Nathan Vincent Gets Serious with “Let’s Play War”
through March 11, 2018
Noysky Projects, Los Angeles
Written by Patrick Quinn
There are few toys as iconic as the venerable green plastic army men. These 2-inch tall unpainted figures set in combat-ready poses have changed little since the early 1950s. For Millennials, they’re just animated characters from Pixar’s Toy Story films. But for any American male over 40, owning a set of these toy soldiers was a childhood rite of passage. That being said, regardless of your age or sex, Nathan Vincent’s “Let’s Play War” is a unique installation.
The artist has created a series of nearly life-size figures that are wrapped with knitted or crocheted “skins.” This isn’t yarn-bombing; this is more akin to sculpting with fibrous materials. The faces have features, the weapons have details – at least, as much detail as those simply-made plastic toys did. The work is technically impressive, not a gimmick. It’s skill employed with a purpose.
There are two sets of soldiers, one set wrapped in green yarn and the other in a tan brown. Both sets repeat the same seven classic poses. Soldiers tossing hand grenades, soldiers aiming rifles, even soldiers firing bazookas. Do bazookas still exist? Are they a thing of the past, like the Gatling gun or the pineapple hand grenade? The inherent violence of these vintage weapons seems quaint, almost charmingly primitive. But the artist has more on his mind then just a clever exercise in ironic nostalgia.
At this scale, these soldiers are the size of teenage boys, the age when children outgrow their toys. Childhood imagination finds itself taking a backseat to reality. The notion of owning a gun or joining the military is only a few years away from being a viable option. It’s also the age when sexuality rears its confused head. Not just from a hormonal aspect, but questions of identity come into play. By wrapping these toy soldiers in something as stereotypically feminine as knitting, the artist blurs the line between the perceived roles of boys and girls.
The show was originally conceived for the Bellevue Arts Museum and shown in a much smaller space than its current home at Noysky Projects. The advantage to viewing the work in this venue is its intimacy. With only a few pieces of camo netting for embellishment, the viewer walks amongst the soldiers as if they were a part of the diorama.
The original green army men toys saw their sales decline in the early 1970’s. Partially in reaction to the Vietnam War as well as the higher prices of plastics due to the energy crisis. These days, kids prefer the CGI soldiers in “Call of Duty” and other video games which depict a type of violence that one would hopefully never refer to as quaint. Perhaps artist Nathan Vincent is also asking the question: is it okay to prefer a gentler and kinder toy soldier?
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