at your own risk.

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