Presenting a varied selection of forty-two photographic works, both Diamond and Dorfman focus the audience’s attention to synthetic beings being desired, fetishized, and idealized by their human companions, who treat them with a love that would be expected only for a child or even a lover. But for curator Melissa Harris, the work of these two artists was nothing but a natural pairing. “When we decided that I would do an exhibition here, I already knew Elena’s work and had happened to see Jamie’s work when I was judging a book prize. And as soon as I saw Jamie’s, I immediately thought of Elena’s too… and it’s really interesting that these two artists are investigating these very particular ideas of love. Love with an inanimate object, basically. What does that mean? Can you really love a doll in this way?”
After careful observation, the viewer quickly realizes that for these men and women who have decided to share this intimate aspect of themselves – their love – for the world to see, this is not a crazy obsession or delusional fantasy. This is real life, with real emotions, expressed by real people who like any other human being are looking for something in these synthetic beings – a space to freely express their love – in whatever form they choose to convey it.
“We know that love takes on all different kinds of manifestations. It’s possible to love in many different ways and love many different things. There’s a really extraordinary bond that each of these individuals has with his or her surrogate or doll. Nobody’s nuts. Nobody has decided that their synthetic being is a flesh-and-blood being. Everybody is clear. Everybody is really down-to-earth about what they’re doing. And I just love what it says about the capacity of the human imagination”, says the curator.
In her series Forever Mothers (2012-2018) and Nine Months of Reborning (2014), Jamie Diamond documented an outsider art-making community called the Reborners, a self-taught group of female artists that specialize in the making of hyper-realistic dolls. Speaking on the women in the community and their connection with the dolls, Diamond notes: “It’s a very sincere engagement with these objects. They’re not just inanimate objects to them. They’re much more than that. They treat them as they are real. They know that they are not real – they’re not crazy. They look realistic but they also feel realistic. You have this bond and it’s this strange, very visceral reaction. It definitely conjures up something in you.”
For her other exhibited project, I Promise to be a Good Mother (2007-2012), Diamond this time took on the role of her own mother, dressing up in her mother’s clothes and interacting with her reborn doll, Annabelle, to explore the social complexities and cultural conventions that define motherhood and the relationship between mother and child. “I bought two reborn dolls before I knew about the community, so this was years and years before. And this was about me performing the role of motherhood with this inanimate object. Thinking a lot about the complexities and representations of motherhood represented both in art history and in vernacular imagery. Traditionally, the mother figure was represented by male artists, so I think that was always interesting for me to now take back that control.”