From now until June 2014, V&A Museum of Childhood hosts Confiscation Cabinets; a collection of items gathered over 30 years of subbing in schools by artist and teacher Guy Tarrant. I read about this exhibition with immediate interest. I have always been fascinated by the laws of the playground and was keen to see if any of the toys and games I used to have had made the collection.
My journey through the collection began with the items confiscated from primary school girls. Jewellery, hair accessories, miniature toy animals and cyber-pets are just some of the items Tarrant has amassed. A little congregation of erasers lay at the bottom of the cabinet and much to my delight included the exact fruit rubber I’d had as a child. I also spotted my old friend the troll, although this one had been specifically labelled ‘Dirty Troll’. Mine had been impeccably clean and always wore a tutu. Last but not least was ‘Alien Baby’; a delightful, slimy, rubber extra-terrestrial inside a plastic egg. I once threw mine at a newly painted magnolia wall in my living room, leaving an other-worldly greasy mark in its place. My parents weren’t the biggest fans of Alien Baby.
In the days leading up to primary school trips across the pond to Boulogne, the boys’ hushed conversations revolved around how many packs of bangers could be smuggled back undetected. The answer was always none, as we all know teachers have eyes and ears everywhere and inevitably someone always tells tales. Cabinet 2 showed how not much has changed on the banger front; boys will be boys- as they say.
My favourite item from this cabinet had to be the scattering of objects titled ‘Floor Debris’. The flotsam and jetsam of the classroom floor included a plastic moustache from a Christmas cracker, a rogue starburst and a miniature pencil; sharpened as far as humanly possible.
Confiscation Cabinets explores the importance of friendship and social status within everyday school life, especially where teenage girls are concerned. The ‘Chatterbox’ was a firm favourite amongst my friends and we used to have competitions to see who could make the smallest one. Folded bits of paper with numbers, colours and rude statements like ‘you fancy Tom’ or outrageous dares like ‘do a cartwheel across the classroom’, the Chatterbox provided endless opportunities for fun. I particularly like the example here, as it instructs the player to ‘wash your face’ and ‘brush your teeth’. An element of risk is always involved.
Once upon a time, before phone apps and games, there was ‘Boxes’. A game requiring the utmost concentration and meticulous strategy, where you take it in turns to draw a line until you ultimately force the other person to draw the most ‘boxes’. It was great to see that this game is still going strong in secondary schools, what better way to get through a History lesson. Eat your heart out Flappy Bird.
As female pupils grow older and strive to establish their place within the social hierarchy, the confiscated items begin to develop a slightly sinister edge. The element of peer pressure is incredibly strong amongst teenage girls. Tarrant’s collection displays confiscated ‘Fags’ and alcohol, alongside a hair extension; ripped out during a fight. This was nothing new to me, as fagging it behind the P.E block was a daily occurrence for a high percentage of girls at my school. Whisky however, not so much.
The exhibition continues to explore the darker side of school behaviours in the final confiscation cabinets. Items from ‘Emotional, Social and Behavioural Difficulties Schools’ including a collection of replica guns, a shank made from a sharpened plastic glue stick and a bludgeon made from the bar of a shopping trolley show how troubled teenagers have fashioned weapons from the most unlikely objects. I found the ‘Rubik’s Cube Missile’ to be the most disturbing item; a classic, iconic toy reinvented as an object intended to cause damage to either something or someone.
Taking you on a journey from the past through to the present, Confiscation Cabinets opens your eyes to the sometimes disturbing reality of the school environment. There is a sense of the sinister among much of the collection with the trials and tribulations of growing up evident in the evolution of objects from one cabinet to the next. Both shocking and humorously nostalgic, this is an exhibition well worth a visit.