Autumn 2011

Toys are us

Not a Toy: Fashioning Radical Characters

Edited by Vassilis Zidianakis<br>Pictoplasma, €60

Not a Toy, a boundary-busting book of art and fashion, is edited by Vassilis Zidianakis, co-founder of Atopos Contemporary Visual Culture, an Athens-based ‘cultural think-tank … and experimental forum for visual culture’. The name comes from the ancient Greek for unclassifiable, unnatural and absurd.

Subtitled ‘Fashioning Radical Characters’, this is a visual manifesto for the transformation of the human body into multiple personalities and characters (the publisher, Pictoplasma, is a Berlin-based champion of character design – see ‘Emotion Graphics’, Eye 62).

The starting point for the book was a total of 5000 images, from which the editors selected 308, created by 90 artists and designers. The design, by Wiyumi, Jaana Davidjants and Alexander Fuchs, is a play on ordinariness. The type on the spine is too big to be read, so that one has to turn the book to be able to read the title. The format is huge and elegant, the paper is rather thin and special because it is soft to the touch and semi-transparent.

Hans Hemmert’s extreme body cocoons are attached to everyday objects such as ladders or beer crates and are situated in a gallery-like environment, but the only human presence is the hands that hold the objects.

Urban Camouflage (aka Sabina Keric and Yvonne Bayer) conceals the human body with multiples of the objects that are displayed on supermarket shelves behind them, in ironic reference to the ghillie suits worn by snipers and hunters.

Olaf Breuning arranges masked people in traditional team portraits, which makes each person look introverted and lost. Nick Cave describes his textured soundsuits as ‘full body suits constructed of materials that rattle with movement … like a coat of armour, [they] embellish the body while protecting the wearer from outside culture’.

The black and white images of Maria Blaisse’s dancewear, created out of spherical foam forms, seem to freeze the movement of the models into almost typographical sculptures.

Noticeably absent from this potpourri of positions are written statements by the artists and designers themselves. Instead, following the art book tradition, there are five essays by theorists on the subject, assuming that the creator’s point of view can be seen within each work.

Loud and colourful, the personae shown here question fundamental assumptions underlying beauty and commerce. We live in a time of self-staging and self-marketing and Not a Toy takes this idea to another level.

First published in Eye no. 81 vol. 21 2011


Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue.