As a basic form, the doll adheres to a simple blueprint: formally speaking, a head, two arms, two legs, a torso. The doll symbolizes a human being, it's designed to mimic, like a little person trapped in cloth or plastic. Possessing some of the characteristics of a human being, dolls are often made to do human things: people fuck dolls, nurture or love them, dress them up, and thrill at any opportunity to treat them as if they possessed a real biology. And so, many dolls are now being designed to respond to these desires or whims, to burp and eat, to giggle and urinate, to take it up the orifice of choice, to function as though they were truly alive. Never before has the popularized doll been so close to the realm of the human.
But dolls, no matter how real they seem, can only function as a substitute for a real being; they are representational, yet severed from biologic truth. And this is the way people want them to be, this is where the true joy comes from, where the fantasy takes hold of the masses. The doll is a welcomed illusion. Thus, while dolls have developed realistic attributes from a functional perspective, they have progressed in a different manner when looked at from an aesthetic one. As one studies the history of the doll in popular culture, one sees that the outer look of the objects in question consistently lean towards cute or sexy or beautiful, oversimplified, modeled, or inhumanly exaggerated. Dolls represent humanity, albeit in the most artificial (read: idealized) way. And so, they have the potential to represent a tremendous exaggeration of real life, a fantasy object of such common interest and access that many have hypothesized as to its impact on real human desires.
Dolls have been around for nearly as long as man has been around. Historically speaking, dolls have functioned in many ways, though most principally they have existed as toys for children. Popularly, dolls have been used by culture as a tool to aid in the formatting of gender, used to 'teach' children about themselves. Primarily given to female children, the doll has a distinctly feminine connotation and history. Women live their lives with a forced image of the doll that is implanted in them from a very early stage of their psychological development. For a woman, looking at a doll becomes an act of looking into a mirror. Dolls, especially ones designed as beautiful objects, represent the ideals and desires of their culture, and are therefore iconic in nature. Barbie represents and symbolizes the unchanged yet ever-changing American beauty ideal. The women of today, through acts of salon and surgery, strive for ideals of beauty that early exposure to 'beauty dolls' have helped instill in them; in a sense, by removing flaws and physical (human) imperfections they are transforming themselves into living dolls.
And what of its affect on males? Conversely, many male children are distanced from the largely feminine world of the doll, and are dropped into the more appropriate plastic fantasia of 'action toys' that enforce aggression and physicality, but offer up much less in terms of real biology. The doll becomes an object of wonder and mystery (just what is hidden underneath those tiny dress-up outfits?) and merges with the mystery of the female form as the male begins to become aware of the sexual side of human nature. With the help of the tempered realities of photography, fashion, and erotica – which are all grounded in the same kind of modeled fantasy that the doll mythos is built on – men learn to lust after dolls, and this affects his understanding of the real, natural characteristics of the opposite sex.
And so we see that a little fantasy goes a long way. Many theorists feel that the dolls of childhood enforce a new skin on adults. They have charted the alleged effects of this phenomenon in countless published essays and books, and regardless of how much weight one gives to this particular viewpoint, it is easy to see why many thinkers refer to the doll as an overlooked object of power within the popular sphere. The doll, as an object, has the ability to whisper secrets to a broad range of individuals despite differences in artistic or cultural background.
It is at this point in time that visual artists have begun to more fully explore the form of the doll as a cultural communicator. We have seen a rush of diverse, doll-related artwork make its way into the gallery system in the past decade. In a sense, the doll has become a recognized conceptual artifact; it is an art-language unto itself with a myriad of formal and conceptual nuances. Doll art can appear anywhere in our culture, in many different contexts, and it can mean just about anything. In contemporary practice, the work done with dolls spans the entirety of today's public concerns and obsessions: gender and body, identity and social history, violence and pop, high art and low culture, hybrid and posthuman states, on and on. Artists work with the doll in relation to the culture at large, interested in its potential to elicit a complex response from their viewers. The very fact that the doll is such a common object fuels their creativity.
The representatives of The Doll House share this passion for making from within the mental confines of their culture. They are all women, notably, sharing a gendered perspective and a history, and each has the ability to transform traditional craft materials into highly charged, personal expressions. Collectively, they are a group of artists interested in using the doll as a way of tapping into the lost voices of childhood, yet they all work with the doll-art object in specific and individual ways, in relative isolation from one another. The dolls that they create from different corners of the world remain embedded with the signs and sighs of human themes. They are fragile, placeless things with a variety of stories to tell.
Probing and poetic in nature, the works collected together for this exhibition form a structure that surrounds its viewer. The work challenges the common notions of beauty and fantasy normally endorsed by the pop doll; instead it talks of skin disease and starvation, it plays at being visceral and morbid, and almost without trying, it shocks. People pull away from these dolls because they are so foreign, so fixated on being real. Yet they return to this work, curiously, for the same reason. The Doll House is unique as an exhibition because it has used reality, not fantasy, as a basis for the material of its walls. /