Colour Me Dead - Chapter 7

The Living Doll - excerpt (single-screen compile) 6' 42", stereo © 2014


The Living Doll is the 7th production in the 18-part series of films, animations and prints collectively titled Colour Me Dead. All the productions in this project are based on research which is forming the basis for the in-development book Colour Me Dead: Art, Sex & Psychos.

In the 13 sequences of The Living Doll, black-gloved hands reach into miniature dioramas and forcefully manipulate poseable Barbie dolls to recreate paintings and sculptures (from mid-18thC to mid-20thC) which foreground the female nude as a pliable doll. Tacky swirling star bursts trace the dolls' bodies as they are 'magically' transformed to sickly tinkling music. Unsettling sounds accompany the contortions to which the dolls' bodies are subjected, counterpointed occasionally by the 'ooohs' and 'aaahs' of a programmed doll's voice.

The installation of The Living Doll features 3 large flat-screens standing upright on a low table. The 3 screens are formed into a triangle. The viewer can walk around the table, looking at this configuration as if it is a pyramidal doll house with its roof removed.


Hands, sets, post-production FX: Philip Brophy
Produced with assistance from the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council.

The Living Doll - Scene 8 © 2014


At some point, the artist’s muse will always become corporeal. She might initially attract him as a caught glimpse, an arrested moment, a fleeting sensation. But as the most Romantic of artists pursued her with greater frequency and proximity, she became a mannequin of their desire. Paintings and sculptures proliferate not of her as an embodied inspiration, but of her as model, as form, as doll in the artist’s atelier. Placed atop platforms, draped onto chaise lounges, posed in nonchalant frieze, her painterly and sculptural form is less about essentialising her erotic allure and more about capturing her pliable aura.

Paintings and sculptures collapse into a singular documentation of the ensnared nude, appearing to be au natural, but existing solely through the mechanisms of stage direction from the wings. As debates over the vicissitudes of Victorian propriety and Continental decadence raged mid-19th C., the staging of the nude was progressively influenced by a Courbet-like sense of realism: actual models were depicted in favour of idealised or neutralised nudes. Particularly in paintings, the artist’s studio was represented to demonstrate his theatrical devices and illusory machinations.

The Living Doll evidences how Woman becomes doll, removing her from the distracting evocative landscapes and ornate interiors, and placing her precisely how and where she was at the hands of the artist manipulating her form.

The Living Doll - Scene 9 © 2014


By virtue of its title, The Living Doll necessitated the use of dolls - and the plainer and more obvious the better. While most dolls frustrate little girls by not being bendable enough, the poseable Barbie dolls granted them their wish. Interestingly, it took many years for Mattel to produce a fully poseable doll: it wasn't until the Fashionista series of 2009. These dolls captialised on the media saturation of 90s style Supermodels. Just as the Supermodel could be placed anywhere, a new generation of kids placed greater emphasis on being able to pose their dolls in anyway - especially to mimic the stylized contorted poses of catwalk superstars whose aggressive angles were in stark contrast to the original neo-classical sculpting of early Barbie dolls.

The research into doll design for The Living Doll was an unforeseen part of the project's production. Poseable dolls were much rarer than one would expect. The simple idea to film black-gloved hands performing svengali magic and roughly contorting the doll's body into a pose recreating the required paintings and sculptures was far more complex in execution. Perversely, this mirrored a similar 'frustration' entailed in the mythology of the obsessed artist, feverishly complaining how his nude model can't get into the right inspirational pose for his great vision.

The 9 sequences for The Living Doll are each filmed as single 'performances' of off-screen hands bending around the camera to manipulate the Barbie dolls set inside spotlit dioramas. The footage is then played backwards and sped-up to double-speed, so that the final frames evidence the Barbie in replication of the relevant painting's pose. Post-production effects of banal Tinkerbell-like fairy dust and star glitter swirl around the dolls' bodies at the moments of their 'magical' transformation.

Sickly tinkling synthetic tones (evoking angelic celestes and wondrous chorales) accompany the FX-swirling. Unsettling foley sounds of stretched leather accompany the contortions to which the dolls' bodies are subjected, counterpointed occasionally by the faux-feminised 'ooohs' and 'aaahs' of a programmed doll's voice.

The Living Doll - Scene 13 © 2014