A recent visit to the Toy Museum at Brighton, a little place built into the railway arches, threw up all kinds of wonderful and macabre toys amongst the Hornby railway sets. I never liked dolls at all when I was little (and my equally tom-boy sister used to fill her doll pram with soil and use it as a wheel barrow) but I appreciate them much more now as objects of terror rather than of nurture. Here are images from a sinister cabinet of dolls.
Other highlights in the museum was a beautiful box full of jointed Alice in Wonderland Characters. It was unclear what they were for but they featured every character from both books and I particularly like the way they are displayed interacting with each other. Another highlight was the Punch and Judy cabinet where an unusually primitive crocodile lurks at the front. I love the way they’ve been arranged as if they were posing for a family photograph, as if a hanged man was an everyday occurrence. Punch looks particularly calm and proud.
The Brighton Art Gallery and Museum also had a fascinating gallery about performance and puppetry where, again, Punch and Judy featured. It had a particularly great set of Vietnamese Water Puppets (pictured here) – I’ve been lucky enough to see more of these in the Taipei Puppet Museum actually in the water.
It’s not exactly clear why life-like dolls are so sinister though there have been attempts to account for it by the ‘Uncanny Valley‘ theory used in robotics. The theory explains that once faces and movements become just too lifelike they evoke all kinds of innate fears in us such as fear of being replaced. How amazing that extremes of realism should provoke extremes of imagination. For me, I really like to see objects that disturb as it’s a ‘safe’ fear – they’re behind glass after all. There’s a real beauty to all these figures, beauty found in the textured, flaky paint and the crude sculpting that can’t be found elsewhere so the Toy Museum is a bit of gem in my view. Just don’t make me go there alone at night time…