2 min

Toys rrr us

Have fun in the gender playground

Credit: Xtra files

Sandra Alland’s photo installation Play is really about you, “the toy generation,” the first generation to be inundated by creepy, sexist, racist, heterosexist, militaristic representations of modern culture. It may also well be the most fun you’ve ever had at an art gallery.

Alland, 29, is an up-and-coming photographer with a quirky vision and loads of potential. In this, her third show since picking up the camera two and a half years ago, she unleashes a playground of art forms, drawing on her training as a child actor, playwright and poet.

The show features four photographic narratives, either of women playing with toys, toys playing on women’s nude bodies or women playing at being women. Alland created the images, by turns disturbing and hilarious, in collaboration with the models, who are also artists: Corrina Hodgson, a playwright; Heather Lash, a puppeteer and writer; and Allison Rees-Cummings, a choreographer and dancer. Alland plays along as the fourth model.

The black and white photos are like installations, possessing a theatricality and performance – after all, that is what play is all about. They are accompanied by a soundscape of Alland’s models and friends talking about childhood toys and how they played with them – sure to provoke similar discussion among gallery goers. Lash, for example, grapples with her First Nations identity in the series “Cowboy On The Outside/Indian On The Inside,” while recounting the joys of playing with cow pies.

On opening night, beginning at 8pm on Thu, May 9, Rees-Cummings will perform live by posing naked and inviting gallery goers to place a toy soldier on the “disputed territory” of her body.

Alland says the idea for the show started when Rees-Cummings confessed that she had always wanted to have her picture taken with an army of plastic soldiers. “It was one of those drunken conversations in a bar,” says Alland, who grew up in Scarborough and studied drama at the University Of Toronto. “I was working on a series about female nudes as metaphor for landscape and canvas – constructed, primarily, by straight white men. The toy soldiers fit in – women’s bodies are always being invaded or constructed.”

The metaphor continues into Hodgson’s series, perhaps the most powerful and eerily beautiful. In it, naked body parts are turned into construction sites and sites of construction. In one, a toy steamroller threatens to flatten a massive nipple.

“That one was probably the most difficult,” says Alland. “Corrina had an eating disorder and wanted to use this to get comfortable with her body. We talked about really serious stuff: the Tory cutbacks which hit women so hard, health-care cuts, eating disorders, tampon taxes. The threat to women’s bodies is always there but – and this is where the humor comes in – it’s a plastic threat. In the end, we can win.”

Good thing. During her research, Alland noticed an alarming increase in gender-specific toys since she was a child (“really creepy stuff, like lingerie for dolls”) and, after Sep 11, a huge surge in militaristic toys.

She also noticed something else.

“Kids do subvert the meaning of toys all the time. I always made my Barbies have wild sex, but the sex never involved Ken.”


Pteros Gallery.

Wed-Sat. Noon-6pm.

Thu, May 9-Jun 1

2255 Dundas St W.

(416) 533-5159.