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‘Child’s Play’ at the Society of Arts and Crafts reveals light and dark in playtime

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
‘Child’s Play’ at the Society of Arts and Crafts reveals light and dark in playtime
“Merry c361” by Kirk Tegelaar. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Through Saturday, Jan. 18, creators at the Society of Arts and Crafts in the Seaport are looking through the lens of childhood wonder in “Child’s Play.” Here, adult artists create whimsical, play-inspired pieces that both reignite the wonder of early play, and, if the viewer so desires, analyze the sometimes dark forces behind that play.

Mimi Kirchner’s handmade dolls welcome visitors to the “Child’s Play” exhibition. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Mimi Kirchner’s handmade dolls welcome visitors to the “Child’s Play” exhibition. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Most of the art objects on display have a hands-on sensory component, encouraging viewers to touch, operate and experience the work on an interactive level. Leisa Rich’s “Play With Me. No, REALLY! Play With Me!” encourages visitors, armed with a pair of gloves, to play curator, swapping out her mixed-media acrylic panels into different patterns and groupings on the wall. Mimi Kirchner provides a wall full of handmade dolls: some foxes in quirky outfits, some respect-commanding women of color, and a series of tattooed men and women in retro clothes. The dolls bring the instant comfort of “huggable” objects (though we can’t hug them) but also open up a door to the world of this cast of characters. They beg to be placed in a fantastical narrative of the viewer’s own making. 

“Automatic Fun + Print” by Nathaniel Lewis. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

“Automatic Fun + Print” by Nathaniel Lewis. PHOTO: CELINA COLBY

Other pieces demand analysis and stoke concern, like “Automatic Fun + Print” by Nathaniel Lewis. Hung on the wall is a primary-colored model of an automatic rifle. A smiley face controls the “ammunition” reload, though all that it’s loaded with is a stack of small, colorful beads. The piece is immediately sinister in its acclimation of violence not only as normal, but also as a fun childhood pastime. Next to the rifle is a print of a young boy happily playing with the rifle. Seeing the silhouette against his tiny frame furthers the sickening impact of our cultural acceptance of violence.

Whether the installations are in-your-face, requiring an analysis of what we teach children, or merely asking you to push a lever or pull a crank, “Child’s Play” is achieving something nearly impossible in our contemporary world: utilizing our full attention.

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The interactive aspect of the show provides an important level of engagement that is often lacking in contemporary gallery experiences. Because of shortened attention spans, many gallery viewers experience art only through the lens of their phone camera. This can often provide helpful information and accessibility to artwork, but it also puts an extra filter between the artwork and the audience.

With other avenues to participate in and explore “Child’s Play,” the Society of Arts and Crafts has cracked a window into that childhood wonder that doesn’t necessarily need screens to filter experiences. Here, visitors have an opportunity to engage aesthetically and intellectually beyond an email inbox or Instagram dashboard. And that is an immense gift.

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