At the entrance of the exhibition is a series of portraits of babies you’d swear were real. The Nine Months of Reborning (2014) series shot by Jamie Diamond in fact depicts ‘reborn dolls’ against a blue backdrop. On the other side of the wall are photographs of sex dolls, the works Girlfriend 1 and Girlfriend 2 by photographer Elena Dorfman. This back to back – despite the obvious utility gap between the two objects – announces the theme of the exhibition: Surrogati, Italian for substitute. Melissa Harris, the curator of the show, has chosen this theme to reflect on our era, where the refusal of solitude or infertility motivates an increasing call for surrogate mothers, and the purchasing of silicon partners. It is undoubtedly why “Un amore ideale” [An ideal love] comes just afterwards: a love that is as ideal as it is real, an ideal love that's utopic.
Elena Dofman, Galatea 4 (2002), from the “Still Lovers” series. C-print, 75,6 x 75,6 cm. Courtesy of the artist
Elena Dofman, Sidore 4 (2001), from the “Still Lovers” series. C-print, 76,0 x 75,5 cm. Courtesy of the artist
Jamie Diamond explores the complexity of family ties throughout her series. With I Promise to Be a Good Mother (2007-2012), she photographed herself dressed in her mother’s clothes playing with a reborn doll as she re-enacts some of her childhood memories. This series preempts another Forever Mothers (2012-2018), strange yet touching portraits of The Reborners mothers, a community of American women artists who together conceive these painted reborn dolls. Involved in creating these babies that are more real than life, the series reveals the profound sentimental attachment these women develop with inanimate objects. Entitled Mother Karen, Mother Cherry and Mother Brenda, these portraits of women who carefully hold the anthropomorphic objects in their arms provoke a complex set of emotions in the viewer. Caught between a revulsion and fascination, a sordidness and tenderness, whatever it might be, the maternal instinct is clearly present and the desire for maternity is crystallised in these substitute bambinos.
Lonely men and women are the protagonists of the series Still Lovers (2001-2004) by Elena Dorfman. These figures, symbols of a society secluded on its margins, fill the (emotional and sexual) gaps in their lives with the presence of life-sized dolls, taking the place of real life partners. With smooth and young skin, svelte and curvaceous bodies, with big eyes and luscious lips, named Ginger Brook 4, Jamie 1 or CJ 3, these silicon women make a weighty statement of what women are supposed to look like today. Available, silent, always smiling, these sex dolls, as life partners, reflect the expectations of a man excluded by society, who fills the void with a sexual substitute, exchanging his potential open mindedness for his own social reclusion.
In spite of its oddness, the improbability and the unusual nature of these subjects, it is indeed “an ideal love” that these images reflect. Regarded in plain terms, the works of Elena Dorfman and Jamie Diamond present men and women in the purest truth of their sentimental state. Caught in the quest to satisfy their desires, desperately searching for love and companionship, these modern Pygmalions have given up loneliness and offer the spectators a unique definition of sentimental fulfilment.
Surrogati. Un amore ideale exhibition, Osservatorio of the Prada Foundation, Milan, until July 22.
Elena Dofman, CJ & Taffy 5 (2002), from the “Still Lovers” series. C-pring, 75,6 x 75,6 cm. Courtesy of the artist
Elena Dofman, Rebecca 1 (2001), from the “Still Lovers” series. C-print, 75,6 x 75,6 cm. Courtesy of the artist
Jamie Diamond, Mother Marilyn (2012), from the “Forever Mothers” series. Pigment printing, 81 x 101,5 cm. Courtesy of the artist
Jamie Diamond, Mother Brenda (2012), from the “Forever Mothers” series. Pigment printing, 81 x 101,5 cm. Courtesy of the artist