I have always had a deep admiration and love for artist, Laurie Simmons and what I am seeing of her show that was on view at Salon 94 only makes me admire and love her more. This exhibit, Kigurumi, Dollers and How We See, documents (beautifully as Simmons always does) the phenomenon of Kigurumi, or, “Dolling.” This is part of a cosplay subculture where participants wear full-body and head “skins” to become dolls, to become another, a fantasy, even another gender. It takes the “walk a day in another’s shoes” sentiment to a whole new level. You are not merely in disguise, you are sheathed in another skin, quite literally.
Very unfortunately, I was not able to attend the Salon 94 exhibition, but I have had the immense pleasure of seeing her large and all-consuming photographs of dolls, puppets, ventriloquists, and domestic vignettes in dollhouses many times. Her work takes my breath away.
The piece pictured above, Blonde / Pink Dress / Standing Corner is one such piece that leaves me breathless. The colors interact so actively and they wholly enliven, further bringing this “doll” to pulsating vitality. The disrepair and dirt of the walls and floorboards behind her is a stark juxtaposition to the plasticized perfection of the doll. As if it say, “Oh, dear!” the doll stands in the corner. Has she misbehaved? Did she mess up her backdrop? Is she being cornered? There are so many ways to view this composition … I feel it is actually endless. But one thing is for certain: something is amiss, it is not a fairy tale even though it may be a kind of attempt for one …
Although this doll is an alive, breathing human with blood flowing, there is always a hesitation to believe it is indeed real. Simmons says of her work, “My concern was to tell the most realistic lie I could.” Her work possesses a heightened realism while a viewer may feel as if there is this chance a coy little lie is being told straight to their face.
They are photographs, after all.
Even in an age of PhotoShop, knowing something is a photograph, a document of an image, an action within a moment makes us believe in it. We buy the “lie” if one is in fact being told. In this, too, reality itself is being blurred and played with, and it tantalizes. But this masking one identity to become a whole other goes beyond those who attend Anime and Manga conventions.
The BBC documentary, Secrets of the Living Dolls, shows us that this is a lifestyle men around the world share and love to do. I was able to watch most of this documentary when it was on YouTube (sadly, it has been removed) and only men participated in this particular kind of masking. And they, too, have a convention. It is called the Rubber Doll World Rendezvous.
Happiness is often challenging to find, so when those things, people, and drives make one happy, one should grab it like lungs grabbing oxygen. Beyond this, no one should be judged when this happiness is found and coveted and locked down … if anything, those who find and possess such happiness are heroes deserving of admiration, not judgment or hate.
Secrets of the Living Dolls is a BBC documentary about masking / rubber dolling in the lives of several men and how the demand for Fem Skin is an ever-increasing business for a Florida family who make the skins themselves, as a family. The whole feel and the overall idea of masking as shown in this documentary is familial: the masking community, a vibrant one online, as well as the family whose business it is to create these skins for people all over the world.
Throughout the documentary, many of these men “come out” to their families about their masking, some go out in public, and some keep it private. The Rubber Doll World Rendezvous is an occasion for these men to be completely laid bare since they are among one another. They are meeting, mask to mask, fellow maskers they may have only ever spoken to online. Watching them meet one another is truly moving and one of the highlights of Secrets of the Living Dolls.
In Part Two, I will bring in a lot of my own experience with changing into another person through dress up as a child. I will be using the play technique theories and projective identification theories of Melanie Klein. Thinking back on these important moments in my childhood gives me a close understanding, I think, of dolling and masking. I know well the excitement of becoming someone else in dress-up play (only I was wearing costume jewelry and polyester satin, not rubber skins). The idea of personae fascinates me as well and I believe it is very much part of this play.
For now, give Secrets of the Living Dolls a look … there is an excerpt on Huffington Post here. There are also many videos of kigurumi, or dolling, on YouTube including this one. Until Part Two, dearest readers …