toying with the archive

Seth Giddings has been awarded a stipend to conduct research on toys in the archive of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum at the University of Exeter. The research will centre on two categories of objects in the collection: Toys in general, and Optical Toys. A particular concern will be toys as media objects, both as communication media in their own right and as products of a commercial media culture – from contemporary ‘hybrid’ and transmedia toys back to the merchandising and tie-in toys collected by the Bill Douglas Museum. There are fascinating overlaps between these two categories as well, with the Toys collection featuring toy theatres, cinema apparatus and cameras, clockwork toys, and electronic games that could be regarded as genealogical descendants of optical toys and automata.

Given the centrality of the material and technical characteristics of toys to Seth’s research, a prolonged visit to the Museum with hands-on access to these collections would be an invaluable experience. Phenomenological questions of scale and tactility are key to the attraction of toys and play with them – their relationships to hands and fingers, their manipulability and feel cannot be captured in photographs and need to be experienced. As do their technical and mechanical capabilities, particularly in the case of optical toys. Through careful examination and description of the toys in the Bill Douglas collection it should be possible to speculate on their affordances, the suggestions made by instructions and other ephemera, and to explore their material qualities and the possible ways in which they shape playful behaviour and communicate ideas and values.

Read more here.

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