Embodying the Unreal – Current PhD research
I am currently coming towards the end of my PhD by practice at The University for the Creative Arts. The title of the research is ‘Embodying the Unreal – The Mannequin and its (Re)Making in Contemporary Art.’ The work has been a five year project that stemmed from my experiences as a mannequin maker. A profession that I fell into after I graduated from the RCA. This is an ongoing project. If you have any queries or are interested in the work, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Below is my current working Abstract and a link to a PDF of the handout that was presented with the recent exhibition of the work produced for the project.
This research dissects the mannequin as both cultural object and art subject through the experiences and investigations of being an art-practitioner and mannequin-maker.
The methodology of the practice employs conceptual making, photography and reflective writing intended to break the surface of the pristine fashion mannequin. The studio practice uses material experimentation, exposure of sculptural techniques and moulds as both tool and subject to create a body of non-duplicable, figurative sculptural objects that respond to the fashion mannequin, subverting connotations of replication and simulation.
The written research methodology analyses the evolution of the mannequin in correlation with Baudrillard’s (1994) theory which pinpoints four specific phases in the history of the image. These phases are juxtaposed chronologically, by illuminating selected artists’ work. It is proposed that these works confront Baudrillard’s theories by gradually introducing notions of the uncanny and authenticity in accordance with Sigmund Freud’s (1917) essay The Uncanny and Walter Benjamin’s (1935) essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. The artworks are posited as a counterbalance to the ever-increasing shift towards a world of the hyper-real in relation to the high-street figure.
Photography reveals the life cycle of the display figure. Un-staged images of the mannequin factory offer a glimpse into the hinterland between the familiar façade of the high-street display mannequin and the uncanny iterations of the mannequin’s pre-existence. The images expose “… everything that was intended to remain secret, hidden away, and has come into the open.” (Freud, 1917)
Considerations of Walter Benjamin’s theories on authenticity inform the research and practice. Benjamin wrote “…authenticity is not reproducible, the intensive penetration of certain (mechanical) processes of reproduction was instrumental in differentiating and grading authenticity.” It is proposed that through methods of pausing, reversing or adapting moments in the making of a mannequin, prior to it being mass producible, the practice can subvert the contemporary mannequin and produce an authentic work of art.
The final phase of the Precession of Simulacra (1994) is dissected via the Heavenly Bodies Exhibition (Metropolitan Museum, 2018): establishing Baudrillard’s (1994) fourth phase, when the image “… has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum ” (Baudrillard, 1994). The contemporary mannequin no longer representing a person but instead a simulation of the human form.
The direct experience of being the mannequin sculptor for the exhibition informs the research and the practice. A body of sculpture, photographs and written reflections offer a conceptual alternative to the industry mannequin sculpture brief. Like Freud’s linguistic interpretations of the homely and the unhomely (or uncanny) being intertwined, the research provides two sides of the story of the mannequin and the mannequin maker.