Monday, March 21, 2016

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring


by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring – 
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush; 
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush 
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring 
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush 
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush 
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling. 

What is all this juice and all this joy? 
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy, 
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning, 
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy, 
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning. 

Naked as a doll

I've been enthralled with the doll art of Marina Bychkova for a number of years now. Every so often I get into a photo-collecting binge - I have whole files of them, and have even made some "fan art", having no visual talent whatsoever. Photos of her disturbingly beautiful Enchanted Doll creations are all over the internet now, along with lots of strong reaction.

Today I got partway through a comments section that seemed to go on forever. It dismayed me how little understanding there was of what - I think - Bychkova is trying to do here. Certain people seem to be shocked that she's making these vulnerable-looking pubescent dolls, often posing nude or semi-nude. Porn! they assume. Exploitation of little girls: shocking!

But could it be that the dolls are deliberately provocative - not in the usual sense (though they can be that, too) - but in the manner of "provoking" us, provoking the viewer into uneasiness and disquiet? And don't these hair-prickling, sometimes unsettling sensations lie pretty close to a sense of awe?

I could barely scratch the surface here in trying to sum up the flavour of the comments. A few seem to get it and are deeply affected, if a bit disoriented, as if lost in the enchanted tangle. But the rest are squabbling over whether or not the artist should be portraying vulnerable, "sexualized" young girls, either pre- or post-pubescent, and whether the whole thing is just "creepy" and "weird".

I think they're missing the point. Just skimming the top off the meaning of "enchanted", you come up with words like this:

bewitched, magic, possessed, charmed, fascinated, absorbed, entranced, captivated, enthralled, beguiled, smitten, engrossed, spellbound, infatuated, hypnotized, under a spell

Here be faeries, not to mention the dragons of deception. Along with threads of captivity, a state that's eroticized by a disturbing number of people, there are definite echoes of sexual thrall. Beguiled (guile meaning cunning). Smitten (ouch!). Infatuated. These mysterious juju-girls express all these haunted, hunted layers, and more. Bychkova's figures are like three-dimensional illustrations of very ancient, primal stories, what we innocently call "fairy tales". Some of them seem to have stepped directly out of the dream state. Others have heroic, aggressive or even macabre aspects which I believe are entirely intentional. These dolls practically scream story to me, and I can't look at them without dark tales multiplying wildly in my head.

But don't forget that these are enchanted dolls (not enchanting), with an alarming habit of doing what they wish. This means that they refuse to stay glued to the pedestal of myth. What grabs people's guts is the immediacy, the living-breathing quality in the waxen, porcelain beauty: we don't want to see the haunted faces of real little girls reflected here, enclosed in glass cases, mutilated and shamed, their value and and passion stunted by a culture that doesn't care about them, except perhaps to commodify them. Nor do we want to see little girls with antlers and spikes and gigantic fly wings sprouting from their heads. It bespeaks a spooky power which might actually be there, perhaps only visible to those with a peculiar kind of night vision.

The purpose of art is not just to please or entertain, but to unsettle, even disturb. I am reminded of Frida Kahlo and her skulls and dead babies and knives through the flesh. These dolls say all sorts of things to all sorts of people, and on many different levels. They command tens of thousands of dollars each, are internationally celebrated, and appear in lavish magazine spreads for expensive perfumes. In some cases, stores have insisted their "anatomical correctness" (realistic genitals complete with pubic hair) be covered up in window displays.

All these so-called conflicting dynamics are happening at once. Wealth, display, prestige, exposure (more than one kind of exposure), nakedness, tears, vulnerability, creepiness, pain, damage, mythology, bravery, exploits, exploitation, total mystery. It's all here. I think if I ever got to touch one of these dolls, my hair would stand on end.

Are they fetish objects? Depends on what you mean by fetish. In some cases, people are undoubtedly buying them as one more ridiculously expensive item to add to their doll collection. The average person has to make do with photos on the internet and can't even attend  an exhibit in places like Moscow and Paris and Rome.

The comments I've reproduced here are examples of the endless argument over whether Bychkova "should" be creating emotionally-laden objects like this. Dolls have always had a spooky power, and the idea of a doll coming to life and talking is a tired old saw worn out completely by too many bad books and movies. But these creatures don't even need to speak. Seeing a picture of one is enough to get you upset, or make you marvel, or even make you want one. I will admit I have thought of it, and Bychkova's new resin line (only a few thousand dollars rather than $10,000.00 or more) makes me realize the Enchanted Doll is beginning to go into mass-production.

These are absolutely slaying me. They look so real that it is triggering my stupid empathy and my brain just can't handle it. I just start tearing up. Damn she's good.

I don't even like dolls, but I would proudly display these in my home. That's insane.

Utterly stunning - the beauty of design and the soul of each doll is beyond amazing. I'm not a doll collector, but these would add magic to my home.

The fact that these dolls made all these people feel all these things prove that it is actual art.

Hideous. A selection of abused little girls. Maybe I'm a weirdo but I don't think a child (or adult for that matter) naked and crying is beautiful.

i wouldnt call yourself a weirdo. but id say you do have a problem with knowing a difference between fantasy and reality. probably one of those bland people with no imagination whos mind is too small to understand the reason behind art. when people like you see art that depicts the truth of your very own society you get offended. mostly because you choose to ignore the sadness of the world and pretend that everything is ok.

My gut instinct was not 'wow these are beautiful' but 'wow these look so realistically scared and how amazingly detailed is that girl's pubic region.' Are they more attractive to you because they're crying? I have enough imagination to know how these characters would feel and can see the sadness of the world reflected in it. I get it. Beautiful is not the adjective I'd use to describe it though. I'd like to see the artist make a strong woman. But I bet that wouldn't sell as well.

You're projecting the age, since the intended age of the dolls is not actually listed in the article....I assumed them to be in their 20's, some look perhaps in their 30's, and yea...a few look to be teenagers, but they all look like older teens in my eyes at that.

There's nothing wrong with being naked while crying isn't inherently a problem. A person depicting a beautiful human being in a vulnerable state shouldn't be offensive or disturbing, but apparently it is to you and while that isn't "wrong" really do seem to be projecting your personal angst onto others.

The artist probably does not suffer from the same mental anguishes you do, they have their own, so calling this hideous for the reasons you are is not only also shows you don't really understand the intention behind art in general.

Also, some of these show nothing other than emotion. Some of them are simply still poses that are unsmiling. Not nearly all of them are "sad", not nearly all of them are crying, being naked is not weakness because vulnerability does not equate to weakness (which you don't seem to understand, hence your reaction), being made out of porcelain does not inherently make something weak either...the way you personally interpret symbols is not necessarily the way the artist intended for them to be interpreted. It's not that you're "wrong", but you are definitely projecting and making it seem as though your personal judgment of these dolls is finite.

You're making it sound like everyone is literally crazy for thinking these are beautiful because of your personal issues....without stopping to realize just how those issues make YOU sound to others who don't have them.

I honestly don't think the implied age is a projection. The whole concept of a doll is capturing a youthful appearance. The large eyes, slim frame, and barley developed 'bodies' all appeal to the vulnerability of youth. Let's not pretend that wasn't the intent. And let's not pretend that something can't be beautiful and disturbing at the same time. These dolls are beautiful, but it's also okay to not be comfortable with the tearful sexualization of young bodies. And that's not to say what the artist did was wrong-- it's just an acknowledgment.

I don't find them all too appealing to be honest. The dolls could be pretty without sexualizing little girls. You may not find what the artist did "wrong" per say, but I definatly don't think anyone is incorrect to find "the tearful sexualization of young bodies" totally creepy. Especially the girl put on the bed.

Understanding what a human body looks like at different ages does not mean that you're projecting, it means you understand what you're looking at. These dolls are indeed modeled after very young girls. No one that looks at a baby doll is being accused of "projecting ages" onto a doll modeled to look like an infant. Humans have very distinct growth phases, and the phase they are modeling here is very much adolescence, from breast position, pelvic structure, and face shape. It's adolescence. Just because you never took basic anatomy and physiology, or any human reproductive biology classes and don't understand how that works, doesn't mean it's wrong.

I agree that it's creepy. All of those features together are identifying traits of a 11-15 year old girl, and if you don't find that creepy, then that's your issue. You can say that it's fine that they're naked and crying, but I find it less so being that they chose to make dolls that look like girls going through puberty, then make them look like they're crying, and then photograph them nude. On top of that, pose them on a bed while crying. It's creepy. It's creepy to sexualize the form of young girls, it's even creepier to sexualize the image of young girls crying. But hey, that's just me. Maybe you're a ok with people making virtual child porn too, because you think it's "just a projection of age".

I guess the big question to ask yourself, here, is this: Why do you find depictions of female nudity to be inherently sexual? These aren't sexualized poses or situations.

So you don't think that the doll made to look like a girl between 11-15 laying on the bed crying in a very reveling outfit is sexual at all? You don't find it sexualized one bit? Remember, that doll doesn't have any agency what so ever. An adult person made the choice to construct dolls to resemble all traits characteristic with adolescent girls going through puberty into one doll. Spend hours painting their genitals, and then photograph them nude. This adult chose to then make it so that they were crying. Chose to put these dolls that they intentionally modeled to look like little girls physically, who they chose to depict crying, and looking afraid, onto a bed.

Yeah... I don't think they're projecting. I think that's pretty straight forward in creepiness. This reminds me of all those creepy 3D renditions of virtual child porn that people always get busted for. Except this isn't 3D renderings of naked kids, they're dolls. But hey, "art".

Post-blog thought. People blathering about the horrible sexual connotations of the little girl "laying on the bed" missed another point. That doll is meant to illustrate The Princess and the Pea. Laying on her bed. On top of all those mattresses, eh? Then again, "that doll doesn't have any agency what so ever". That, and "I'd like to see the artist make a strong woman. But I bet that wouldn't sell as well." But to say these creations aren't "strong" is to miss the point by a mile. Oh God, I'm going to bed now.

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