February 6th 2014, 30 minute duration
Studio 777 UCSD Visual Arts Facility San Diego
Documentation by guests
Essay on Dolls at Play, edited excerpt
In December of 2013 while shopping at the Assistance League Thrift Shop of San Diego County, I encountered and purchased a Beautiful Holiday Ideas book published in 1980 by Better Homes and Gardens, along with two dolls that were made in different ways. The dolls were displayed on tall shelves close to the entryway and were emitting their economic disparities with each other and with me. I bought the white porcelain American Girl named Heather first, and left the black faceless rag doll behind because I was worried about its effects; perhaps too violent or too obvious. Maybe I didnt want to deal with the cashiers commenting on its state. The act of looking away is what I did, after a few days I went back to the store and bought the rag doll.
porcelain equal to high quality only to be gazed at,
rag equal to low, fun, to be played with,
clean vs. dirty.
The dolls needed to be played with so I set up a performance similar to a puppet show. I painted their portraits, which were used as a backdrop along with a border of xerox scans of their bodies in playful positions; I also crafted collaged hanging folk art motifs taken from the Beautiful Holiday Ideas book.
After the set was made I reenacted the purchase of the black rag doll from the thrift store. Only this time I was a puppeteer, a shabby doll-clown-child playing dress up, wearing a white dolly dress, knit sweater, red tights, argyle red and black socks, dawning pink lipstick on my lips and cheeks and a ponytail bun disheveled hairdo. During the play the rag doll took on my past role as the customer browsing the thrift store; the role of the shop clerk was taken on by the porcelain doll, and the black rag doll was invisible. I gave both dolls individual voices, and included mine here and there; for example, I assisted the shop clerk in running the cash register.
The performance took place in my small studio with 18 of my peers from my working crit class and Amy Adler. I invited my guests to sit on the floor, similar to the way children do at story time; there was even a chair reserved for the teacher, in this case Professor Adler. In a generic sense all individuals where white; this is a common problem in both graduate settings and in the art world. So I took on another role, that of the black entertainer!
To add to the entertainment I held a vintage Venus baton still in its original plastic package in my right hand and moved my arm up and down, producing a symbolic gesture perhaps of a dictator, parading and chanting.
There were two parades throughout the performance. The first parade was held between the first and second acts; it had the complement of an audio recording of whistling that was played while I chanted the second play is about to start, the second play is about to start. The second parade occurred at the end, and was similar to the first except I invited the audience to chant along with me the back of the spoon faces the moon, this was encouraged by the rag doll and afterwards myself through yelling Louder! Louder! and hitting my baton on the floor. Again, I took on the role of the dictator and even recorded and played back to the audience our voices, we continued to chant with the recording for another 5 minutes.
The parades and chants lasted longer than the participants expected or wanted it seemed. I tried to stay in a happy state, but I think my disposition might have changed in relation to that of the viewers; a form of tension soon arrived, which might have been felt as a problem to some. To document the event I gave out three disposable cameras as guest entered the studio.
In Dolls at Play the role of the camera the sound of the click, the turning of the dial along with the flash, pushed further notions of blackness as spectacle. This was apparent in the aftermath for during the critique no one uttered the word black or raised questions relating to race or politics. Instead I received comments about formal elements, including the set, the speed, my demeanor, my smile, makeup, and the cameras. This response is similar to my first reaction to the faceless rag doll, looking away.