Dolls fire our collective imagination, for better and – too often – for worse. From life-size dolls the same height as the little girls who carry them…to Barbie and her fashionable sisters, dolls do double duty as child’s play and the focus of adult art and adult fear.
– Ellen Datlow
A multi-sensory moment. Inflated. Disproportionate eyes, lips and limbs. Contorted constructions of misrepresented ideals. Dolls have a complex relationship to constructs of womxnhood, femininity and the female body. In an interview with Daniella Dagnin, she explores the relationship of different doll architypes in her work through the exhibition, Blue Lies White Truths.
“It started with a script that I wanted to write, which lead me to a world that was slightly fictional. There were moments peeking through of a real universe.” Her interactive script of text, videos and gifs engages the reader in multiple dimensions. “Words would stop and then there would be a certain sensory element.”
Blue Lies White Truths was a reimagining of this – a “visual context within the boundaries of a gallery.” “Thematically it had a lot to do with the female body, relationships, whiteness and the dimensionalities that exist within families. Those moments were pushing through between reality and fiction.”
The Barbie Barbeque – an assemblage of Barbies trapped in a matrix of a braaing implement “was a kind of play on words. There are so many different elements that use dolls, but each represents a different thing.”The character played by Natasha Brown, “X was a kind of caricature of a womxn, she lacked the dimensionality of a full character. She was used to reiterate the stereotypes of female beauty.” Whereas Morgan Hall as Egg on the other hand, “was on the periphery of being male or female – yet he was totally exposed through his wardrobe. He was wearing this plastic top which showed his bedazzled nipples.
A blow-up doll also featured in the exhibition. “Initially the blow-up dolls were supposed to fill the space. Ironically, they’re super expensive even the cheap disgusting ones. The dolls…had to do with transforming the object. It’s not a complete transformation because you can still identify that it is a doll, but there are still moments where maybe the doll is in the future or part of some other ritual or culture.” In this way, the sex toy transcends its original purpose and becomes symbolic of alternate projections.
Of all the characters, “Micaiah [as Jessica Robinson] had the most dimension, but was also a younger character. The dolls brought her back to this kind of child-like world. A lot of it also had to do with this time element: Jessica Robinson is an adult, not a 14-year-old girl. In terms of casting, it was either a choice of casting someone super young and fitting the characters within each role that they ostensibly should have in terms of age, or switching roles – which is why X is depicted as looking younger to subvert that.” The female characters in this narrative both undermine, but also mirror representations of doll-like-womxn in the media.
Media imagery within the Western paradigm, “has such a skewed concept of womxn within itself…it needs to start representing what is real instead of this façade as a repetitious performance. ”Art has the potential to act as a space to reclaim the doll-image in a way that does not reproduce the same warped notions of femininity. Dolls can be used divisively as “symbols to represent a larger world.” Other works like Jane Alexander’s Stripped (Oh Yes Girl) 1995 and more recently Robyn Perros’ work with [wo]mannequins operate within a similar dynamic.