Toys at the 56th Venice Biennale
29 / 04 / 2015

Toys at the 56th Venice Biennale

All the World’s Futures is the theme chosen by the curator Okwui Enwezor for the 56th International Art Exhibition which, from May 9th to November 22nd 2015, will bring Venice to the forefront of the international art scene.

Wanting to explain the ambitious project in a few simple words, we could say that this edition of the Biennale provides an opportunity for the artists to grasp, with the expressive means best suited to them, the multiple fractures that tear our planet apart. But how to fully grasp the anxiety of our times, to make it understandable, examine and articulate it? How can artists, philosophers, composers, choreographers, singers and musicians, through images, objects, words, movements, actions, texts and sounds, make sense of the turmoil around us?

The artist Giuseppe Linardi, with his installation entitled Toys, fits fully into the theme of the 56th Biennale, not only by offering food for thought to the visitors, but also suggesting his own way out of the “garden of the world” – mentioned by the President of the Biennale, Paolo Baratta – which is no longer orderly, but upset by uncertainties and turbulence.

Linardi conceived the idea of the Toys while observing his daughter’s bedroom overflowing with games, often unused and abandoned in their boxes. The sight made him reflect on the perverse mechanism of consumerism targeted to children who are bombarded with promotional messages of any kind and turned into potential buyers of unnecessary but irresistible goods. That mountain of neglected toys thus becomes a metaphor of the superfluous that surrounds us, of all those luxury items we buy induced by a compulsive desire to appear or by the need to compensate, with illusory fetishes, for the voids we have been carrying in our hearts since our childhood, the most important period for the formation of our personality.

At the 56th Biennale the Toys on canvas are complemented by an impressive Mickey Mouse, a symbolic personification of all the children’s and adults’ playful fantasies. But Linardi does not limit himself to presenting those poor toys forgotten by modern children; he also invites us to rediscover the educational and formative value of play. Through play children confront reality and understand how things work; they also learn the laws of chance and probability and rules of conduct that must be respected. As Montaigne says, children’s games are their most serious actions, but actually playing activities remain a fundamental aspect of every person’s life, at any age. According to Schiller, “a man is fully himself only when he plays”, because by playing he finds and recognizes himself, also managing to liberate his instincts and emotions.

To a child nothing is more serious and addictive than play and in this seriousness he is very similar to an artist intent on his work. Like the artist, when playing, the child transforms, breaks and reinvents reality; he represents it symbolically, creating an imaginary world that reflects his daydreams, his fantasies and desires.

This is the reason why Linardi paints dolls, toy cars, stuffed animals, musical instruments, simple toys which are much more challenging than the so-called “smart toys” that do everything by themselves and do not leave room for imagination and freedom to experiment.

With his Toys and Mickey Move, painted with his peculiar “decoding” technique, Linardi invites us to rediscover curiosity and to recover play as a cognitive value. Toys are metaphors of life and as such they must be broken, investigated and examined in their mechanisms and then reassembled, even in unusual ways, in order to give shape to our dreams and desires. Even in this aspiration, Linardi responds to the exhortation of the President of the Biennale, who states that today’s reality challenges us to more complex tasks. Faced with the danger of a conformist slipping towards orthodox popularity, conventionality and security, the 56th Venice Biennale has been defined as “The Machine of Desire”, since its objective is to keep the desire for art high, by recognizing it as a primary need and as a privileged means to express the human impulse to give tangible form to obsessions, anxieties, dreams and utopias.

It is exactly what Linardi does with his installation. His toys, dissected, dismembered, reduced to the limit of figuration, explode and shatter into pieces, as well as our harsh reality destroys and shatters the world of childhood, which is no longer a privileged and untouchable garden. Physically, psychologically and sexually exploited, abused children are more likely to become abusing adults themselves. Violence has devastating effects on them, causing irreversible damage to their emotional, cognitive and social development. In a wider sense, violence robs society of its potential for development.

In a scenario where all futures are possible, Linardi places his hope for an escape from the chaos and disorder of contemporary reality right in the hands of children, who are the “possible future” envisaged by the artist in response to the curator of the Biennale. With his Toys, Linardi invites all adults to rebuild the children’s world, to protect and safeguard them, because they are the future of humanity.

To do this, we need to start right from play: let’s not overwhelm our children with unnecessary toys, being subconsciously driven by a consumerist impulse; let’s give them simple games which stimulate their creativity. They should be allowed to break their toys to understand how they work and then be encouraged to rebuild them according to their wishes and fantasies. Let’s not leave them alone in this process of discovery and growth; let’s protect them from the dangers of the outside world and let’s them feel important because this will fuel their confidence and self-esteem. Beloved children will grow into adults capable of loving.

The garden of childhood, cared for, looked after and protected, will bloom in the future and it will give tasty fruits and fragrant flowers. This may sound a little too utopian, but what is Art but the highest expression of Man’s fears, aspirations and utopias?

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