If Toys Could Talk…

Talking Toys at Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop 

14 – 24th September 2023

An exhibition of objects from Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop and responses from the ‘In-heritage Group’: Gabriele Brambilla, Jason Cleverly, Geoff Coupland, Peter Maloney, Colin Priest, Jar Sukthana, and Rachel Emily Taylor.

The ‘In-heritage Group’ was established over the pandemic by University of the Arts London academics and technicians from across the Design School at Camberwell, Chelsea & Wimbledon College of Arts, seeking to expand disciplinary research and knowledge exchange activity between heritage objects, sites, and settings to stir narratives in place. 

‘Talking’ is tied to storytelling, communication, and conversation. As children, we talk to our toys and ventriloquise their wishes through our own voices. We change the pitch, intonation, and volume of our voices to compliment the toys’ imagined personalities. 

In the ‘Talking Toys’ exhibition, the work is arguably silent. But there is a conversation occurring between the toys from Benjamin Pollock’s toyshop, which provided inspiration for the ‘in-heritage group’, alongside the new objects that have been made in response. They have been exhibited side-by-side in the shop display cabinet.

Each practitioner responds to a different object or theme within the shop. Geoff Coupland, Jason Cleverly, Pete Maloney, and Colin Priest have made works that offer new viewpoints. Looking through peep holes, lenses, phone screens, to offer different perspectives. 

‘Gravediggers Cottage diorama paper toy’, by Coupland, offers a tiny glimpse into the world of Flotten, a small border town in disputed territory. Alongside, a tiny ceramic cottage from the toyshop is exhibited, which was the point of inspiration and has been translated into the paper toy design. 

‘Gravediggers Cottage’ by Geoff Coupland.


Cleverly’s ‘Old Fashioned VR’ has been based a peepshow concept, an idea that has been explored by artists from Samuel van Hoogstraten to Salvador Dalí. The design reflects upon the paper peepshows popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the paper theatres in the toyshop. 


‘Old Fashioned VR’ by Jason Cleverly


The QR codes from Maloney’s ‘Museum as Artefact’ allow visitors to view point cloud scans of the former Pollock’s Toy Museum, which were taken before it closed earlier this year. Viewing the museum as an augmented reality model generates new dialogues between the virtual model, the exhibition, and the viewer’s position. 


‘Museum as Artefact’ by Pete Maloney


Inspired by the array of character masks available in the toyshop, Colin Priest’s ‘B’ Sprout Mask’ are seasonal spectacles that signal the rich plant-based history of Covent Garden Market and its head carrying produce porters. 

‘ ‘B’ Sprout Mask’ by Colin Priest


Other works reflect on childhood memories that have resurfaced through interactions with the toyshop. Gabriele Brambilla and Rachel Emily Taylor’s responses play on family relationships and how these can be resurfaced through interaction with childhood objects, and Jar Sukthana was inspired by the journey from childhood to adulthood.

Brambilla’s ‘Re-car-lection’ follows the discovery of miniature automobiles in the toyshop, which brought back memories for him of his grandmother, who had her own small collection of toy cars. He describes his work as ‘a box of treasured moments, woven from memories’. 


‘Re-car-lection’ by Gabrielle Brambilla


‘From Child to Doll’ was inspired by the dolls within the toyshop that reminded Taylor of her mother’s work as a porcelain dollmaker. She aimed to illustrate process of making, including china paints, brushes, and tools; an environment she grew up in as a child. 

‘From child to doll’ by Rachel Emily Taylor


‘The Art of Being an Adult’, by Jar Sukthana was inspired by the balancing toys in the toyshop. She speaks about the work as a ‘balancing game; mistakes teach, wisdom grows. Being an adult is as fun, but it takes a while to get the game’. 

‘The art of being an adult’ by Jar Sukthana


The exhibition could be considered as a ‘call-and-response’ between selected toys in the shop and the objects made by the In-heritage Group. 

If the toys could talk, what would they say?

Dr Rachel Emily Taylor, September 2023

Photographs by Chiara Scoglio