Almost human: why is art so obsessed with lifesize dolls?

From Coppélia and Pygmalion to Mannequin and Buffybot, artists love playing games with lifesize dolls. Lyndsey Winship follows a trail of lust, obsession – and beheadings.

Human sacrifices and an eye stealing alchemist – sound like your typical ballet?  Not one we’ve been to.  The ballet has historically been generalized in the media as a dainty girly art form but Coppélia is turning that stereotype upside down.  The story line involves a village local falling madly in love with the woman of his dreams.  Unsurprisingly his fiancee loses it when she finds out.  The joke’s on both of them, however, when they find out that the woman of interest is a doll.  The story is sprinkled with unexpected plot twists with an attempt to “sacrifice Franz [the village] in order to bring his creation to life” and no ballet would be complete without a “sinister eye‑stealing alchemist”.  

The idea of lusting after an inanimate figure is not a new one, with roots dating way back to Greek mythology and has persisted through new media in the last century with appearances in Mannequin, Lars and the Real Girl, Ruby Sparks, Disney’s Lifesize, or, most recently, Her.  Mankind is obsessed with skirting the line between real and fake in trying to achieve perfection.  The art world’s fixation on life-size dolls is not so far-fetched – but rather an exaggerated reflection on society’s move toward “making ourselves look more artificial, with Botox, breast implants, fake hair and HD-ready makeup” in our attempt to reach perfection.

Given this observation, it’s not surprising that most of the movies featuring life-size dolls as “objects of desire” are driven by deep seated emotional issues.

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