Friday, May 3, 2019

Dolls in distress

The astoundingly beautiful and powerful Enchanted Dolls made by Russian artist Marina Bychkova come up again and again in this blog as a source of inspiration. Part of it is the fact that the photography keeps improving, and the rest of it is that I can now make slideshows out of dozens and dozens of photos and don't have to try to squeeze them into and around the text (though as usual, I'll insert at least a few images here and there to break up the monotony of blocks of text). 

I actually appreciate the visceral discomfort these dolls can stir up, invoking as they do the childhood fairy tales which always turn out to be much darker and more violent than we remembered. It seems pretentious to say the dolls display non-verbal messages about power, control, sexuality, gender - all that stuff that we still fight over. But they do just that, and more. There is a mute masochism about some of them, such as this newest doll called Lady Amalthea, the main character in a story called The Last Unicorn.

Eyes swimming with unshed tears, lips unnaturally shiny and pouty, these creatures sometimes remind us of abused children, a connotation we don't want to see. We want to look away, we even think we should look away, but we can't - or, at least, we don't. Their costumes are gorgeous prisons, often with heavy, elaborate headgear made up of gleaming metal and thousands of tiny and individually hand-sewn crystals, flowers and pearls. Some dolls are heavily tattooed, and most have realistic genitalia which has caused a ridiculous amount of controversy at exhibits. Pictures of Bychkova at work evoke fairy tale heroines under enchantment, forced to work at some endlessly repetitive task until their fingers are worn to the bone.  

Here is her description of her latest masterpiece, Lady Amalthea:

"I’ve worked on this piece for over three years, dismantling and reassembling it multiple times as the image of the Unicorn slowly shaped itself. The 24k gold-plated bronze head piece was inspired by Hans Holbein’s 1539 portrait of Anne of Cleves, who was the 4th wife of King Henry the 8th. It is very light for its size, weighing only 82.3g (2.9oz). The costume is constructed with gold appliqué embroidery on fine tulle, 2,435 gold-lined glass beads (24k), 1,880 seed beads, 635 Swarovski crystals, 148 Mother of Pearl flowers, 46 fresh water Pearls and 21 Amethyst gemstones."

I found the following comments on a doll forum, and it's plain Bychkova's eerie humaniform/bodyworks of art still have the power to awe, inspire, and creep people right out. As usually happens on the internet, differing opinions or emotional responses are quickly judged as inadequate, unenlightened or just plain wrong. In the meantime, if I could be a witch (or, in my case, a "which"), I'd want to be the glam old person below. 

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 acknowledgement.

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".