The online exhibition Playtime.Commodity uses an e-commerce platform to present toys from The Camberwell Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) Collection and contemporary artworks in a comparative context. Playtime.commodity explores the influence of toys from The Camberwell ILEA Collection on British society after the World Wars, through representations of consumerism and gendered stereotypes.  

In their book The Womanpower Problem in Britain during the Second World War, professor of history Dr. Harold Smith describes how the rebuilding of the social and economic fabric of society became vital in post-war Britain. The Camberwell ILEA Collection facilitated an  aesthetic education founded upon the notion of “good design” and a “healthy” form of consumerism which included the creation of toys to model desired societal roles.  

For example, The Camberwell ILEA Collection’s cloth dolls consisting of a heterosexual nuclear family of grandparents, parents and children sent a clear message of what was considered an acceptable template to rebuild society-with specifically identified gender roles. As detailed by scholar Lara Ghisleni et. al in “Binary Binds”: Deconstructing Sex and Gender Dichotomies in Archaeological Practice, gender constructs were portrayed as either boy or girl that corresponded with one’s sex. There seemingly was no place in post-war British mainstream society for non-binary, trans, same sex, queer, or fluid genders, according to the portrayals of a role model society, as described in gender and sexuality researcher Susie Jolly’s Queering” Development: Exploring the Links between Same-Sex Sexualities, Gender, and Development. Exploring how these types of toys were used to create social constructs in post-war Britain, Playtime.Commodity critiques consumer culture from the 1950s to the present. This exhibition will further explore whether the portrayal of toys today is reflective of the evolution of gender in our current society.  

As consumers increasingly use e-commerce sites to purchase merchandise and services, the ability of such sites to influence gendering of toys through narratives, frames, and belief systems will be interrogated throughout Playtime.Commodity. Additionally, inquiry surrounding sales and profitability superseding the original intention of rebuilding post-war Britain with The Camberwell ILEA Collection and contemporary toys will also be considered. 

Alongside toys from The Camberwell ILEA Collection Playtime.Commodity will feature film, video and photographic artwork that speaks to these questions. Included are artworks which addresses the commercialisation of childhood and the infantilization of adult behaviour to criticise the excesses of consumerism. Natalie MacMahon’s Pink Me Blue (2019) depicts an imaginative world where social stereotypes are challenged, while Xinyu Cao’s String Figure (2021) demonstrates the idea of “no absolute victory” through the consumption of time.  

In Playtime.Commodity, toys from The Camberwell ILEA Collection, contemporary commercial toys, and a resource-rich reading space will encourage discourse and inquiry into consumerism and gendering of toys since the 1950s in Britain.