From the Introduction by Tyler Stallings
Little boys and girls play make-believe regularly. It’s one way of learning the good and the bad of what the world will offer as they grow. But what if their imagined scenarios seem tainted: a little girl in a kitchen with a teacup of spilled bleach, a baby in the mouth of an alligator, or a blue boy standing in a puddle of waxy, red blood? What kind of lessons are they learning? The collaborative team of Denise & Scott Davis, otherwise known as Davis & Davis, would like to know. They play with dolls to this day as an attempt to re-enact that psychological state when the rules of society are just beginning to be acquired. In their hands, these playthings are painstakingly staged, lit, and are given impossible and animated poses, with the aid of gossamer wires, all done in an effort to suggest a special but perverse moment in the real lives of real toys.
Davis & Davis use neither Barbie nor Troll dolls. Rather, they employ a range of discarded, thrift-store-bound figurines. They are made from a range of materials-rubber, wood, ceramic, and plastic-and their origins range from the early twentieth century to the present. Hardly any of them hold a place in our popular imagination; they have been forgotten. But Davis & Davis reinvigorate them with their own creepy yet funny episodes, like the evil-minded ventriloquist dummy in the movie Magic or the doll, beloved by little boys, though possessed by a murderous spirit, in the movie Chucky. Similarly, Davis & Davis’s synthetic and pliable thespians seem almost life-like when we experience them as larger-than-doll-size photographs.
But why have toys stand in for real people? The artists do so in order to get at the heart of why subtle shifts in behavior can be so disturbing, whether acted out or staged for a photograph-one way or the other, reality or artifice, each alternative requires a dose of the other in order to be accomplished.
The universal aspect of toys is that they feel like archetypes as a result of their stylization. They would appear to come from some higher source rather than a manufacturer’s imagination. And yet, despite their power as ideals, they are powerless, like a child, able to be manipulated in the sadistic hands of its owner. It is this contradictory message of innocence and transgression inherent in a toy, and in the everyday life of its owner, that motivate Davis & Davis to create alarming but seductive images.