Amber Hawk Swanson

In residence: December 8 – 19, 2014

Doll Closet will be the next in Amber Hawk Swanson’s series of durational building performances, and will invite conversations about the closet as a space of both queer secrecy and doll ownership. The performance is made possible by Hawk Swanson’s friend and collaborator “Jesse,” an anonymous doll owner she met through their shared involvement in the doll community. The performance is inspired by the hidden room Jesse built in his home where he secretly kept his 1998 model RealDoll, Heather, for fifteen years before donating her body to be transformed and reassembled in Hawk Swanson’s 2013 performance Sidore (Mark II) / Heather > LOLITA. Over the seven consecutive days of Doll Closet, Hawk Swanson will build a replica of Heather’s room. Jesse will call in during select hours of each day to provide guidance and instruction. The pieces of Heather leftover from LOLITA will also be present to witness the reconstruction.

In Doll Closet, Amber Hawk Swanson transforms the process of building and the resulting replica as a platform for members of the doll community—and Jesse specifically—to respond to mainstream misrepresentation of doll ownership. The performance highlights alternative narratives of owners who use their relationships to dolls as a way to explore their own gender, obtain uncomplicated companionship, and connect with a community in the face of social anxiety and loneliness. Doll Closet not only provides a necessary vehicle for members of the doll community to speak for themselves without risking their anonymity, but also asks what kinds of intimacies, relations, and unanticipated connections can flourish in secrecy. It explores how the interior space of the closet can be rendered as both capacious and collective.

Hawk Swanson has been a part of the doll community since 2005 after acknowledging her failed attempts to date “organic” women and developing an affinity with “doll husbands” who consider dolls to be life partners. In 2006, she commissioned the fabrication of Amber Doll, a RealDoll made in the artist’s likeness who became her artistic and romantic companion for five years. Hawk Swanson’s projects with dolls are part of an ongoing exploration of their material capacities for synthesis and salvation—that is, the personal and political promise of the copy.

Doll Closet will take place three years to date from Amber Doll > TILIKUM (2011) and one year to date from LOLITA—the first two in an alchemic performance series transforming lifelike silicone sex dolls into models of captive whales. Over the ten days of TILIKUM, Hawk Swanson transmogrified Amber Doll’s body into a replica of Tilikum, a bull orca living in captivity at SeaWorld Orlando who had been involved in three human deaths. In LOLITA, Hawk Swanson dismantled two other dolls, Heather and Sidore (Mark II), who were donated by their longtime partners and owners Jesse and Davecat. During the 70-hour broadcasted performance, Hawk Swanson used their silicone flesh and PVC skeletons to construct a replica of Lolita, the oldest living killer whale in captivity, while members of the doll and marine mammal activist communities participated via call-ins. In his calls, Jesse described the room in which he hid and surveilled Heather.

Doll Closet takes up the narrative Jesse introduced to LOLITA. During the construction process, Jesse will phone in to explain how, after noticing seven feet of empty space behind a wall through a hole left by the previous residents of his 1940s colonial-style home, he fashioned a secret room secured by a locking pin system inspired by bank vaults and a surveillance camera—which both protected the closet and kept watch over Heather. Hawk Swanson will simultaneously receive phone and Skype calls from other members of the doll community, as well as manage a special page on the doll forum Our Doll Communitywhere owners will share images of their dolls’ spaces. The act of building a “private” room in the open will thus generate a public yet interior space, where conversations can air what had previously been confined to secrecy. Through the durational process of replicating Heather’s original closet, Hawk Swanson expands her ongoing exploration of how replicas become unique objects and function as vehicles for discourse.

About Amber Hank Swanson
Amber Hawk Swanson (b. 1980, Davenport, Iowa) is a video and performance artist living and working in Brooklyn. Recent exhibitions and screenings include Palais de Tokyo (Paris), Momenta Art (Brooklyn), and Locust Projects (solo, Miami). Recent residencies include Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture (Maine), MacDowell (New Hampshire), Atlantic Center for the Arts (Florida, curated by Coco Fusco), and Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts (NYC). Recent visiting artist appointments include New York University’s Tisch School of Arts (NYC), McGill University (Montreal), East Carolina University (Graduate Program, Greenville, NC), Hunter College (Studio Arts and Film, NYC), and Fashion Institute of Technology, FIT (Photography, NYC). Her work is included in the permanent and MPP collections of the Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago) and has been profiled and reviewed in The Drama Review (TDR), Criticism, GLQ, The Huffington Post, Hyperallergic, and The Associated Press. Hawk Swanson holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Studio Arts, 2006).

Images from the Open Rehearsal