The symbolic qualities of super heroes

Action figurines of pop cultural „heroes“ (in a very inflationary way), Batman, Robin and all the others up to good old Ronald McDonald or Sigmund Freud, posess the imaginary component of symbols and do therefor reach beyond their original „non-sense“. As emblematic signs not only for personal memory and\or childhood dreams of omnipotence (and who has not imagined him- or herself at least once in life as a being of merely supernatural powers out of a graphic novel or a movie?) they stand even more for post-modern culture itself, its love for ironyand its yawning for individualism (and what is mor individualistic than a super hero with his or her genuinly unique abilities?). Following this train of thought to look at this „figurines“ as symbols, it is rather obvious that the actual „heroes“ (Batman, Superman and so on) can provide a rather substantial aid to deal with a instable (yet very resisting to change) and oftenly frightening world by identifying with them or just knowing of their fictional existence.

The actual „figurine“ is in itself meaningless, only the commonly shared knowledge that is inevitable surrounding the image of the „figurine“ with tales, rumours, halfly remembered events or even actual historical ideas and incidents, adds the individual space of meaning and reason to it, that one seems to experience while looking at them. Dictators for instance – Stalin, Hitler, Mao and so on – besides of the ironic appropriation of history and a – some might say distatefull – way of embodying „evil“ and thus taking its uncommensurable facettes into a proto virtual, graphic-novel style image to be able to deal with it and to submerge it into a form of state, where its horros are taken from it by humor or irony, so that it can be dealt with more easily.

Because of the symbolic quality of pop-cultural items and persona, granted through the commonly shared knowledge about them, they are most valid objects for transformation (Che Guevaras head as a poppy blue skull), re- arrangement or alienation (the supersized Ronald McDonald), a genuinely well played and most enjoyable „toying“ with expectations, seeing patterns and twisted representation of socio-cultural statements through the device of combining symbolic persona of pop-culture with surrealistic, antithetic or ironic image components that is shown in the „me collectors room“ in their current exhibition Art&Toys, showing parts of the vast „Toy“ collection of Selim Varol alongside a variety of mostly street-art and pop-surrealistic artworks (ranging from prints to paintings). The artworks itself nearly all share a socio-cultural and post-capitalistic criticism, ironically using the emblems of that culture as well as their heroes (the invention of Superman for instance is probably not thinkable without a strong outside enemy, may it be the Nazis or the Communists, against which the imagination of a „super-human“ helps to deal with subdued or unconscious fears). On top of that the artists also use the aesthetics (which makes a lot of works very „buyable“, which might be seen as ironical too) and mass-reproduction, the very heart of industrial capitalism. The faceless enemy that is the system itself, is fought by quite sharp weapons – irony, humour and sometimes even old fashioned „esprit“ (wittedness, one could translate this very french word). By using iconic „figurnes“ e.g. symbols, you cannot avoid to see or even to smile about the criticism transported in the artworks, because of the common knowledge you share about them.

But alas, back to the childhood and to the heroes of our adolescence –  the figurines of Han Solo and Princess Lea for instance, heart touching to see them in line standing there with Darth Vader and the Ewoks. There is a certain magic in this „Toys“, because they do invoke very personal memorys as well as they have the imaginatory possibility to impersonate them while looking at them and thus to litterally „swallow“ a fictional world you once loved.

Art&Toys – me collectors room, Auguststrasse 68, Berlin-Mitte, Tue – Sun 12.00 – 18.00

all pictures used in this post were made at the opening by myself.





Über philippkoch

author and curator, specializing in literature and writing on visual arts
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