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Published December 21, 2013, 05:28 PM

Childhood remixed: Artist re-imagines family favorites in ‘Toybox Circus’

Moorhead - Artist Lana Suomala had a problem many parents face: a house full of toys her kids no longer played with.

By: Kris Kerzman, The Arts Partnership, INFORUM

Moorhead - Artist Lana Suomala had a problem many parents face: a house full of toys her kids no longer played with. But where most parents would donate them or pass them on to other kids, Suomala did something different. She started cutting them up.

Then, like a mad scientist, she started putting them back together with pieces from other toys. And then, well, the whole thing sort of took on a life of its own.

“I love X-Acto knives and scissors, so I just started cutting them up. Then I had this idea of making flying animals, so I spent a lot of time cutting wings off of angels, which was a lot of fun. It took a quick turn from there,” Suomala said.

A year after those first few slices and dices, Suomala has assembled – and reassembled – these bits of toys into sculptures, dioramas and “story boxes” that recall the circus sideshow and some of her favorite stories, like “The Wizard of Oz,” “Charlotte’s Web” and “Alice in Wonderland” in a collection called “Toybox Circus.”

Suomala said she loves the idea of repurposing discarded materials – some of her previous work reused watch and clock parts for jewelry – and the surplus of toys in her house triggered a desire for her to repurpose these beloved kids’ stories in much the same way.

“Some of these started out with a story I really wanted to do, like ‘Charlotte’s Web.’ I found a toy spider and a pig and I knew they had to go together.” She points at a small carriage that, when she found it, reminded her of Cinderella and “magic gone awry.” So, she tweaked it a bit.

“ ‘Cinderella’ didn’t quite go as planned and I just turned into a lizard instead,” she said, laughing.

“These are stories that have changed and changed over time, and this is me getting to be part of one more change,” she added. “I couldn’t really stop cutting them up, and how much it changed these familiar objects when I switched them around was pretty exciting.”

Suomala is quick to point out the involvement of her daughter, Stella, and son, Jacob, beyond using their old toys. Both Jacob and Stella offered opinions on assemblages that were a bit off-base (or a bit too weird) and Stella pitched in with some cutting and assembling. In some cases, they had to draw the line on a few of their favorite toys.

“She just kept looking at my glow-in-the-dark bouncy ball,” Stella said.

Suomala also had many of the reassembled toys within ready view of visiting friends and relatives and enjoyed watching their reactions to them.

“I just love how people interacted with them, and the names they’ve given them. Some freaked people out and then there were others that people just couldn’t stop playing with,” she said.

Suomala laughs at the fact that a few people were “horrified” at the fact that she was cutting up kids’ toys, even when they were already practically in the garbage.

“People had these protective feelings toward the toy animals, even if they were found in a garbage pile,” she said, “they would say ‘you’re a butcher!’ ”

For her reception earlier this month, Suomala said planned a circus-themed party with activities like juggling and magic tricks. The party struck the tent on a project that satisfied her desire to learn about assembling new materials, but mostly let her play around with toys again.

“I’ve learned so much about things like paint and how to attach things, since I’ve never really done sculpture. But this, more than any other project I’ve done, was fun.”

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo, and its online publication, ARTSpulse. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.