Archive for the ‘Dollface’ Category

Show and Tell Time

Monday, November 9th, 2009

It’s been a while, but I’m back and it’s show and tell time, people! Here’s how it works: I’m going to talk to you about my new show “Shrouded Mirrors‚” and you – I mean YOU, are going to respond by commenting or emailing about your doll/art/doll art exploits. The most interesting/accomplished/just plain awesome of you will be featured in a future post. So respond, the power is yours!

Ok, I guess I’ll start with the ‚”Hey, cool, look what I can do a bit. As some of you know, I’m an artist, the dime-a-dozen painting-and-drawing type. But there is something that I do that is considered by some in my field as ‚”awesome” ‚”creepy” or ‚”umm…unique‚” As you’ve probably guessed by the tone of this blog, I make dolls.

It started as an exercise in grief after my great aunt died. She had been obsessed with dolls in a really weird way and after she passed I started to make them in rememberance of her. It was hard to do at first. I had to swallow my disgust because previously I had been more than a little creeped out by dolls. (probably because of my great aunt, but that is another story for another time.) Due to being the typical self-hating artist I muscled through the gag reflex and found out that I *gasp* liked making dolls. I found that there were things that I could say through dolls that I couldn’t say in any other media. An obsession was born.

And I have carried that obsession through to this latest show, “Shrouded Mirrors”, my second solo show at the Peacock Room lounge in Orlando Florida. This work is definitely my best to date and I am especially proud of the four crown jewels of the show: my recently completed ball-jointed dolls. The dolls are sculpted from imported stone-clay over a 4 month period and then finished with oil paints and powdered pigments. It took a lot of trial and error, the dolls that you see here are version 2.0, and I really feel happy with the outcome. As well as the dolls themselves, there are a few 2D pieces with doll themes. “She Sleeps with Eyes Open” is a drawing of Snow White as an unsleeping ball-jointed doll in a coffin full of apples. In “The Poetry of Rot” a doll head covered in twigs, poisonous mushrooms and creepy crawlies hurtles across the picture plane. There is also a subtle doll reference in “Jardin d’Hiver”, an oil painting on the theme of immaturity. A doll’s ball-jointed hand offers the main figure a tantalizing piece of forbidden fruit.

I hope that you have enjoyed this short tour of my cobwebed and doll-infested imagination. If you are in the Orlando Florida area, please come see “Shrouded Mirrors” at the Peacock Room. It will be up through Halloween.

I look forward to seeing your personal your offerings to the doll world!


Attack of the Palm-Sized Woman!

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

So I took last week off to work on my up-coming art show. While taking a sadly brief tea-break among my half-finished doll limbs, I found myself pursuing a borrowed copy of “Hobby Japan” magazine. And that is where I found her.

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Anime Figurine

There she was, in a full-page spread in the center of the magazine, sprawled on the ground with her legs in the air, wearing only socks and strategically placed bandages. Her blue hair was tousled and her eyes stared out from the page seductively. She had luscious curves for a girl of such short statue…and I do mean short, because she couldn’t have been more than three inches tall.

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Another Anime Figurine

So who was my mystery girl? A painted resin figurine of Rei Ayanami from the Gainax anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion”. I was in love. Every bit of her was beautifully sculpted and finely painted. Even in the full page photograph her manufacturing seams were almost invisible. She was beautiful, a perfect example of the Japanese anime figurine.

Anime figurines come in many forms and sizes. They run the gamut, from tiny capsule toys to foot-tall works of art with price tags to match. They can be run-of-the-mill manufactured models or one-of-a-kind garage kits. But no matter their style, there are many common characteristics. All anime figurines are immobile, although they may have accessories that can be added or removed. Also, the vast majority of these figurines are depicting cute and/or sexy female characters. Any casual flip through “Hobby Japan” will tell you what the fan base desires: miniature robots and miniature girls.

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The Comic Midori Days

The uniquely Asian fantasy of the miniature girl has always puzzled me. A related phenomena- a fetish for super-large women who destroy cities with one high-heeled footstep- has world-wide appeal as sci-fi cult films such as “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” attest, but the miniature girl fetish seems to mostly exist in Asia. From anime such as “Midori Days” where a girl magically shrinks and becomes attached puppet -style to the right hand of the boy she has a crush on (wanking jokes ensue) to the slightly creepy wedding photography trend in Japan and Korea where the bride is shrunken to doll-size through the magic of photoshop, the tiny woman is a visible trend.
“But Beth!”, you may say, “You are reading too much into it! Some anime figurines are meant to be sexy, but there is no tiny- lady fetish involved! Besides, most figurines are just for fans who love the characters, there is no sexual element at all.”

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Asuka (from Evangellion)

And I agree, to an extent. I used to collect anime figurines myself, just so I could have beautiful toys of all the characters I loved. But then I began to notice a few things- finding figurines depicting male characters was difficult, as the majority of figurines were of cute or sexy female characters. And while male figurines had limited detailing in areas that would not normally visible, female figurines were detailed everywhere. Even if the character’s undergarments were not visible from any normal perspective, they were still lovingly detailed so that the quality of the figurine was not diminished if you happened to be looking at it from an *ahem* unusual angle.

I realized then that these figurines, although made to stand on a shelf, had another, unspoken purpose. They were meant to be picked up, manipulated, and examined very closely, although their lack of joint articulation indicated that they were not meant for traditional play. These qualities are the same qualities that explain the appeal of the tiny woman fantasy- she can be manipulated because she is so tiny and she is unable to protect even her modesty from prying eyes due to her diminutive size. Although it is physically impossible to love her as a normal woman, it is this same caricature of fragility and tininess that gives men a feeling of control and vast superiority. ( The related fantasy of the giant woman is the same but reversed- she makes men feel dominated while also providing panty-shots best viewed through binoculars.) I’m sure that both of these fantasies say something about the psychology of those who possess them, and there may be cultural elements at work here as well.

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"Creepy" Wedding Photography from Korea

These anime character figurines are not the first dolls created to cater to traditional male sexuality, nor are they the most blatant in this aspect. The Western cousin to the anime figurine, the super heroine action figure, also possesses a sexual aspect. She is designed to appeal to the American ideal of big boobs, small waist and “round thing in your face”, but she is different from anime figurines in a major way. Not confined to a pedestal and possessing of basic joint articulation, she is meant for imaginary a$$ kicking, not just eye candy, while the frozen nature of the anime figurine does not allow for traditional play of any kind, just for voyeurism.

So are anime figurines objectifying women? Certainly, but no more than other forms of soft pornography. The positives and negatives of these figurines come down to the pornography argument and what side of it’s fence you happen to fall on. But no one can deny that they have an appeal due to their likable characters, detailed paint jobs, and sensual poses. And there is the artistic element to consider as well. Many of these toys are very well designed with sculpts and paint jobs that put all but the very top-end American toys to shame. So despite the issues that “Feminist Beth” has with these toys, “Artistic Beth” is drawn to them for their craftsmanship and attention to detail. So as a female anime fan and toy lover, I’m conflicted. Do I love them? Do I hate them? Do I question myself to much?

But when it comes down to it, who would object to being seduced by a three-inch tall Rei Ayanami? Certainly not me.


Sunflower Seeds [pt 3]

Friday, August 28th, 2009

Mitsukazu Mihara’s Early Works

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

The third story, “The Sunflower Quality of an Integrated Circuit”, revolves around Vanilla, a mechanical servant or “doll” in the employ of a rich old man and his younger gold-digging wife. The old man buys Vanilla because she will do the housekeeping tasks that his wife won’t do and she shows him an innocent loyalty that his wife refuses to. The old man treats Vanilla as if she were a person, talking with her and having tea with her in the sunflower garden. A quiet, trusting relationship between the two develops, mostly due to the fact that the old man doesn’t feel judged by Vanilla. Meanwhile, the young wife physically and verbally abuses Vanilla, and even lets her boyfriend use Vanilla sexually. Because she is a machine, Vanilla takes all of this ill-treatment without complaint.

ICSunflower_450Eventually, the old man demands a divorce from his greedy wife so that he can live in peace with Vanilla. Enraged, his wife kills him and orders Vanilla to bury his body in the garden. Vanilla obeys as she has been programmed to do. At this point, the reader almost feels betrayed by Vanilla for having followed her programming. But how can she help but betray, when she is only a doll, a smarty dressed automaton? The reader is left with some comfort, however; Vanilla confronts the wife about what she has done, asking “That was Master, wasn’t it?” sparking a jarring look of guilt on the face of the wife, a character that had, up until that point, been emotionally unburdened by her horrible actions .

Interestingly, Mihara’s robot servant Vanilla seems less like an Asimov creation and more like a little girl’s doll come to life – she changes from one adorable outfit to another and one cute hairstyle to the next in the course of the story, perhaps fulfilling the female reader’s fashion fantasies much like a Barbie doll. This constant wardrobe change is characteristic of Mihara’s work, and it serves to emphasize Vanilla’s femininity – for she embodies the perfect woman, intent on housework and pleasing her man, the foil to the old man’s wife.

But the end of the story does not really advocate for one or the other; the beautiful but vain wife is not the ideal mate, but neither is Vanilla, for although she represents ideal femininity, she is inhuman, indifferent, and, due to her inherent nature, she ultimately betrays. Perhaps what Mihara is suggesting is that neither of these women is truly real. Perhaps even the condition of being gendered as female is unreal as it is, for the most part, a social construction that is apart from biological function.

There are other wonderful stories in this volume that explore equally jarring science fiction realities, and I highly recommend this volume to anyone who loves speculative fiction and strong visuals. I will be discussing more of Mitzukazu Mihara’s work later, and share with you some beautiful doll-related pictures from some of her art books. Look forward to it!


Sunflower Seeds [pt 2]

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Mitsukazu Mihara’s Early Works

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Now, if you’ll forgive me, I’m about to get all literary on this blog. If watching me show off my English minor skillz bores you to tears, skip to the end. This is for my library loving peeps. (I’m sure you’re out there!)

I’d like to highlight some of Mihara’s early work that contains dolls as thematic and symbolic material by analyzing the English translation of her short story collection “I. C. in a Sunflower”. ( Warning: some of the content I’m about to cover is a wee bit adult in nature. I will be talking about *gasp* TEH SEX, ABUSE, and MURDER!!! You have been warned.)The first two stories I will discuss, “Keep Those Condoms Away From Our Kids” and “Iron Maiden”, deal with dolls in a more traditional sense, while the third story, “The Sunflower Quality of an Integrated Circuit”, is Mihara’s first exploration of the mechanical servant dolls which would become the basis of her ongoing series “Doll”.

The first story, “Keep Those Condoms Away From Our Kids”, takes place in a near future version of Japan where experimental contraceptive drugs have rendered the current generation utterly uninterested in sex. To save the spiraling drop in birth rate, schools have begun to instigate extreme Sex Ed.,testing students on sex techniques and using porn as teaching material. Despite this subject matter, the main characters of the generation who “just don’t get sex” remain innocent to a degree that almost resembles ignorance, and the overall feeling of the story is not one of titillation but rather one of restrained sadness.

dollchaingirlvd6In one scene, the main character, a boy named Irori is struggling in vain to please his parents by getting high marks in his sex class. He practices with a life-like dummy that appears like a modern day sex doll, a permanent smile plastered across its face. The only noticeable difference is the serial number pasted on its thigh, not unlike a modern CPR or crash test dummy might have. In the scene Irori struggles to have sex with the doll while politely calling it “Miss Patricia.” This scene develops Iorori’s character, demonstrating not only his complete lack of sexual interest, but also his innate kindness, unclouded by lust. He treats the human-shaped object, the sex doll, with the same courtesy he would treat a real person by giving it a respectable name; “Patricia-san”. One is also reminded that in our society we are accustomed to sexless dolls, neutered by toy companies to protects our children’s delicate sensibilities. (i.e. Barbie and Ken’s smoothed over genitals and blank-crotched baby dolls.) Mihara totally throws this expectation of ours on its head, showing us an extremely gendered doll (Miss Patricia) and a sexually castrated human being (Irori).

The second story, “Iron Maiden”, deals with the sexual abuse of a young girl, Maako, by her accomplished and charismatic older brother, Yuuichii. When Maako tries to tell her parents about her brother’s abuse, they ignore her, not wanting to even consider that their favorite child would do such a horrible thing. To cope, Maako begins biting things furiously, especially victimizing a baby-doll in her possession. The story follows her to motherhood, where she finally has the happy family she has always desired. But when she takes her old toys out to give to her infant son, she comes across the abused doll, and all her memories flood back.

The story’s conclusion is that even if one achieves happiness in later life, it doesn’t erase the scars of childhood – in some cases it merely sets them off more strongly. As Maako says at the end of the story “Why are some babies loved and others unloved?” it is unclear whether she is referring to her tattered baby doll or herself. And this is an appropriate ambiguity, because in this story, Mihara is using Maako’s baby doll as an outward expression of Maako’s own anger. The doll represents Maako, because it represents the main shaping event in her life: her sexual abuse by her brother.
And on that super happy fun time note, here is where I’ll end it this week, for brevity’s sake. Look forward to the startling conclusion!


Sunflower Seeds

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Mitsukazu Mihara’s Early Works

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Science Fiction is a metaphor. What sets it apart from older forms of fiction seems to be it’s use of new metaphors, drawn from great dominant’s of our contemporary life – science, all the sciences, and technology, and the relativistic and historical outlook among them- Ursula LeGuin

Doll1_250Mitsukazu Mihara’s works are often mislabeled as horror, due to her stark black-heavy page compositions, her Gothic Lolita styled characters, and her undeniably morbid plots. But her best works, including her seminal manga, “Doll” (briefly mentioned in my last post), and it’s precursor, “I. C. in a Sunflower”, are both excellent examples of science fiction. Science fiction is defined by its postulations about near future or far future societies by taking current science or technology to its ultimate extreme end. In both “Doll” and “I. C. in a Sunflower” Mihara takes our current society’s obsession with A.I. and human-shaped automatons to it’s logical conclusion, creating her “dolls” – meticulously coiffed and clothed mechanical servants to mankind.

By now you may be saying to yourself “This reminds me an awful lot of “Chobits” by CLAMP, what with all the ravishingly hot subservient robo-boys and girls! “. To some extent you would be correct. Like CLAMP, Mihara uses her ethereal robots as mannequins to show off her fashion design skills, decking them out in frothy, over-the-top Gothic Lolita ensembles that would make CLAMP characters seethe with envy. (Not coincidentally, Mihara was also the first and one of the most well known cover artists of “Gothic and Lolita Bible”, the premier gothic, punk, and Lolita fashion publication in Japan.)
tarot13As well as predating “Chobits” Mihara’s work transcends the idealized misogyny of Chobits (more on that later! :D ), instead, it focuses on more universal human issues such as the nature of the soul, whether traits are learned or inherent, and the consequences of objects being given human form.

There’s not much information about Mitsukazu Mihara in English. Her Wikipedia article is largely devoid of personal information. However, I did have the opportunity to meet her at Otakon many years ago. The room was mostly filled with girls dressed head-to-toe in Lolita clothes, waiting to meet one of their sub-culture’s notables and when Mihara arrived, there was excited murmuring all around.

For one of the great icons of Lolita fashion she was dressed very conservatively, in jeans and a blouse. Everyone asked her questions about her feelings on Lolita fashion and her illustrations for “Gothic and Lolita Bible”. She was very reserved and modest, like many Japanese, but she also had about her a quiet strength and a deep intelligence. When I asked her about some of the deeper themes in her work, she had a little trouble answering (most likely due to a minor mix-up with the translator), but eventually she said that her work was often about issues like abuse and misogyny, which she said where under-represented in Japanese culture.

Later, I got her to sign my art books and was extremely happy.