C7 Heljakka: Liberated through teddybears

Katriina Heljakka


Liberated through teddybears – resistance, resourcefulness and resilience in play

The presentation will take place on Monday the 27th followed by a brief toy play session outside (if the weather allows). The outcomes of photoplay will be shared online.

Beginning in March 2020 and as result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Finnish citizens started to cheer up passersby by displaying teddy bears in their windows. As this activity gained media interest and popularity, it gradually grew into a form of contemporary toy play, inviting both children and adults to participate in the activity as displayers and spectators of toys. Furthermore, a gamified challenge was added on to this originally open-ended and visual-material play pattern made available to a broader audience thanks to sharing on social media. Through an examination of national and international newspaper articles and images posted with the hashtag #nallejahti on social media platforms, the researcher articulated and analyzed the phenomenon through the theoretical lenses of mimetic object play, social screen-based play, and toy play as an act that potentially facilitates mental well-being through imagination, participation, and communal play—here understood as playing for the common good. By theorizing and framing the current phenomenon as pandemic toy play, the researcher suggested the importance of resourcefulness and playful social resilience as facets of a transgenerational play practice in times of forced self-isolation and physical social distancing.

This proposal builds on the work of a toy researcher, who in a recently published article discusses the intertwining paths of pandemic toy play and communality. Curiosity raised by the noted power of toy play involving teddy bears drives her research further by asking what role pleasure and continuous play has in the role of the owners of toys, who during the pandemic spring of 2020 started to display their furry friends in windows for the sake of joyous communication common good.

In this trace, the researcher aims to bring together, connect and invite to play a circle of artistic (human) ‘toy friends’, with whom a collective visual and verbal production examining the teddies, their life in the window displays and their players’ will be created. The interest for this trace is to document and discuss the themes of ludic liberation through resistance, resourcefulness and resilience in play in times of crises like the ongoing pandemic.