segunda-feira, 22 de outubro de 2012

Living Dolls by Caroline Evans

































118 Cindy Sherman, Untitled 304, 1994, C-Print. Courtesy Cindy Sherman Metro- Pictures

In 1981 the German pop group Kraftwerk released a song, ‘Das Model’, in which they sang ‘she shows off her body for consumer goods’,highlighting the ambiguous status of the fashion model, whose own body becomes an object in the course of modelling clothes.(1) The film-makers The Brothers Quay made ‘Street of Crocodiles’ in 1986, based on the novella by Bruno Schultz, in which tailors’ dummies come alive and take over the tailor’s shop. They capture their former- master and dismantle him like a doll; treating him like a Stockman dummy, they measure him up, go through samples of fabric and trim­mings and sew an outfit to dress him in. Comme des Garçons’ Metamorphosis collection for Autumn-Winter 1994-5 was photgraphed by the artist Cindy Sherman for the designers direct-mail campaign on slumped, dysfunctional dolls (fig.118). In the late 1990s, European designers like Martin Margiela, Hussein Chalayan and Alexander McQueen effected a similar reversal by substituting dummies for fashion models on the catwalk, or by playing on the robotic qualities of the model, stressing the inorganic at the expense of the organic.Their dummies or dolls echoed the ambiguous subject - object status of the model since the nineteenth century, recalling the opening pages of Zola’s novel about a nineteenth-century department store, The Ladies Paradise.The young country girl Denise arrives in Paris and is seduced by a shop window full of dummies, mirrored to infinity, dressed in the most sumptuous and elaborate fashions. The infinitely reflecting mirrors of the shop window seem to fill the street with ‘beautiful women for sale with huge price tags where their heads should have been’. (2) Zola’s image forces the commodity fetishism that figures prominently in his novel; and the ‘swelling bosoms’ and ‘beautiful women’ of the passage point to the complexity of the spectacle of femininity in Paris of the 1880s when women were both subjects and objects of consumer desire.(3)

Julie Wosk has argued that in the nineteenth century

artists’ images of automatons became central metaphors for the dreams and nightmares of societies undergoing rapid technological change. In a world where new labor-saving inventions were expanding human capabilities and where a growing number of people were employed in factory systems calling for rote actions and impersonal efficiency, nineteenth-century artists confronted one of the most profound issues raised by new technologies: the possibility that people’s identities and emotional lives would take on the properties of machines.(4)

And in the twentieth century, Hillel Schwartz has noted, this is the prevailing view of modernism: ‘modern life, with its essentially industrial momentum, has processed our worlds and our bodies into dissociated, fetishised, ultimately empty and machinable ele­ments.’ (5) These elements resurface in contemporary fashion imagery which substitutes dolls for models or makes models look like androids (see fig. 9). For one of her collections Shelley Fox researched the Victorian dolls section of the Bethnal Green Museum of Child­hood in London. For the show, the jeweller Naomi Filmer created porcelain chin plates and dipped the models’ hands in wax to make them more doll-like. Martin Margiela based a collection on scaled-up dolls’ clothes with huge machine knitting and giant poppers (fig. 119). In a fashion spread from 2000 called ‘Dolly Mixture’ models dressed and made up to look like Victorian dolls were juxtaposed against images of real Victorian dolls dressed in similar clothes (figs 120 and 121). The spread played with scale, reproducing the dolls in the same size as the human models. All were styled to look creepily dysfunctional, with bald foreheads, hair askew and jerky poses, disturbingly reminiscent of Hans Bellmer’s doll from the 1930s. In a short accompanying text, Gaby "Wood cited Freud’s essay on the uncanny to explain ‘the hovering uncertainty between animate and inanimate’ that makes dolls inherently uncanny:

But what does doll history, this little set of parables, threaten for women? Is ‘living doll’ still a compliment? Why are fashion models still called mannequins? What these wonderful, unsettling photographs seems to say is: if you want your women to look like dolls, this is what that reality would be like - a mad, decaying, decadence, full of about- to-snap jointed limbs, dangling paranormal dances and balding Jills-in-the-box, ready to spring into horrible, inhuman laughter.’ (6)

The doll of these fashion pictures is a ‘familiar’, the structural inversion of the humanist subject, an alienated other. (7) But it is not gender-neutral: as Wood’s implies, the female doll or cyborg in particular can also be linked to the search for the perfect body in Western culture, often played out in the idealised images of women in fashion, as well as in the ubiquitous Barbie doll. ‘The desire for the right image . . . alienates women from them-selves, turning them into automatons.’ (8) Sadie Plant has argued that the association of women, modernity and the machine dates at least from the early twentieth century when the first telephonists, operators and calculators were women, ‘as were the first computers and even the first computer programmers.’ (9) But her utopian vision of women as instruments and images of progress and a better future is shadowed by a darker image of women as commodities in the age of mass production.

This shadow goes back earlier, to the Paris of the Arcades, and the fear of the shadow is discernible in Benjamin’s writing. His jottings include this fragment: ‘No immortalizing so unsettling as that of the ephemera and the fashionable forms preserved for us in the waxworks museum’, a reference to André Breton’s Nadja in which the poet loses his heart to a wax mannequin of a woman adjusting her garter in the waxworks museum in Paris, the Musée Grevin. (10)

In 1993 at Viktor Kamp; Rolf’s first staged show the models climbed onto a pedestal and posed like classical sculptures. Annette Kuhn stated that ‘women are dehumanised by being represented as a kind of automaton, a living doll,’ (11) yet such images can be construed as a kind of ghosting of the alienating effects of modernity, specifically in relation to the female image. This point was implicit in the Imitation of Christ show in New York in which the more usual procession of live women on the catwalk was replaced by a fictional auction of clothes displayed on dummies. Benjamin’s notes include the phrase ‘Emphasis on the commodity character of the woman in the market of love.

119 Label for scaled-up doll’s clothes (enlarged by 5.2 times to human size). Martin Margiela, Autumn-Winter 1994-5. Photograph Anders Edstrom, courtesy La Maison Martin Margiela

The doll as wish symbol.’(12)
For Theodor Adorno, too, in his 1931 lecture on Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop, the waxworks museum, the puppet theatre and the graveyard were all equally ‘allegories of the bourgeois industrial world.’ (13) In Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, Jenny Wren, the tiny dolls’ dressmaker, is contrasted with Mr Venus, taxidermist and articulator of human bones’ who assembles human skeletons for sale from miscellaneous body parts.(14) By inference, Jenny Wrens dolls are the equivalent of Venus’s skeletons constructed out of dead fragments and body parts. The figure of the anatomist’ who recycles human remains is the shadow of the ragpicker (a figure who also appears in the novel, and is one of its few benign characters, the Jew Riah). To emphasise the madness of this world of inversions, Jenny Wren refers to her father as her child, to Riah as her god-mother, to dolls as human and to humans as dolls. And in a final dark touch, as if to underline the capitalist base of the enterprise, and to remind us that this is a novel about money and its influence and, therefore, about the rot and the dead matter at the heart of capitalist life, human teeth continually drift into the change in Mr Venus’s till.(15)































120 Michael Baumgarten, Dolly Mixture, The Observer Magazine 2000. Styling Jo Adams.dress and underkirt by Yoi Yamamoto. Potografh courtesy Michaelm Baumgarten

In 1894 Scientific American showed an illustration of a French talking doll who sings and laughs ‘in a clear childish voice’ and recounts how her mother will take her to the theatre.(16) It also shows the American equivalent being manufactured in the factory of Thomas Edison, who invented the phonograph in 1877 and half of whose factory was given over to the manufacture of phonographic dolls (fig. 122). The central image shows us the young woman recording the doll’s utterance onto a wax cylinder. On either side we see the doll, dressed on the left and undressed on the right, to reveal the talking mechanism inside. The image below shows Edison’s factory, in which a great number of people are at work producing the dolls. The text accompanying this illustration perfectly describes the alienating effect of the modern production line:

121 Michael Baumgarten, Dolly Mixture. The Observer Magazine, 2000. Styling jo Adams, skirt by Chanel, underslip doll’s own. potogra courtesy Michael Baumgarten


Edison has no less than 500 people employed in manufacturing phonographs and half of them work in the doll department. Walking through the factory, one is filled with admiration for the order which prevails everywhere. Everything is done in the American way and the principle of the division of labour is most extensively applied . . . About 500 talking dolls ready to play can be supplied every day. In the centre of the picture a female employee can be seen speaking the words on to the wax cylinders one by one. (17)

Thus in the most up-to-date modern factory we witness the young woman robotically speaking each individual utterance, five hundred times a day, onto the wax cylinders in order to produce the living or, at least, talking simulacrum of the human female. The animated doll acquires some of the lifelike qualities of the living girl, while the girl trades semblances with the doll in her mechanical and repetitive utterances, to invoke Marx’s description of commodity fetishism whereby workers are increasingly dehumanised and consumers begin to live out their lives in and through commodities. (18) As people and things trade semblances the commodity assumes an uncanny vitality of its own (‘ “dead labour” come back to dominate the living’ (19) ) while the human producer acquires some of the ‘deathly facticity’ (20) of the machine. All is done in the name of progress, ‘the American way’, which was exemplified by Henry Ford’s production line in the early twentieth century. In figure 122 Marx’s concept of the worker’s alienation through the processes of industrial production is fused with the image of the woman as spectacle and commodity; and, in the age of mass production, the commodity is no longer unique but endlessly repeatable.


The image finds an echo in the Tiller Girls of, for example, the Weimar period in Berlin and the Rockettes of New York’s Radio City Music Hall in the 1930s, whose identical heights, synchronised dance routines and uniform costumes denied the material difference of sixty-four female bodies (fig. 123). Siegfried Kracauer in his article of 1927 ‘The Mass Ornament’, written while working as a journalist for the Frankfurter Zeitung, described the patterns made by chorus lines as ‘building blocks and nothing more . . . only as parts of a mass, not as individuals who believe themselves to be formed from within, do people become fractions of a figure.’ (21) Kracauer argued that the chorus line was a symbolic form of representation of ‘the capitalist production process’, singling out the Taylor system and the worker on the production line, for the massed forms of the cabaret entertainer are ways of visualising ‘significant components of reality’ that have become ‘invisible in our world’. ‘The mass ornament is the aesthetic reflex of the rationality to which the prevailing economic system aspires.’ (22) In other words the industrial aesthetic of modernity pictures its economic origins, and this is true no less of the fashion model than of the chorus girl. At the end of the twentieth century, as much as at the beginning, the uncanny replication and standardisation of the female form, in the shop window dummy, the showgirl or the fashion model, brings together two ideas: the idea of femininity commodified in an age of as cogs in a machine.

123 The Rockettes, Radio City Music Hall, New York, 1930s


The same visual shock tactic is often deployed at the end of the contemporary fashion show when all the models parade down the runway: fashion, supposedly about individu­ality, is actually about uniformity, and designers like Issey Miyake have fruitfully exploited this to dramatic ends (fig. 125). The body which is produced is a disciplined, streamlined and modernist body, in which the outer discipline of the corset has given way to the inner disciplines of diet and exercise. In the 1920s the designers Coco Chanel and Jean Patou designed for a body which conformed with the modernist aesthetic, which was functional and anti-decorative; this body was, and continues to be, ‘produced’, through diet and exercise, very much along the lines of Fordist production. (23) In the same way the uncanny cloning of Busby Berkeley’s musicals of the 1930s echoes Henry Ford’s production line in the early years of the century. Today one might find the same echo in Donna Karan’s uni­forms’ for working women, the toned models of her shows or in Adel Rootstein’s dummies, which are modelled from the bodies of real individual models to produce generic types.

A photograph of 1990 shows the model Violetta in profile next to the Adel Rootstein dummy modelled on her (fig.124). They are posed in double profile, the one echoing the other, her hand resting on her Doppelganger’s shoulder. The two identical profiles are strik­ing: which is the real woman, which the copy? The double portrait demands a double take. If the economic transactions of mercantile capitalism are uncanny, it is because they enable this slippage between animate and inanimate, life and death, subject and object. The image suggests the living model is merely an up-to-date variant of the inanimate dummy; the process of fetishism - in this case commodity fetishism - enables the displacement of meanings and motifs from the living woman onto the doll. Or does it? The theory of fetishism, be it commodity or sexual fetishism, is predicated on there being an original, organic, object of desire, from which feelings are displaced, but the entire relationship of model and mannequin and their historical origins call into question the nature of an original, especially when the two together appear almost indistinguishable. (24)

124 Model Violetta next to a mannequim by Adel Rootsein (relesead in 1990). Photography courtesy Adel Rootstein


In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the fashion doll was the plaything of adult women, in the sense that dolls dressed in the latest fashions were sent from Paris to guide dressmakers towards fashion trends. Immediately after the Second World War the French Syndicat de la Couture Francaise created the Theatre de la Mode, a collection of dolls dressed by Parisian couturiers that was sent round the world to promote French couture. Thus even if clients did not initially go to Paris themselves the dolls wore the clothes instead, something that Viktor& Rolf may well have had in mind in their 1996 miniature show with dolls dressed in hand-made outfits (see fig. 59a). (25) Susan Stewart describes how, after the death of Catherine de’ Medici’s husband, eight fashion dolls were found in the inventory of her belongings, all dressed in elaborate mourning garb. Stewart also reminds us that ‘the world of objects is always a kind of “dead among us” ’ and that the toy is a reminder of this: ‘as part of the general inversions which that world presents, the inanimate comes to life.’ (26) Freud believed that children expect their dolls to come to life: ‘the idea of a “living doll” excites no fear at all.’ (27) His essay on the uncanny (unheimlich)

125 Issey Miyake, Spring-Summer 1999. Photograph courtesy Fashion Group International

opens with a discussion of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s ‘The Sandman’ which contains the original of the doll Olympia that appears in the first act of Offenbachs opera Tales of Hoffmann, the biddable and charming fiancee who turns out to be an automaton. Although Freud goes on to play down the significance of the doll, in order to bring forward the theme of castration, nevertheless he opens his discussion by referring to the uncannyness of waxworks, dolls and automata in their resemblance to living figures, and vice versa.(28)

The fashion dummy posed next to the real mannequin in the photograph is both a doll, uncannily posed against her human, and a double. Freud discusses the double too as uncanny in that it is simultaneously a reassurance against the threat of death and annihilation and a terrifying challenge to human individuality.(29) He recalls his own uncanny dream of a red-light zone (‘nothing but painted women’) to which he inexplicably doubles back at every turn. (30) Despite Freud’s disavowal of the themes of femininity and dolls, the unheimlich figure of the painted woman is the figure to which all roads return. And after canvassing several more examples he concludes his discussion with the suggestion that ‘to some neurotic men’ femininity itself might be uncanny: the female body, in particular its internal and external sexual parts, are both heimlich and unheimlich. (31)

In the shadow world of capitalist excess, the contemporary model is the uncanny double of the historical mannequin, in both her inanimate and her animate incarnations. The uncanny doubling that recreates the model in the dummy’s image also multiplies on the catwalk, endlessly replicated in the models’ generic beauty, ‘mirrored to infinity’ like the dummies in the shop window described by Zola in The Ladies’ Paradise. The uncanniness of the double is fused with the uncanniness of twins in Alexander’s McQueen’s redheaded twins in his snowstorm show (fig. 126). Thus the fashion model invokes the twin themes of doubling and deathliness. Mark Selzer has identified the late twentieth-century model with trauma and deathliness, linking the uncanny doubling and repetition of the model’s body on the catwalk (fig. 127) to the structure of trauma itself, with its acts of compulsive repetition. He describes

the stylized model body on display, a beauty so generic it might have a bar code on it; bodies in motion without emotion, at once entrancing and self-entranced, self-absorbed and vacant, or self-evacuated: the superstars of a chameleon-like celebrity in anonymity. (32)

Selzer comments on the way in which ‘the public dream spaces of the fashion world’ reduce the model to an object with deathly connotations, assimilating the animate to the inanimate, citing Benjamin that fashion ‘couples the living body to the inorganic world’, ‘it asserts the rights of the corpse’, and that ‘this is the sex appeal of the inorganic’. (33) In the period in which Selzer made this analysis the supermodels were being displaced by more waif-like figures such as Kate Moss. This imagery was given added potency by the publicity given to the lifestyle of many models in the 1990s, in which substance abuse and eating disorders were prevalent, and in which enormous pressures were put on already slender models to remain thin. And in July 2001 The Face featured a fashion spread by Sean Ellis that actually used a skeleton posed like a dressmaker’s dummy.

126 Alexander McQueen. The Overlook, Autumn-Winter 1999. Photograph Chris Moore, courtesy Alexander McQueen

127 Finale of a fashion show, 1990s. Photograph Niall McLerney

If the fashion model at the end of the twentieth century was deathly this was not based on superficial resemblance of lifestyle or body shape but, rather, on an underlying structural connection to her industrial origins, the connection I have traced to doubling and mass production in nineteenth-century consumer capitalism. Girls may come and girls may go; in the 1990s the fashion for waifs replaced the fashion for supermodels. (34) Yet, despite the deathly connotations of ‘grunge’ and ‘heroin chic’, as these visual styles were termed, in the 1990s the sheer perfection of the supermodel remained the more deathly version, because more generic, than the singularity and quirky imperfections of the models who followed in their place, such as Devon Aoki and Karen Elson. Recognising this, the cultural commentator Steve Beard looked back, at the close of the decade, in the British style magazine i-D:

Kristeva argues that the ultimate abject body is the human corpse. The human corpse aestheticised and galvanised then comes very near to conjuring the aura of the catwalk model. The supermodels of the last ten years have been compared to assembly-line cyborgs, sci-fi posthumans and wannabe transsexuals but perhaps the likes of [Cindy] Crawford and Claudia Schiffer were always closer to walking corpses than anyone dared to imagine. (35)

NOTES:

1. Caroline Evans, ‘Living Dolls: Mannequins, Models and Modernity’, in Julian Stair (ed.), The Body Politic, Crafts Council, London, 2000: 103.
2. Emile Zola, The Ladiess Paradise, trans. with an intro, by Brian Nelson, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 1995: 6.
3. Janet Wolff, ‘The Invisible flâneuse. Women and the Literature of Modernity’, Feminine Sentences: Essays on Women and Culture, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1990: 34-50; Mica Nava, ‘Modernity’s Disavowal: Women, the City and the Department Store’, in Pasi Falk and Colin Campbell (eds), The Shopping Experience, Sage, London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi, 1997: 56—91. Christopher Breward, The Culture of Fashion, Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York, 1995: ch. 5, ‘Nineteenth Century: Fashion and Modernity’: 145-79.
4. Julie Wosk, Breaking Frame: Technology and the Visual Arts in the Nineteenth Century, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 1992: 81.
5. Hillel Schwartz, ‘Torque: The New Kinaesthetic of the Twentieth Century’, in Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter (eds), Incorporations, Zone 6, Zone Books, New York, 1992: 104. Schwartz himself, however, disagrees with this interpretation of modern life.
6. Gaby Wood, ‘Dolly Mixture’, The Observer Magazine, 27 February 2000: 36-41.
7. Y Sobchack, ‘Postfuturism’, in G. Kirkup et al (eds), The Gendered Cyborg: A Reader, Routledge in association with the Open University, London, 2000: 137.
8. R. Fouser, ‘Mariko Mori: Avatar of a Feminine God’, Art Text, nos 60—2, 1998: 36.
9. Sadie Plant, ‘On the Matrix: Cyberfeminist Simulations’, in Kirkup et al. Gendered Cyborg: 267
10. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1999: 69.
11. Annette Kuhn, The Power of the Image: Essays on Representation and Sexuality, Routledge, New York and London, 1985: 14.
12.. Benjamin, Arcades Project. 895.
13. See Esther Leslies discussion of Adornos lecture in Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism, Pluto Press, London and Sterling, Va., 2000: 10—11.
14. Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend, ed. with an intro, by Stephen Gill, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1985 [1864—5]: 128.
15. Ibid: 125.
16. Reprinted in Der Natuur, 26 April 1894, trans. and reproduced in Leonard de Vries, Victorian Inventions, John Murray, London, 1971: 183.
17. Ibid.
18. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1976: 165.
19. Hal Foster, Compulsive Beauty, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1993: 129.
20 Hal Foster, ‘The Art of Fetishism’, The Princeton Architectural Journal, vol. 4 ‘Fetish’, 1992: 7.
21 ‘The Mass Ornament’ [1927] in Siegfried Kracauer, The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, trans. Thomas Y. Levin, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1995: 76.
22. Ibid: 76-9.
23. Peter Wollen, Raiding the Ice Box: Reflections on Twentieth Century Culture, Verso, London and New York, 1993: 20-1 and 35-71.
24. For a discussion of doubling, see Hillel Schwartz, The Culture of the Copy, Zone Books, New York, 1996.
25. Viktor & Rolf Haute Couture Book, texts by Amy Spindler and Didier Grumbach, Groninger Museum, Groningen, 2000: 8.
26. Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, Duke University Press, Durham, N.C. and London, 1993: 57.
27. Sigmund Freud, ‘The Uncanny [1919] in Works: The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, under the general editorship of James Strachey, vol. XVII, Hogarth Press, London, 1955: 223.
28. Ibid: 226.
29 Ibid: 235—7.
30 Ibid: 237.
31. Ibid: 245.
32. Mark Seltzer, Serial Killers: Death and Life in Americas Wound Culture, Routledge, New York and London, 1998: 271.
33 Benjamin, Arcades Project, cited in ibid.
34. For a discussion of the relation among fashion, women and fluctuating body ideals, see Rebecca Arnold, ‘Flesh’, in Fashion, Desire and Anxiety: Image and Morality in the Twentieth Century, I. B. Tauris, London and New York, 2001: 89-95.
35. Steve Beard, ‘With Serious Intent1, i-D, no. 185, April 1999: 141.

In: Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity, and Deathliness. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2003, pp. 164.176.

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