Hans Bellmer, La Poupée, 1935 (207.1987)
Legs as extension of the body.
Legs as the choreographers of movement.
Legs as navigators.
Legs as present moment.
Legs as independence.
Legs as control.
Legs as power.
Legs as balance.
Legs as decision makers.
Legs as duality.
Legs as surreality.
Legs as sexuality.
Legs as the protectors of the vagina.
Legs as the indecisive body.
The surreal leg images made by the German photographer Hans Bellmer (1902-1975) in the mid-1930s combine the physical interior with the psychic interior while reflecting on Bellmer’s idea of a physical unconscious. The body becomes the place on which identity can be explored in a way that blurs the boundaries between reality and fantasy.
Hans Bellmer, La Poupée, 1935 (205.1987)
While looking at these images, the haze of distinction between imagination and reality appears to distort the lines between pleasure and anxiety. The viewer also has a childish fantasy that this doll is an actual autonomous being.
Bellmer said of his motives in making his dolls: “I shall construct an artificial girl whose anatomy will make it possible physically to re-create the dizzying heights of passion and to do so to the extent of inventing new desires.”
These growing female body parts deny any straightforward reading of subjecthood or desire also carry a question of sexuality. But these bodies do not rely on binaries of homosexuality or heterosexuality but more of a hermaphroditic–or even a homogeneous–untouchable inanimate being.
The doubling of the legs and the doubling of self and other, animate and inanimate, creates a skewed eroticism that keep us trying to make couples and links that make sense together. The legs of the doll are both Bellmer’s in terms of a voyeuristic possession or control.
The tensions between Bellmer as the photographer-voyeur, the doll as a construction of Bellmer himself, and the doll as a completed object onto which fantasies can be projected are very compelling; it seems that Bellmer becomes the courtier of this strange character. The photographs reveal the two modes of aggressive voyeurism and uncertain identification, resulting in this indecisiveness.
Bellmer’s adolescent-looking doll models function in an uncanny space that places them between child and adult, real and fake; present, past, or future. This makes the work the perfect example of Freud’s definition of the uncanny: “an uncanny effect is often and easily produced when the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced, as when something that we have regarded as imaginary appears before us in reality, or when a symbol takes over the full functions of the thing it symbolizes.”.
—Nina Mendez Marti, ICP-Bard 2014