The SARS Wars Toys project is an artistic response to the global pandemic caused by the virus known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
These artworks are intended to be humorous, but they may also be perceived as tragic, troubling, or even upsetting. Their perception will likely depend upon the viewer’s ‘proximity’ to the negative impacts of The Pandemic*. It has been difficult for everyone, but this difficulty has not been very evenly distributed: inconvenient for some, disastrous for others. The Pandemic is not happening “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” but right now, and right here.
The intention is not to trivialise the widespread fear and harm caused by the virus. Nor is there a tendentious political message here. Rather, these objects are intended to act as reflections of the time in which they have been brought into existence — they simply would not have existed before the events of late 2019/early 2020.
They are, therefore, not so much action figures as reaction figures.
If SARS Wars Toys might be considered as artefacts in a metaphorical mirror then maybe it is more akin to a fairground mirror: conjuring distorted and exaggerated representations in caricature forms. The subjects of these ‘mirrorings’ are impressions that have been synthesised from broadcast media, social media, institutional guidelines, governmental actions, everyday conversations, and commonplace observations during this pandemic.
Much like other forms of Pop Art, the SARS Wars project represents an attempt to creatively bastardised elements of popular culture in order to examine the state of culture at large. Toys have been incorporated into art for some time, especially Pop Art. This may be because they are often held to be innocent, precious, loved: in many ways sacrosanct. They come with emotional baggage. Such associations can be exploited, giving rise to feelings of the uncanny, and/or to humour. As if the pandemic references were not irreverent enough, this project corrupts beloved toys too!
These creations are a consequence of the way that I have processed the unprecedented events that surround me: with what might be described as a form of ‘gallows humour’. I believe that this humour is deployed as a cognitive lubricant to ease considerations of the extent to which this viral pandemic has changed everything — change that has spread ‘virus-like’ in itself.
The term pandemic does not merely describe the geographical spread of the virus across our planet, but might be conceived of as describing the way in which the effects of the virus have infected almost every aspect of people’s lives, transgressing the boundaries of home, work, and leisure — contaminating psychological, social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental spheres. Contaminating everything.
You may like to consider these artworks as materialised jokes: the Star Wars cinematic universe and the Kenner toys of the late 1970s and early 1980s are the set-ups, the 2020 global pandemic is a novel context, and these SARS Wars objects are ‘artefactual punchlines’ that capitalise upon the current crisis as a source of comedic material.
Or you might like to think of them as ‘counterfactual’ speculative design objects: considering entertainment history and asking “What would Star Wars look like if…”, and “What might that mean?”. As this virus intrudes into our lives, so this project creeps insidiously into a nostalgic past and alters what it finds there.
You might like to regard them as pataphysical propositions or playthings: incongruous and/or nonsensical arrangements that have coalesced out of the Covidian chaos.
I am not yet sure what they are, nor whether they may be many things at once. Nor am I sure why I am driven to make them. I have shared the SARS Wars Toys project as I try to work these things out. These strange little creations have helped me to deal with the experience of these unprecedented times, and to ease into a ‘new normal’. My hope is that they may help you too, albeit in some small way, even if by just evoking a little mirth.
I would like to take this opportunity to mention some of the work that has delighted me and influenced the SARS Wars Toys project. Creators such as Obvious Plant, Death by Toys, RyCa, Sucklord, Airmaxanimated, Retrogimmick, Dano Brown, The ‘Jesus Christ Superstore’ deity action figures, and the various unnamed creators of figures such as the ‘Dead Ewoks’, ‘Charred Aunt Baru & Uncle Owen’, ’The Force’ (an empty box), and the ‘Alderan Playset (a pile of small stones)’ that I have enjoyed as popular and amusing internet memes.
Finally, thanks to Jo Charlesworth for photographing the SARS Wars project and to Craig Pymble at CSAD for his invaluable advice regarding small-scale blister production.
*as advocates of Benign Violation Theory would have it, myself included.
P.S. Please note that the ‘SARS Wars Toys’ project is in no way affiliated with a problematic video named: ‘SARS WARS: Rogue Wuhan’, by ‘Tano’, that is available on YouTube (or with any other similar content, for that matter). I was only made aware of the aforementioned video about a year after I began this project. Two complete strangers just thought of the same Star Wars pun, that is all.