For the 2005 Eureka Springs May Festival of the Arts I created an outdoor installation featuring unclothed baby dolls suspended by fishing line. Small, stenciled foam core plaques with the words LOVE on one side and Fear on the other were suspended below the dolls. These dolls, and especially the lightweight plaques, would spin and dance in even the lightest breeze.
Reaction to the installation was swift with most people intrigued or at least curious as to what was going on.
But not everyone was smiling. Some people had deep frowns and even harsh words for the artist who dared hang naked dolls in the middle of the street. Some unknown person went so far as to print out and attach their own signs that read, ”Will Someone PLEASE save these babies!!!” A sucker for interactive artwork, I left them up – until nature (the first rain) took them down.
I learned at a young age that dolls could garner strong reactions. It was the reason we hid (my mother and I) my doll from my father. It was to be our little secret.
It wasn’t until I did a series of still-life photographs using dolls that I fully understood the impact these inanimate objects can have on individuals. Each person brought their own projected childhood memories, positive or negative, into the exhibit – some walked out in a cold sweat.
Dolls creep some people out and it’s probably why I continue to use dolls and doll parts in my work. There is already a built in positive or negative response, and by placing them in unusual settings or combining them with other inanimate objects, the art often takes on layered meanings not necessarily known to the artist.
It was interesting watching reaction, especially from children, to the installation. Some kids jumped in the middle, laughing, making the dolls spin – others took hold of their parent’s hand as they walked by.
As my good friend Lenny would say in his thick New York accent, “If it aint love, it’s feah.”
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