Deformed images of the body (especially of the female figure) were not uncommon in twentieth-century art.
However, the Parisan Surrealist works of the late 1920s through early 1940s, which, with their violent dismantling and erotically charged distortion of the human form surpassed others in their level of distinctiveness. As such, the Surrealist fascination with the automaton, especially with the element of disturb as produced by their irresolute animate/inanimate status, laid the path for the enthusiastic reception in France for Hans Bellmer’s mutated, often mutilated dolls.Working in similar idea of the Surrealist to see Woman (refer to A. Annex) “as an object of desire is conditioned by the desiring man, so that she is ultimately a series of phallic projections, progressing from the detail of the woman to the ensemble, such that the woman’s finger, hand, arm, or leg could be the sex organ of the man” His works of art thus found immediate acceptance in France – the overwhelmingly male heterosexist Surrealist avant-garde.In the article, photographs (refer to B. Annex) Bellmer had taken of a life-sized, self constructed mannequin are grouped around the title “Poupee (Doll): Variations on the Montage of an Articulated Minor.
” The doll here is of Bellmer’s own assemblage, made of wood, flax fiber, plaster and glue, captured in its stages of construction in his studio, laid on a bare mattress or a lacy cloth.Seductive and suggestive props such as a black veil sometimes accompany the doll. This is Bellmer’s first construction and it is already indicative of his continued preoccupation with little girls as subjects for his art; his constant treatment of the dolls that he make and photograph – either portraying them as the martyrs or as the victims of a violent act; and in portraying how various events of his life influences his works.Author of Hans Bellmer: The Anatomy of Anxiety, Sue Taylor commented once that there are “no claims for a linear causality between Bellmer’s work, his life and the larger public sphere. ” ‘No linear causality’, that I would agree, however, that Bellmer’s doll photographs were made immediately following the Nazi’s rise of power in Germany means that the influence of the socio-political situation of the period on his art is not to be undermined.
Author Hal Foster has even interpreted the photographs’ issues with sexuality, death and insanity as Bellmer’s attack on what he referred to as the loved, beautified and idealized body (especially of the women in contemporary advertising) under National Socialism. His attack and violence acted out on the dolls of his creation also mirror to a certain degree, the sadistic attitude of the Nazis. The personal life events and experiences of Hans Bellmer is however, perhaps a far more influencing factor in his art.The construction of the first doll can be related immediately to the illness of his father, a strict Nazi-like figure of the household and who was often said to be the object of homoerotic desire for Bellmer; the illness and eventual death of his first wife; the reappearance of his beautiful teenage cousin, Ursula Naguschewski in his life who became his object of fascination; his attendance at a performance of Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann, in which the main protagonist falls hopelessly and tragically in love with the life-like automaton Olympia; and finally, a box of his old toys shipped from his mother.
In fact, Bellmer had, in his own words, gotten from these incidents a need, “to construct an artificial girl with anatomical possibilities… capable of re-creating the heights of passion even to inventing new desires. ” The limbless doll rendered as an adolescent girl, together with he iconic actions of nursing and child-bearing in his drawings done around the same time as the doll are read as means of revisiting the childhood discovery of sexual difference and the curiosity towards parental intercourse, and of confronting the fear towards castration and a homoerotic desire for his father wherein his work, Bellmer’s presented himself as the female doll, he is the object subjected to manipulation and using it, he acted out his feelings of guilt given his forbidden and unnatural desire for his father.These influences and details become even more endemic in the assemblage and photographs of the second doll, which is even more mutilated and photographed in more menacing surroundings. The drawings that he drafted at this time also increased in mutations with its multiplied limbs and interchangeable body parts. Finally, in his late works, as identified with Bellmer’s notification of his father’s death; the separation of his second marriage; and later on, his lover’s pending illness; and his mother’s failing health as causes of his further distress, Bellmer goes even further with representations to sexual violence and mutilations.
He even stepped beyond using the artificially constructed dolls and used actual human models (such as his lover, Bulgarian poet, Nora Mitrani). His works for this period are now read as means of his self-healing. One example of his later works is La Croix gamahuchee (refer to C. Annex), 1946. Often called “the Swastika”, it is a photograph of his lover and another model in a sexual position – gamahuchee, supposedly to provide oral stimulation and satisfaction.
The resulting figure is that of an extremely provocative, violent and lurid image oddly similar to the Nazi’s swastika.Perhaps this work can be the best representation of Hans Bellmer’s reminiscent essence to the Surrealist’s idea to shock the viewers out of their comfort zone with disconcerting artworks; making the viewer want to look away but guilty as was unable to tear away from the incredibly violent and bizarre image. However, Hans Bellmer’s works were not meant to be used immediately to help himself overcome his repressions and anxieties. As according to Sue Taylor, “For Bellmer, building, possessing, manipulating, and ‘assaulting’ the doll did not prove to be the solution, nor was there ever a solution – just an nending repetition of his anxious fantasies. ” His constant unwilling exploration of sadistic imagery and of erotic fantasies about a sexual object – such as the photographs of the distorted flesh, the real violence dealt to an artificial body, distorted flesh and anatomy of the tied up female nudes echoed the Surrealist call of sexual liberation of the male self whilst in essence, these elements of representation remained personal to Bellmer himself.
Childhood fascination with the awkward feelings experienced during puberty perhaps resulted in what we can identify as pedophilic in the nature of Bellmer’s works. His obsession with girlish effigy was stressed upon even more with his writing in his essay, Memories of the Doll Theme (1934), which celebrated the invention of his first doll, “It was worth all my obsessive efforts, when amid the smell of glue and wet plaster, the essence of all that is impressive would take shape and become a real object to be possessed. The stated ‘essence of all that is impressive’ here perhaps pointed to the encounters with the girls that grew up with Bellmer. Their growing bodies had caused in Bellmer, the feelings of inadequacy during his age of puberty. The feelings of sexual awakening in children about their parents’ act of copulation also fascinated and perhaps frightened Bellmer so much that these themes run continuously throughout his passage of works.In closing his essay, Bellmer even took revenge in words on the little girls that he so desired for their unavailability and thus whilst envisioning the replication of the dolls in their image, he probed their bodies, manipulating, even mutilating them and photographed using his conscious gaze; this basically summarized Bellmer’s topics of physical, often violent and painful unpleasant manipulation of the female body and voyeuristic opportunities to the viewer or in this case the artist himself as presented in his art.
In one final illustrated example is a linocut (refer to D.Annex) by Bellmer, illustrating a rotating “peep-show” mechanism he had planned to incorporate in the belly of the actual doll. As depicted, operation is by pressing the figure’s left nipple. This image of male sexual curiosity and domination (as curiosity is satisfied with the opportunity to actually touch and look into the figure) is in a sense emblematic of Bellmer’s entire oeuvre. That is, the female body, now depicted as a victim, deprived of its head and limbs, is scrutinized and subjected to manipulation, and its inner workings viciously exposed in a cut-away view.This is clearly the representation of Bellmer’s instruction to himself, “Lay bare suppressed girlish thoughts.
” During the period of repression in the body politics by the National-Socialist government, Hans Bellmer is an artist who chose to delve into his own delirious world of mannequins and the female dolls. Re-living through them, his childhood and sexual fantasies, his forbidden desires and consequences of guilt; creating an infantile world in which he constantly escapes into, making the dolls which he could then possess and photograph, a visual rape perhaps.And through them, expressing in his own ways, his own fears and anxieties towards loss of his loved ones; his unhappiness from suppression by the National-Socialist government; the fears of the violence inacted by the Nazis on the people; the suppressed homoerotic desires for his father; and finally his personal sexual desires and twisted fascination with little girls. One look at his works, one could never tell his influences and intentions for the array of works seemed to be driven by pure hysteria due to the amount of violence and overtly sexual-charges.