Still in the Dollhouse

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Although I certainly did have a few dolls when I was a child, I have many more now as an adult. They are just part of a cast of characters and objects with which I’ve been playing for the past few years. Each element of the installations I construct with these has a symbolic function; they represent aspects of women’s lives, stories and myths about women, and ideas about what girls and women are presumed to be like, think like, and act like. Among the cast are stuffed animals, dolls of all kinds, anatomical models, hairstyling teaching heads, mannequins, mermaids, and allusions to Medusa, Athena, Eve and the serpent, Salome, and witchcraft. With these magical objects, I create small stage sets onto which I sometimes project images.

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This particular piece represents the continuing evolution of a series of mannequin installations and transmutations, from a friend’s garage workshop in Cedar, south of Nanaimo, to a cement-walled workshop in the basement of a Vancouver highrise. Along the way the cast performed in a doll anatomy theatre, presided over by the ghost of Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp and historical anatomical prints, and had their surfaces projected upon with a variety of digital images. Lighting plays an important role in this work; usually the piece is assembled at night or in a dark enclosed room and illuminated with candles or small coloured LED lights, designed to evoke the spirit of a witches’ coven or Sabbath or a carnivalesque party. Brilliant, sometimes lurid, colour and projections bathe the objects in a kind of supernatural glow. I find the contrast between the intense colour and the frenzied phantasmagoria of objects and the frozen stillness of the mannequins’ faces to be amusing.

Still in the Dollhouse

With respect to traditional female hobbies, crafts, and work, this piece uses the dolls and toys, domestic furniture, flowers, and floral design lights associated with feminine life, the still life painting tradition, and myths about girls and women. The mannequins and heads are also part of the world of women’s experience: fashion, hair, and naked bodies used as screens on which to project desires.

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