Sunday, 7 April 2013

Hans Bellmer - La Poupée

La Poupée, 1936/1938

Hans Bellmer (13 March 1902 - 23 February 1975) was a German artist, best known for the life-sized pubescent female dolls he produced in the mid-1930s. Historians of art and photography also consider him a Surrealist photographer.

Bellmer produced the first doll in Berlin in 1933. Long since lost, the assemblage can nevertheless be correctly described thanks to approximately two dozen photographs Bellmer took at the time of its construction. Standing about fifty-six inches tall, the doll consisted of a modeled torso made of flax fiber, glue, and plaster; a mask-like head of the same material with glass eyes and a long, unkempt wig; and a pair of legs made from broomsticks or dowel rods. One of these legs terminated in a wooden, club-like foot; the other was encased in a more naturalistic plaster shell, jointed at the knee and ankle. As the project progressed, Bellmer made a second set of hallow plaster legs, with wooden ball joints for the doll's hips and knees. There were no arms to the first sculpture, but Bellmer did fashion or find a single wooden hand, which appears among the assortment of doll parts the artist documented in an untitled photograph of 1934, as well as in several photographs of later work.

La Poupée. Seconde partie, undated (1936?)

Bellmer made his first doll in 1933 and took a series of photographs of it in various states of dismemberment and rearrangement, and 'with the necessary background of vice and enchantment', which was first published as a book Die Puppein Karlsruhe in 1934, with a foreword by himself. The photographs were taken by Bellmer, while the settings were constructed by his brother.

His second series of photographs was based on the elements of the central sphere, sometimes with a head and sometimes with two pairs of legs, and was completed in December 1937. Some of the photographs were taken out of doors in the garden of his father's house. Bellmer took the photographs with him when he settled in Paris in 1938 and preparations were made for their publication. The foreword, which was originally written in German, was translated into French in 1938 with the help of Georges Hugnet, while the idea of hand-colouring the photographs (which had not been done in the case of the first series) was suggested by Paul Eluard. Eluard also wrote fourteen short prose poems in the winter of 1938-9 to accompany the photographs. However in the end the book was not published until after the war, in 1949, when it was brought out by Heinz Berggruen, in a very limited edition, as Les Jeux de la Poupée.
Ronald Alley 

Les Jeux de la Poupée, 1949

In the mid 1930’s Hans Bellmer created a progression of flexible sculptures that he documented in a series of photographs. This collection of images, which was entitled La Poupee, was said to have been the embodiment of his unrequited lust for a young girl. Positioned in a variety of ways La Poupee contains the essence of sensuality and vulnerability, but it also holds the very real nature of sexual violence. By praising such work, was society simply acknowledging the violence of the objectification of one’s desire, or were they supporting it? One must look at the works being created during such an era to truly understand why these subjects were important and accepted.

In producing his series of photographs in an anonymous book, entitled La Poupee, Bellmer seemed to be aware of the brutality in his own work. It was later deemed degenerate by the Nazi Army, namely for its opposition of the Aryan ideal of perfection, forcing him to flee to Paris. In Paris his work was well praised under surrealists such as Breton because of its references to the Femme-Enfant also known as the ideal of dual realities between the feminine and the adolescent. This is only where the story becomes known; perhaps one has to look to the beginning to truly understand why Bellmer’s work seems so violent and alluring at the same time.  

A draftsman since 1926, Hans Bellmer first encountered the inspiration for La Poupee as he was entering his thirtieth year. She was a beautiful cousin of his who went by the name of Ursula Naguschewski, and she was said to have been fifteen or sixteen. Not only was she in close relation to him, she was also still considered a child causing her to be unattainable. Nabakov’s Lolita had not yet been written, but the feelings of guilt at the attraction and taboo of a young girl is a familiar story. During this time, Bellmer also attended a performance of Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann, in which the protagonist falls in love with an automaton named Olympia.
Mikaela Mae Farinas 

La Poupée, 1933-1937

With their blatant fetishism, tentative approach to materials, and polymorphously perverse sexuality, the work of surrealist Hans Bellmer (1902-1975) couldn’t look more contemporary. Surrealism is the secret source behind so much neo-conceptual and body orientated work today, from Kiki Smith to Mike Kelley. Bellmer’s large constructed doll - his inspiration, soulmate and model - is perhaps the ideal surrealist object, a symbol of childhood, femininity, sexual fantasy, and political victimisation, whose slippery moods and poses speak in a variety of psychologically compelling ways.

Unlike the worship of the female, common to other surrealists like Dali and Breton, Bellmer’s ego-free adoration of his doll is immediate and genuine. Only rarely does art achieve the eerie strangeness of Bellmer’s work. Confession and exploitation are not enough. Bellmer explores the notion of perversity inherent in sexuality; he believed in sexual liberation, regardless of its price. For him, it was a lifetime commitment and it wasn’t a pretty life.
Michael Duncan

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