Though they move every night, shifting position and rising from the dead, the toy soldiers at the Bellevue Arts Museum are not alive — at least not anywhere beside the mind of their creator, New York-based artist Nathan Vincent.
The three-plus foot tall statues mark Vincent’s return to the Bellevue Arts Museum for his first solo museum installation — an installation of 16 yarn soldiers called “Let’s Play War!” that juxtaposes femininity and masculinity, and expose how face violence permeates our culture.
“I was interested, as I thought back to my own childhood, and I was thinking about the things that we played with that, not dictated, but suggested how we should act,” he said. “I’m using gender roles as a launching point with this piece, but also trying to take something abstract like war and violence, and make it a little more tangible.”
Modeled after the classic plastic toy soldiers, Vincent’s creations are meant to almost have grown alongside the children that one played with them. Museum-goers will be able to walk among them, and feel as if they are part of the warfare being played out.
Each soldier took between two and three weeks to make, and consists of a steady base of steel, foam and the textile hardener, paverpol, covered by yarn. From conception to final touches, the two armies of eight soldiers took a year to create.
Over the four months of the installation, the soldiers will move each day, changing formations, advancing on the opposing army, and even die. The actions are made to make the audience think about warfare and how it is portrayed to children, said Vincent.
“Soldiers who are laying on the ground dead will revive, get back up again and rejoin the fray, and we want to people think about that. That’s very much the way children play with them, but not the way it is in real life, you know? You can’t bring the dead back to life,” he said.
Due to his work with the traditionally feminine medium of yarn, much of Vincent’s work as a fiber artist has played with perceptions of gender. In the decade since he found his voice in working with yarn, he says he has tried to showcase the way simple objects can be associated with men or women.
It started off small— screws, tools and appliances. In 2011, Vincent was invited to be a part of the group show “The Mysterious Content of Softness” at the Bellevue Arts Museum.
His first foray into installation art, Vincent said the life-size yarn locker room he created was an eye-opening experience. Attendees could walk around the locker room, with showers, lockers and urinals all spaced apart, leaving no refuge from peering eyes.
“The locker room exhibit was about being on display, which doesn’t mesh with traditional ideas of masculinity,” he said. “It was immersive, and for me, it changed for me the way I think about art. I was creating a space in which you could experience a feeling or concept.”
After such a personal revelation during his last experience at the Bellevue Arts Museum, Vincent said he didn’t feel any pressure with this piece, although he did have some nerves. His studio in New York is significantly smaller than the gallery space at the Bellevue Arts Museum, meaning he had to put finished pieces into storage, so he hadn’t seen the finished pieces all together before they arrived in Bellevue.
“I was a little nervous to be honest,” he said. “But I was thinking of it as a completely separate piece. I guess I don’t look at it as trying to live up to my previous work.”
‘Let’s Play War!’ can be viewed at the Bellevue Arts Museum through October 18. A video of the soldiers’ movements can be viewed at vimeo.com/131244784.