Clashing Dolls and Taboos

The following review was written by Eric Mabille from In the MuCity Visual Arts Magazine on April 15, 2016. You can read the original post here.

Taboos are very trendy in Belgium’s galleries and museums. But, in comparison to some of the rather feeble if not watered down shows on offer, the Poupées et Tabous exhibition at the Maison de la Culture de Namuris quite iconoclastic and questions our own limits. Dolls have never left the field of contemporary art. Their initial purpose diverted to suit artistic projects, they bluntly display their transgressive message. Far from imitating nature, and rejecting any shams, they are exposed for us to see in a series of works by 14 artists. Faced with thought-provoking images and a sometimes disturbing strangeness, we see a dialogue developing with taboos.

By bringing the doll out of the context of childhood, the artist touches upon our major contemporary debates: sexual perversions, plastic surgery, genetics and cloning, transgender identity, multiculturalism and the new normal in family structures. Right away, the exhibition decides to only show us the transgressive body. A transitional and traditional toy par excellence, the doll changes status in other lands where, now a talisman, it takes part in reality to better embody it. From the pupa, or little girl to the well-proportioned teenage girl, the doll is part of the body theme: a fashion model or an artist’s models. This makes us think of the Dadaists dolls of Hanna Höch and Sophie Taeuber-Arp or the doll replica of Alma Mahler by the painter Oskar Kokoschka.

In the half-light, Hans Bellmer’s Filles artificielles are dismembered, disarticulated, and put back together into obscure objects of desire. The effect is always borderline, almost sadistic, as these faceless anatomical fantasies reflect a dominant and violent phallocentric perception.

Fetishist and sadomasochistic eroticism in the work of Pierre Molinier with his accessorized, photographed, and cut out silhouettes which are later placed in a photomontage of tantric and symmetrical poses on the velvet background of an imaginary boudoir.

Tortured female body

 In the 1960s, Niki de Saint Phalle breathed life into this female body condemned to immanence. In this almost funeral heart-shaped wreath, she mocks decorative arts, which were often considered as minor and mainly female arts, by creating a convoluted patchwork of dolls, bouquets, embroideries and table decorations. To show a violent reality, Arman has thrown haphazardly into a glass box doll legs and arms representing the waste of our industrial culture. Cindy Sherman has deconstructed the female gender, trapped in stereotypes. Using voyeurism, she manages to convey on a picture the brutality of the gaze violating hyper erotized bodies; this aesthetic representation of what is non-desirable shows us the doll’s gaping behind and destroys any erotization and voyeuristic tendency.

It’s 1951 and the famous Barbie doll with her adult sexual body and its unrealistic features appears on the market. Adored by children, while outraged feminists criticize Mattel’s commercial success. Olivier Rebufa turns her into his ideal partner, staging himself in a visual pretence of love in which man becomes his idol’s doll; an infertile union imbued with a certain melancholy of a world that can only be seen from the surface. There is a stronger pop dimension in the work of Pascal Bernier where toys mimic the adult world indecently and ironically. The artist erotizes and sacralizes what is hidden to better reveal it. While these manga dolls reveal their underwear, others a little further on perform their digital revolution by changing into cyber avatars.

Cloning and surgery

 The 1990s mark the advent of plastic surgery and cloning… In a nihilistic perspective, brothers Dinos and Jake Chapman offer us their mutant dolls and their anatomical disfigurements. Experimentation without restraint or ethics; aesthetics of the contemptible which takes innocence away from childhood. The dolls of the American Melissa Ichiuji are both attractive and revulsive. Their transparent nylon skin reveals bowels padded with various materials and hidden impulses that distort their bodies.

In the 1970s, the Belgian artist Marianne Berenhaut represented the female body exhausted by repetitive tasks in her Poupées poubelles. These matrices filled with the scraps of everyday life turn on its head the perspective of the desired body so as to better suggest its fragility. They convey distressing familiar feelings with a heavy past. Pascale Marthine Tayou brings together iconic African ritual statuary and elegant Tuscan crystal; a communion of sophistication and primitivism which tends towards some form of universality. Alice Anderson raises the question of memory, an approach that makes her mummify archived objects, wrapping them in copper wire for eternity. Thus lies for the posterity a doll freed and stripped of her human form.

The artists strip the doll of her innocence and morality, as she breaks away from the world of childhood in favour of the adults’. She got caught up in the game, surrendering to the mimetic desires of some and the perversions of others. An object of transgression, the doll becomes the receptacle of our transfers, an objectified woman, a dehumanized and rebellious figure. Through her multiple metamorphoses, she grabs our attention and our modern anxieties and feeds on them to better show us the mirror in which we look at our already slightly anamorphic faces. And the chronicle of the dolls continues minute by minute, replaying inexorably the history of our world. No time to waste!

Poupées et Tabous, le double jeu de l’artiste contemporain
Maison de la Culture de la Province de Namur
14 avenue Fernand Golenvaux
5000 Namur
Until 26 June

Every day from 12:00 to 18:00

Melissa Ichiuji, Shape Sorter, 2009, collection Famille Servais, Bruxelles

Melissa Ichiuji, Kissie Kissie, 2008, collection Famille Servais, Bruxelles

April 15, 2016