Monday, January 21, 2013

Embalmed Beauty, Part 2: fan art

Quite a while ago I went through a doll phase - all right, an obsessive doll phase - all right,  a completely obsessive doll phase that took me down some very dark corridors in my mind.

I think the first significant genre I found was on a web site called Enchanted Doll ( which features a collection of exquisite and disturbing dolls by Russian-Canadian artist Marina Bychkova. Barely 30 years old (and living in my hometown of Vancouver), she has been creating these shockingly original alabaster dream-figures since her early 20s. It has certainly paid off: one of her dolls commanded the headspinning price of $27,000.00 on eBay, and the waiting list for purchase is now several years long.

What exactly is happening here? How to analyze this strange and spooky magic? You can't, and I won't try or I'll be here all morning. Most of Bychkova's dolls are in a category called BJD (and it doesn't mean what you think it does, so shut up or I'll smack your filthy mouth). It means ball-jointed dolls, whose arms and legs have the capability of moving in practically any direction. (Please don't count those Monster High monstrosities, whose arms, legs and hands have an alarming habit of falling off.)

The bodies seem identical, slim and virginal, sometimes elaborately tattooed, with realistic genitalia that freak a lot of people out. Some even have pubic hair and a visible clitoris, which is strange because the average woman's clitoris isn't visible. The slender figures and spookily lifelike skin of these dolls contrasts startlingly with their blatantly visible, marionette-like joints. The nudes pose innocently or provocatively, faces sad and sometimes frightened, eyes brimming with tears. Costumes can be incredibly intricate, and there is even some furniture, velvet sofas and the like. But this is hardly Barbie's House of Dreams (from which the name of this blog is derived, by the way. Some people don't get the satire at all and just think I'm stupid.) 

There are recurring themes in the world of the Enchanted Doll. One seems to be subjugation and even a kind of captivity. Many of the dolls wear costumes that would feel something like a suit of armor, with enormous headgear (one even has a cathedral on top of her head!). Even the Scheherezade-like figures look like creatures kept under glass (which, during the many exhibits that draw wildly enthusiastic crowds, they actually are).

I had a Bychkova fit a year or so ago - or was it two? - then decided I had had enough and had better leave it alone before I crossed some sort of disturbing threshhold. Enchanted doesn't mean what people think it does. It means living under a powerful and often unbreakable spell, a spell cast through words or even song (the "chant" part). Abricadabra, bibbidy-bobbidy-boo, and you're captivated (captured?) for life.

But when I got triggered off again recently, God knows how, I found a trove of a couple hundred images I had previously hoarded (most of which I ruthlessly weeded down to just 66 or so - not 666! - figuring the rest of them  are already accessible on the internet, and will be for the forseeable future). I found only a few that were really new to me, including the heartbreaking one at the start of this post. If you really want to freak yourself out, pretend you can hear what this doll is saying. And there is the really disturbing one, the battered doll, which seems to cross the line even for a dollmaker who likes to push the envelope.

So do these dolls "make a statement" about female subjugation? I doubt if it's done consciously. If they do, it's in the sense of holding up a mirror, both to society and to ourselves. We prize the waxen beauty of girls kept under glass, and even find them sexually irresistable.

SOOOOOOOOO. . . we come to my Daily Special. Those few years back when I first became obsessed, I produced a bit of fan art. There is fan art on Bychkova's Enchanted Doll site, but it's done by actual amateur artists, not people like me who can't paint or draw. I play with my Enchanted Doll images like Colorforms, that primitive form of magnetic paper dolls from the '60s, which I was startled to see my granddaughters playing with the other day.

This is photoshop art, placing the dolls in settings that worked for me, stolen from the internet. The backgrounds are  meant to be standard wallpaper, but there is nothing standard about these dolls. They call up disturbing feelings in people, from "Ewwwwwwww! Cree-py!", to "Who made these?" to "Where can I get one?"

In case you think these dolls represent harmless social satire, just look on Bychkova's site and watch some of her videos. They feature "playing with" the various nude dolls, placing them in postures that often seem frankly lesbian. In one, a doll has died and is being buried. 

It all makes the mummified Barbie in the shoebox sarcophagus of my childhood seem much less strange.

CODA. I kept getting a funny feeling when I looked at this one:

It was perhaps the simplest one to compose, with only one figure in the extreme foreground. But it looked funny, kept changing somehow.

It was like one of those "can you see two faces in this picture?" things that I can never figure out.

With a few magical photoshop changes, I was seeing a giant goose or duck or some other strange bird, a malevolent-looking one that seemed to be dominating the entire picture. It's what fairy tale enchantment can do to you.