Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dolls, Sex, and Other Toys: Works by Camilla Newhagen

Olga & Lorraine by Camilla Newhagen
Camilla Newhagen creates playful, sculptural forms incarnating the female body. Sitting on chairs or laying unobtrusively around the artist’s studio, the dolls display a body language that evoke a sense of abandonment arousing in the viewer a fascinating feeling. The erotic nature of Newhagen figures not only demonstrate an incisive understanding of woman as a sexual being, but it also expresses that these artworks do not conform to a canon of desire.

Breasts, buttocks, and limbs give shape to a distorted female anatomy. By using lingerie, Newhagen creates carefully hand sewn pieces. Brassieres, bustiers, corsets, and girdles match the most artificial flesh color slips. According to the artist,.” Lingerie is like gift wrapping. Such garments cover a woman’s body to present herself as an object of desire --like a gift. By stuffing the slips, she adds volume to the dolls creating suppleness and translucency. Thighs and legs achieve the effect of fatty tissue and spongy cellulite. Striking, red stitches on white fabric refer to blood and scars.

Materials inform Newhagen’s process. Satin, silk, and antique lingerie appeals to the material’s tactile quality. She thinks as a sculptor incorporating forms as she handles the material. One can follow the way the artist works by observing her embroidered name claiming ownership, --or in her use of tags to create the work’s name. By sewing, Newhagen feels that she understand the female body because she has done the ground work --the domestic work. This points home, a domestic setting conceived as an intimate enclosure where women work.

In La Belle, a headless doll with a beige corset, Newhagen placed black fur coming out of a hairy crotch. This decorative, faux fur alludes to society’s preoccupation and phobia with hair. She portrays the doll in such naturalistic way making it appear mysterious. Appendages like a stump become a headless torso. An elongated limb ending in a red hoof imbues the piece with a sense of vulnerability. The hoof stands for a deformed foot pointing to anthropomorphic characteristics, but is also alludes to a dehumanizing feeling. The arms clasped behind her back indicate a position of submission. These convoluted shapes are reminiscent of La Poupee a work by Hans Bellmer.

Also headless, Feline exhibits a crotch that is a continuation of its torso. It is as if the crotch represents the woman’s absent head. The doll symmetrical proportions, a narrow waist and generous bosom, conform to anatomical measurements of what is perceived sexually attractive. The left breast exhibits a rosy nipple which is at once a prescription for desire and procreation. According to Newhagen,“Feline represents a prostitute,” and she adds,”Her fragmented body alludes to rape, and abortions.” It is as if Feline stands as a repository of lust, violence and death. This point to an ambivalence between desire and contempt a prostitute might awaken in her john.

Wearing beige slips, Olga & Lorraine’s are two dolls joint at the abdomen. Headless, and limb-less, the fat one with a pointy neck shaped like an elephant’s tusk supports the slim one. Appearing to float in space, the slim doll wears red lace running along her sole underarm. Olga & Lorraine allude to the yo-yo effect of weight change some women experience to reach an idealize figure. Both figures are one and the same, yet separate entities. This points to an internal conflict women endure in the realm of perception regarding their own bodies.

Unlike Bellmer’s work, Newhagen’s pieces are not objects of desire. They are not instances to please the male gaze. If Bellmer built dismembered pieces like La Poupee as an object of desire, Newhagen constructs her works to challenge, and question the rapes, abortions, and violence perpetrated against our own humanity. Newhagen also works on memory as a way of remembering things that have been forgotten. In this manner, she forms a link between past and present. For the artist, time is of essence as she travels back and forth between her manipulation of the material and her interpretation of the body. Newhagen’s work is beyond desire, and sexuality, and it demonstrates how pleasure is not divorced from pain and sex cannot be separated from death.

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