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Barbie O-Ring

I feel there is a connection between what is considered high-art and non-art that can be deciphered through visual signs and symbols. I collide and juxtapose photographs depicting high art—classical sculpture, painting, architecture—with images or things usually encountered on a utilitarian level—signage, instructions, or even say plumbing fixtures—to unveil semiotic similarities and contradictions that elicit a layered reading from the viewer.

The primary reading can be one of harmony but then a subversive sub-text signaling a feeling of quiet anxiousness begins to creep in. Something is not quite right, out of balance, or discordant. I feel a sense of unease tinged with irony can be provocative.

While high-art sculpture is usually made of materials such as bronze or marble and the message they convey is typically reverent in nature, plastic on the other hand can also emit meaning just as powerful but more reflective of contemporary culture. My previous series dealt with images of mannequins and posed questions about the messages they convey to and about a buying audience.

As further extension of consumerism, this series on Barbie dolls focuses on body image identity. Since the doll’s inception in the 1950s as a German sex gag toy called Lilli, questions of various meanings have revolved around the idea of Barbie. My deliberate distortions of the “perfect run-way model proportion” further question what the Barbie ideal is and the message being conveyed to young girls and ultimately what it says about the human condition--the need for conformance and acceptance.

My process begins with a Polaroid SX-70 photo of a Barbie doll, which I then have scanned into a computer, and digitally distort either by stretching or compressing the doll’s proportions. The computer display screen is then photographed with a 6x7cm medium format camera on black and white analog film. The negative is then scanned again where I digitally add color and shift values. The image is output and mounted onto an aluminum panel.

Multiple layers of polyester resin then finish off the surface to a high gloss sheen. Imbedded in the resin, brightly colored O-rings are immediately noticed but the underlying photograph image takes a bit longer to be recognized.  The image is purposely out of focus,  in low contrast, and merged into a dark background. The doll’s features are closely cropped and extremely close-up which disconnects any context that may give reference to Barbie’s image. The viewer has to discover it.

Borrowed from the hydraulic industry, I use rubber O-rings as molds to make negative forms in the wet resin. After curing, the O-rings are removed and colored resin is poured in filling the negative space in a manner similar to making Jell-O. Cross culturally the circle form has countless reverentially symbolic meanings. But in my work I am using the mundane mechanical association of the O-rings to contradict the high aspiration example of the doll’s message. They are disparate yet equivalent in that they are both manufactured of rubber and plastic.

Depending on the lighting, the three dimensional  thickness of the resin becomes apparent.  
The O-rings seem to float above the surface of the photograph casting a small shadow and creating a specular highlight.  The resin surface is highly reflective in a water or crystalline manner, yet on close inspection there can be found imperfections and distortions. In a way the surface is flawed--analogous to the distorted message of perfection conveyed by the Barbie doll itself.

The most interesting work in the exhibit is by Jeffrey P. Heyne, who
digitally alters Polaroids of Barbie dolls and covers them in resin.
Industrial O-rings float over the surface of each piece, making patterns
that divert attention from whatever perky detail of Barbie lurks below.
Heyne visually captures a kind of dream state in which Barbie looms
godlike, always in the viewer's awareness but not always perceptible.

                      —Cate McQuaid, The Boston Globe  Aug. 9, 2007

All works are toned silver prints and archival digital prints with polyester resin on 1/4" aluminum plate or Dibond panels

This series is no longer available.

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