Artist Jessica Harrison works in a place where most of us would be afraid to even look. But the result of her labor forces us to gaze into the darkness as if into a frozen-in-time scene of the macabre, a little fantasy place of dark dreams like tiny sparks of stars.
My maternal grandmother, Alice Kirtley, collected dolls, but she also collected figurines of beautiful ladies in wait, in mid-waltz, in mid-swoon. I played with them every time I would stay with her, making up odd little narratives that took place in a world I created that was the opposite of my reality as a young Midwestern girl. In my constructed world, they mastered love and happiness, and beyond this, they mastered timeless and ageless beauty. Their reward for figuring out these incomprehensible tasks was to live in a world where they wore gowns all day and all night long, they danced, talked, loved, and acted coy to a point of artful melodrama.
Jessica Harrison’s figurines are exactly like the ones I played with as a child. The exception of course was that my grandmother’s figurines still had the tops of their heads, their brains, their intestines intact inside of them.
Though these figurines may not across-the-board be considered “dolls”, I do believe that most doll collectors also possess a collection of languidly beautiful lady figurines and/or knick knacks that also encourage imagination on the part of the viewer.
My overall fascination with dolls is their innate existence that evokes play and imagination on the part of the participant. That said, I will contend that the work of Jessica Harrison has a doll-ness, an evocation of play, speculation, a seduction to the imagination.
Harrison’s 2009 work seems, to me, to be an evolution to this world where her figurines would appear, where they may live in an anything-goes imagination.
The artist’s fleshy, mixed media curios and chairs from 2009 are there, in my imagination, in order for her figurines to have a shelter, a place to dance, swoon, and love. The dark look of this skin-like furniture look that they would belong in the mansions of the figurines, fitting in gloriously with the darkness of the figures themselves. The nonchalant aura of the women with an array of horror imposed upon them fits nicely with the equally-nonchalant character of furnishings that look to be created from hair-lined skins.
Harrison’s technique is at least as strong and sumptuous as her imagination. I find myself desiring these figurines. I find myself wanting to enter their world if not as a participant among the lovely horror, but as a voyeur desiring to begin to understand them.
Jessica Harrison’s work has the sordid advantage of being a part of a dollhouse where the dark may go to play.