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By Shannon Proudfoot
It's a sad state of affairs when seeing your childhood toys cut up and turned inside out isn't the most bizarre thing that happens in downtown London.
Amy Harrison and Grant Wilson's witty installation piece, The Care Bear Nightmare, has taken over the Ground Zero window space at the Forest City Gallery.
The devious installation features a dozen or so Care Bear plush toys in a brightly painted window environment with a child-sized table and chairs. The twisted part of the piece is that the stuffed animals have been taken apart and re-constructed inside out.
Anyone who has actually laughed at and clicked 'Forward' on a "You know you were a child of the 1980's ifÉ" e-mail will be both amused and disturbed by the piece.
Viewers can test their childhood memories by trying to remember the names of the Bears and match them up with their tummy patches, which are piled on the table.
It's more than a little disconcerting to see the hard plastic eyeballs and shoddy seams of these beloved childhood friends from the inside out, but, at the same time, it's entertaining.
The toys are posed as if they are climbing the display menacingly, even in their ridiculously decomposed state. Grumpy Bear leads the plush insurrection and this narrative element adds personality.
Although the setting is attention-grabbing, Nightmare would have benefitted from more polished construction and painting. The concept is worthy of a more professional visual element.
The piece is truly inspired by the 80s, complete with a neon orange and seafoam green colour scheme. The flame-like backdrop seems to suggest that the Bears are forever burning in purgatory for the sins of Milli Vanilli.
Harrison and Wilson are partners who work with pop culture objects from other eras that have now become ironic kitsch. They find their materials in thrift stores a testament to the decreased status of these once-coveted toys.
The Dundas Street East storefront window setting is perfect for a piece that devalues materialistic collectibles. The work is site-specific the artists essentially recreated the space in their studio and designed the composition to fit.
For the opening of the show, Harrison created a performance piece that involved an adult-sized Care Bear costume, in keeping with the creepy and hilarious theme of the window display.
Nightmare is extremely clever and appeals to the sense of ironic humour that characterizes the generation who grew up in the 80s. There's also an element of nostalgia for the age when these toys were "real."
Beyond the entertaining window display, the gallery's annual members' exhibition, Show and Tell, is more than enough incentive to venture downtown. The show features a stunning variety of works from the London art community and will reassure any visitor who doubts the vitality of local talent.
The works vary, from crisply-detailed black and white photography to bright eclectic portraits and abstract compositions. There is also creative use of unconventional art materials like Styrofoam, tree bark and sheet metal.
The Forest City Gallery's commitment to intelligent, fun and visually-skilled works makes it as worthy a venue as more mainstream institutions. The Care Bear Nightmare entertains viewers from all generations. Its combination of biting wit and nostalgia proves that irony is alive and well in the art world.
The Care Bear Nightmare was at The Forest City Gallery until March 31, while Show and Tell runs until April 20. Admission is free.