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P. ROCH SMITH play – replay

Monday February 25th 2013 to Sunday April 7th 2013


Opening Reception
Friday March 1st, 6-9pm

Artist Talk
Saturday March 16th, 2pm

play – replay

“…all the toys that one commonly sees are essentially a microcosm of the adult world; they are all reduced copies of human objects, as if in the eyes of the public the child was, all told, nothing but a smaller (person), a homunculus to whom must be supplied objects of (their) own size”.[1]

I believe that play and creativity have a fundamental relationship.  Playing around – with objects, ideas, texts and of course, toys are the threads that I work with in the studio – trying things out and seeing the results.  The subsequent challenge involves assessing whether to continue, to modify or to move on.  While bronze casting normally speaks to permanence and the epic, the scale of these works creates an intimacy and anti-monumentalism which serves my purposes.

Using toys as a foundation material is a natural fit that I have gravitated toward as a means of speaking to my concerns.   Toys have always fascinated me – how they function and how their meanings can be ‘read’.  Starting with a collectivity of LEGO, plastic army men, Playmobile figures, pirates, and skateboarders I have cast a population of bronze castings.  Each figure started in large part with the question, “what if I…”.  Each result would subsequently inform the next effort.  play – replay seeks to transform materials and expectations resulting from this play in the studio.

For such simple objects, toys inhabit a complex space – a space that might not be exclusive to issues of socialization, domesticity, gender, aggression, cooperation and play.  I would highlight two examples that stay with me:

A good friend who grew up in the Kootenay region of BC to parents who lived what might be termed a “hippie lifestyle”.  As a child, my friend desperately wanted a package of green plastic army men to play with.  Being pacifist in nature, her mom agreed but only after cutting all the guns and grenades from the figures.

Sometimes the boundary between play and reality is razor thin: a wire photo I came across last year shows two Syrian boys in the middle of a war zone proudly posing with a rocket launcher and machine gun they had creatively (and accurately) constructed our of cardboard, plastic bottles and duct tape. 

We manufacture toys with the intention enabling children to play with the assumption that this play is free, unencumbered and not contingent.  Pulling back, however, it may be argued that the inherent structure of the toy itself echoes strictly adult concerns.  Toys and play easily normalize certain ideas about one’s place in the greater scheme of things.  Thankfully, children have also long subverted these rigid narrative structures.  Along with most kids of my generation I took great pains to shave the “life-like” hair off of my GI Joe Adventure Team figure which was something that was never encouraged or seen on a TV commercial or comic book ad.

While ‘playing war’ is a longstanding trope in childhood it is difficult, within our media saturated society, not to view this with some trepidation and tension when we can see images of real child soldiers carrying AK-47s.   While first-person shooter video games populate our consciousness it is interesting to note that the small plastic army figures are still widely available for purchase.  Perhaps in spite of the hyper-real gamer options we still are drawn to hold, handle and manipulate a tangible object – a return to the real.

Army officers have long used the notion of “playing war” to serve their overall aim of victory notably on “sand tables”, where dirt and sand are molded to construct battlefields upon which small models would replicate the scene.  These sand tables are essentially a way for army officers to plan (or re-enact) their battles.  There are several mentions of the “sand table room” at Sandhurst where many generations of British officers learned their craft.  I note this as it directly relates to the scaled down harvest tables I have constructed for some of the figures occupy. The harvest tables are intended to provide an intersection which speaks to the “plastic army figure” general who would use a kitchen table to play out a battle.

Reconfiguring – reconstructing – reimagining are strategies that I employed while constructing this work.  Combining different scales of toys within the same composition, altering how the model sets were to be glued, creating tables of 1:2, 1:4, 1:8 and 1:16 all serve to destabilize the original intentions of the toys I used.

I am drawn to the idea of a work/play dialectic and how play can be the genesis of creativity and creative work.   In the creative act, it is often beneficial to undertake “serious play” as a means of generating solutions and objects.  To this end, I was compelled to create structures which speak to work and play: small people supporting larger house forms, pushing “body-sized” orbs uphill and shoving large blocks of LEGO up a ramp.  The Sisyphean nature of the images might at first speak to a sense of futility, however, I would hope that it might also be read as an honest representation of the integrity of work and the importance of being intentional in our efforts.

P. Roch Smith February 2013

Many thanks to Heather and Miki for creating an incredible site to exhibit this work; Kevin Yates for generously sharing his knowledge and experience with small-scale bronze casting; Joel Wengle for much conceptual and technical trouble shooting; Jessica Van Heuvelen for spending hours at the sandblaster; and to Martha, Ronan and Sorcha for being awesome.

P.  Roch Smith was born and raised on Vancouver Island and currently lives and maintains a studio in Toronto.   Working mainly within the realm of sculpture, Smith also generates installations, paintings and drawings as part of his artistic output.  

Roch received a BFA (Honours Sculpture) from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (ECIAD – 1997) and an MFA from York University (2003).  A teacher as well as an artist, he has taught classes at the University of Waterloo, ECIAD and York University.  He currently manages and operates the bronze and aluminum foundry at York University.

Roch has exhibited throughout Canada and in the US and his work is included in private, corporate and museum collections in British Columbia, Toronto, Los Angeles and New York.

[1] from Barthes’ essay “Toys” in Mythologies (1957).******************

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