Reawaken the inner child with Mind Games at Peninsula Arts, Plymouth

Peninsular Arts exhibition of Ken Giles' work

Peninsula Arts is currently hosting Mind Games, an exhibition by Canadian artist Ken Giles at the Cube 3 Gallery.

Giles uses toys to create scenes which he documents with macro-photography. Using his images to stimulate the imagination and spark off stories in the mind of the viewer, Giles’s intention is to ‘reawaken the inner child of fantasy and dreams’.

His images of toys, placed on dark material and photographed against an ‘infinite’ black background, do indeed look like scenes from dreams floating along the white corridor of the Cube 3. Each photograph offers the viewer the chance to ‘play the narrative games of escapism into a past, forgetting the ephemeral present’.

Giles’s imagination is allowed free rein in his photographs as he experiments with colour, form and scale to create surreal, often humorous images. In Big Eyes and Orange Hair – Where? a toy troll is transformed into a fuzzy-haired giant and a monstrous blue eyeball balances on the bonnet of a tiny, yellow car. The images are most successful when the macro lens highlights the often overlooked detail of plastic toys, adding to the sense of ‘reality’ within the photographs.

Giles taps into childhood dreams (or, for some, fears), that toys have another life outside of the playroom; one that takes place in the dark of a toy cupboard or when everyone else has gone to bed. His vision, however, is never intentionally nightmarish. As Giles writes: ‘Rather it is here in the Mind Games that the places of frozen memories provide a safe and protecting refuge in which our minds can wander.’

Giles’s high contrast images are perfect for the slightly awkward Cube 3 space, which alternates between frantic thoroughfare during lecture changeover times and quiet corridor at others.

Rather than allowing the audience to come to their own conclusion about the stories being told, each image has a title. This is surprising given Giles’s intention to use his work to ‘manifest a larger fantasy role within the mind of the viewer’. Less prescriptive titles would possibly allow more space for the viewer’s imagination to wander and create personal narratives.

The interplay between the toys in the images mostly works well, although something about the doll’s soft legs beneath the toy car and her red, bloody-looking hands in All Mine – Find Your Own provoked a more gruesome narrative in my mind than was maybe intended.

Perhaps my reaction is an unavoidable pitfall of looking at childish, innocent scenes with an adult, experienced mind, the meaning of an image ultimately dependent on the viewer, not its title. Giles acknowledges this when he states: ‘Perhaps we can never escape back to the innocence of childhood, nor ever reclaim it.’

Mind Games – Ken Giles
Until Friday,  February 5, Monday – Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday by appointment
Cube 3 Gallery, Portland Square Building, Plymouth University

Heather Smith

After years in denial, Heather Smith has finally conceded that she is a writer, willing to exchange the products of many hours of blood, sweat and crossing-out for the chance of being published.In addition to PRSD and Art+Culture she has written for Art Cornwall, iwalkdevon and Behind the Spin. She also blogged about her life as a mature student on Later Study. In her spare time she enjoys watching her bantams think up new ways of destroying her veg patch, camera-less photography and making jewellery with found objects. Her ambition is to become a mad old woman and own an alpaca called Gerald.