The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Kreepy Kitsch
Laurie Simmons
Kigurumi, Dollers and How We See
Ed Barnas
Photo by Laurie Simmons . Source:
Laurie Simmons, "Blue Hair/Red Dress/Green Room/Arms Up " 2014

Laurie Simmons’show at Salon 94 confronts the viewer with what appear to be photographs of dolls: figures with oversized heads and large eyes, brightly colored hair. While reminiscent of the “Big Eye” paintings by Margaret Keane that were so popular decades ago, these portraits of dollers present a subset of Japanese Cosplayers (Kigurumi) who model their appearance on anime characters. Some appear to be posed outdoors while others are indoors in rooms that oddly seem too small for them. Others have their right arm extended outside the frame in the now classic selfie pose. The overall effect is mildly disturbing, verging on the erotic for the figures dressed in latex.

Periodic costume play and masking have a long tradition in many cultures and often serves as a needed relief valve, Halloween and Carnival, for example. Simmons came across this particular subculture when researching another project. As she noted in a recent article, “ I just went down this rabbit hole of people who dress up and fetishes, and the girls that surgically enhance themselves to look like dolls.”

Photo by Laurie Simmons . Source:
Laurie Simmons, "Redhead/Red Dress/Selfie" 2014

Laurie Simmons has worked frequently with dolls. Her early work was on a small scale, images of figurines and dollhouses. The dolls varied in size and style and over the years progressed to ventriloquists’ dummies, eventually featuring a full-sized, anatomically correct figure for her series “The Love Doll” (2009-2011). In that series she posed the realistic doll in and around her own home. In the current images on display, live models – male and female – inhabit the doll-like costumes and are photographed in and around an abandoned house, the low ceilings in the rooms creating a dollhouse environment.

Photo by Laurie Simmons . Source:
Laurie Simmons, "How We See/Look I/Daria" 2014

Despite their static faces (and being generally mute due to the muffling effect of their masks), dollers develop personalities for their characters and some even prefer the assumed persona to their real life. While Simmons had special-ordered the masks and created characters for each mask, each Cosplayer/model developed individual personae that Simmons sought to record in photographs. Sometimes the emotional content of the character is more pronounced in the close-up portraits where the details of the mask are more evident than in the full-length images. There is a vulnerability verging on tears in “Orange Hair/Snow/Close-up” and an adolescent coquettishness in the “Redhead/Red Dress/Selfie.” The indoor full-length portraits, such as “Redhead/Pink & Black Outfit/Orange Room and Blue Hair/Red Dress/Green Room/Arms-up”, have a more fetishist feel given their latex attire, more provocative poses, and the attic-like feel of these rooms. All the images are shown in a “human-sized” scale – the portraits about 20x30 and the full-length images 70 x 48. As if offering a window view into the frame, each pigment print keeps a narrow white border.

Photo by Laurie Simmons . Source:
Laurie Simmons, "Untitled"

However, two prints in the downstairs space diverge from the other eleven on display. These portraits, from Simmons’ new “How We See” series, present oversized (70x48) head and shoulder portraits of young women who at first glance appear quite normal, except for possibly an excess of eyeliner. On closer inspection, the eyes turn out to be trompe l’oeil anime eyes painted on their eyelids. The Artists Statement notes that this new series is meant to be an exploration of “Doll Girls” who surgically enhance themselves to look like Barbies. (At this point I flashed on a clip from a Marx Brothers film where Harpo uses this trick to appear attentive while asleep, though a younger audience would more likely think of Johnny Depp in the Pirates of Caribbean franchise.) The selfies, in particular, offer a commentary on the selective view many offer through their own self-(re)presentation on social networks. These Kigurumi images explore the ways manufactured characters can develop a life and personality of their own.

Laurie Simmons
Kigurumi, Dollers and How We See

Salon 94 Bowery
243 Bowery
Lower Manhattan - East         Map

212 529 7400

Friday, March 7 to
Monday, April 28, 2014
Hours: Wed to Sun, 11 to 6

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat