‘By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism…’
Donna J.Haraway, ‘Simians, Cyborgs and Women’.1991
There is something unerringly strange about dolls in what Marina Warner has called ‘their ever protracted undecided state, between life and not-life’[i]. Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori’s theory of ‘The Uncanny Valley’ holds that when human replicants look and act almost, but not perfectly, like human beings, it causes a response of revulsion; the ‘Valley’ is the dip in the comfort level of humans when confronted by these doppelgangers.
Duplicity provides a metaphor for various kinds of duality, ambiguity, opposition and the Other, that the original subjects entail in themselves. This inevitably brings us to the uncanny, and the common denominator of all uncanny phenomena appears to be repetition – the doubling of a subject of any sort, with the second instance of it occurring as a strange one. Warner says the ‘effect of doubling… an effect of reflection without referent… Living likenesses strive to guarantee and perpetuate presence, but ultimately underline the vanished and absent subject; creepily they resemble someone or something who is not there, as in a mirror reflection with no subject.’[ii]
With these terrors and strangenesses in mind, Duplicity travels headlong into Masahiro’s valley, probing human sensitivity to explore the psychological drama of the dip when misleading appearances are designed to deceive and false substitutes replace the real.
Mike Bartlett makes masks from a cast of his own head and layers them with the faces of friends some here, some gone – these composite simulcra are the subjects for a series of Mask paintings.
Kirsty Buchanan is interested in the power of representational tokens such as votive objects and mementos, and the unearthliness of being able to experience your own body from an external viewpoint, something that we take for granted with our familiarity with film and instant photography.
Ruth Collins takes the ambience of Ibsen’s A Doll's House ‘an atmosphere of lies… that infects and poisons the whole life of a home’, as the starting point for a series of photographs that uneasily reveal the details of dolls houses.
Alex Michon explores the murky memoro-bilic world of not quite looky-likeys,
Cathy Lomax takes Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby as starting points for an examination into obsession and an uneasy reflected sexuality.
Alli Sharma focuses on our culture’s obsession with weddings where girls take centre stage in the romance narrative. The too-perfect bride is an impossible, artificial stereotype that parallels Angela Carter’s symbolic soubrette[iii] to embody a social ideal of femininity that obscures the real.
Eloise Rose plays with the ambiguity and uncertainty arising from the dark, the umbratic, the not-quite-there. Like half-imagined monsters in the shadows, people are paradoxically compelled to assign meaning to the unknown and find the foreign in the familiar. Her resulting work lures observers in with a glimpse of the indeterminate caught in their peripheral gaze.
[i] Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria, pg 53