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At a wedding in Virginia last year, I stayed in a house where the homeowner had crocheted custom coverings for a range of small appliances—toaster, blender, etc. Each customized, three-dimensional sheath obscured the shape and identity of whatever it encased, ostensibly keeping away dust, or maybe just the horror of a busy kitchen shelf. Nathan Vincent’s crocheting in Let’s Play War! at Noysky Projects emphasizes no-nonsense militancy in the same way as the drably sensible crocheted home furnishings of my grandmother’s house. Vincent’s forms derive from miniature toy soldiers, each standing around three and a half feet tall and fully enveloped in highly detailed, tightly interlocking loops of yarn in burnt orange and forest green.
Arranged in clusters, the groupings of figures imply conflict, as forms pointing weapons at each other are wont to do. The installation has the air of a hushed, dated museum diorama; a camouflage mesh over chicken wire softens and compresses Noysky’s single room, made moodier with black-painted walls and low lighting. The stage is then set, and occupied, by a blocky reenactment of “war” in which violence doesn’t so much loom as fail to manifest beyond signification: the toy soldiers “weapons,” after all, are seamless to their general form, and of course don’t actually work.
In utilizing mid-century toy soldiers rather than, say, drone technology, Vincent is perhaps pointing to the long lost innocence of valorizing war as a nationalistic pride. The archaic character of the soldiers, clad in Vietnam-era uniform with similarly dated weaponry, points to the particular childhoods of a particular generation—one source of the ongoing “toxic masculinity” to which Vincent and the press materials allude.
“Toxic masculinity” is perhaps a stretch in regard to toys meant to embody the heroism and comic-book-like daring of a child’s conception of war—a fight in which the soldiers merely get knocked over rather than literally, fierily obliterated. Vincent’s crocheting has an effect of constriction rather than softening, adding texture along the surface with little transformation of the underlying figure. Instead, Vincent seems content to point at a domestic dovetail: toy soldiers and crocheted furnishing as indexes of an interior, sheltered life in which war is a steadily diminished echo abbreviating a lived, vivid brutality into frozen choreography.
Nathan Vincent: Let’s Play War! runs February 18–March 11, 2018 at Noysky Projects (6727 ⅞ Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028).