childhood

First Draft, Sydney
July 2002

This exhibition featured the works of twenty artists who explored narratives of pleasurable and painful memories through revisiting their own childhoods. Rather than being simple nostalgic musings, the 'Childhood' exhibition intimately confronted recollections of trauma, sadness, embarrassment, loss and confusion.

Distant, often fragmented memories were unleashed through favourite stuffed toys, embarrassing be-flared fathers, pop-icons and kitsch paraphernalia. In a space jammed with fuzzy fluffiness, crayola crayons, broken dolls and rubric cubes, artgoers were remind ed of their own infantile past.

Unnerving distortions of candy-coated imagery brought recollections of the grimacing aspects of childhood. In a quiet corner Alex Davies erected a lifeless doll on a plinth. Aptly titled Reflux the interactive, information-storing doll absorbed the memories left by various users. Eerily, after some time, the naked doll would relay the participants' memories in static spurts imitating the decaying process of time.

Through the crackling haze of a super-8 reel of seventies home video, Ross Duncan also told a tale of a forgotten epoch. The fuzzy, fragmented footage of a family visit to a wildlife park mirrored the processes of memory selection which chooses to relay the poignant often-painful flashes of our pre-teen past. Similarly, Jessie Cacchillo's drawings, sketched in iridescent felt-tip pens, rekindled the tantalising yet disconcerting qualities present in what are mundane but intimate records of playground years. Cacchillo's sketches dently coloured casings of expended sparklers, bungers, rockets and evidence of the inherent pyromania of the juvenile mind. 'Double Parachute', 'Dragon Balls', 'Killer Bees', 'Colourful Swallow' and 'Wolf Chilli' were among the labels marking the 'ignite me!' explosives. Perhaps, the most poignant was the one named 'Having Great Courage' which seemed to reinstate the purity of children 's bravery.

While Healy's work touched on child psychoanalysis, Simon Cooper's three-part work Alive referenced the sorts of surveys psychologists and sociologists undertake on the value systems of children. In Cooper's installation a collection of dead batteries were inscribed with textural musings of a five-year old 's theological 'Why?' investigations. Apparently, among the answers children most commonly give to the question, 'How Do You Know Something is Alive?' are 'if it can move', 'if it talks', and 'if I can. kill it'. The logic of the last sentiment is not so much chilling as it is rational : 'If I can kill it' is a statement underscored neither by wickedness nor cruelty but by the undeniable practicality and logic of the five-year old rationale. Cooper lined the batteries to look like silver bullets similar to those belonging to cartoon heroes the Lone Ranger or Superman. Powerfully and unexpectedly Alive managed to trigger memories of playing bang-bang shoot-him-up games, as though Cooper had somehow psychically shared the viewer's experiences.

In fact, it was precisely that viewer-artist interaction which generated such a powerful reaction to the Childhood show-the ability of general experiences to be delivered in such a way that they can be interpreted as highly personalised experiences. Who would have thought that grainy videotape, trading cards or dead batteries could somehow manage to creep under a hardened adult skin and shake up its soul?