- Text by Miss Rosen
In a culture where overexposure has become the new norm, intimacy and bonding is becoming increasingly complex. People adapt in any number of ways, adopting attitudes, behaviours, and even objects that allow them to channel the desire for love in a tangible way.
In the new exhibition Surrogate. A Love Ideal, opening February 21, American photographers Jamie Diamond and Elena Dorfman explore the expression of familial and romantic love between human and doll — an expression that elicits feelings of surprise, confusion, disgust, and even empathy from those who see it from the outside looking in.
“The dolls are so realistic when you see them, you inevitably have a visceral reaction whether you are repulsed or seduced,” says Diamond. Her series Forever Mothers (2012-2018) and Nine Months of Reborning (2014), portrays the lives of Reborners: a group of self-taught women artists who hand-make, collect, and engage with hyper-realistic baby dolls.
“Even extremely masculine men on the streets, the dolls would melt them,” she continues. “Their level of realism conjures up so much in you, triggering specific emotions relating to parenthood. Reborn dolls are used with Alzheimer patients as a form of therapy. It’s amazing: they release all these endorphins and oxytocin. They are memory triggers – and also comfort.”
Once immersed, Diamond embraced the Reborner culture, becoming a maker herself. “I was a doll collector all throughout my childhood,” she says. “Ultimately, it’s about nurturing. It’s make-believe, fantasy, and role-play. None of the women I have met are crazy and think the dolls are real.”
Diamond notes that there is a lot of sensitivity and privacy given to the members of the community, which is something Dorfman echoes. In her series Still Lovers (2001-04), Dorfman documented the domestic lives of men and women who share their homes with sex dolls.
“The assumption in the world is that there must be something wrong with the people who own them,” the photographer says. “At that time nobody had seen this kind of life before. The people who owned dolls were terrified to let someone in their homes. There was a deep fear of the neighbours finding out because the response has been very violent and shameful.”
“I hope that is shifting, as people are becoming more comfortable ways alternative ways of life, living, and loving other kinds of objects. It’s important to look at how the dolls are becoming, AI is literally upon us, and soon these dolls will be waking and talking. It’s not that far away.”
Both Diamond and Dorfman note that there is no prevailing archetype for adults who love dolls. Whatever their reason, they express love to an object that cannot judge them, and is fully receptive to the attention they are shown.
“I think we are uncomfortable with AI and robotics — it’s too real,” adds Diamond, when asked about the future. “We find it dystopian. People aren’t ready for this yet but in time they will be. This is only the beginning. “
Surrogate. A Love Ideal is on view at Fondazione Prada in Milan through July 22, 2019.
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