Uh oh, there are mannequins in my boot!

Do bodies animate a home?

3695 Primrose Rd in California is on the market for US$650,000, mannequins included. Photo/ Supplied Oneroof.co.nz 5:00 PM, 24 Feb 2021

Are mannequins a representation of the body?
“Although mannequins will never be confused with real people, they’re still representations; of the clothes, the retailer, and the ideal customer. Their typical wide stance and long legs (usually slightly bent) keep pants from pooling at the bottom.” Lisa Mauer of the mannequin company Siegal & Stockman.

I’m having mannequin thoughts

I stand before the discarded mannequin, deemed surplus to company needs: Long legs, tiny hands placed on slender, strong arms. Mismatched legs screwed into aligning torsos. Slim shoulders, unmoving — this depiction of ‘woman’ standing tall and motionless, inanimate.

They appear so ready … for something … they speak to me with their man-handled readiness. I really want these disused mannequin parts, these mouldy toe-chipped casts of humanity …

.. and so in they go, into my boot. Thanks surplus traders for the excellent service, and mannequin conversation.

It’s been 24 hours and the mannequins still lie folded up in my boot. I move to retrieve them. To bring them in. I feel as though I need to bathe them, to care for them, to invite them in as I would my family. Why is it that I want to take these bodies inside rather than into the garage or studio? Because they look human? DO they? what is their humanness? With arms and legs they take up space.

… and then I continue to leave them in the boot, for another night. They are dirty and old. Maybe I should wrap something around them – give them some dignity. Do mannequins like being dressed? They are mannequins, they do not breathe! although their painted skin is likely exhaling something. I care, and yet I don’t care. I am the human. If I do not look they are not there.

She “does not know that she is half naked, and she does not know that she is trying to hide. That is to say, she is totally self-defeating because she shows herself at the very moment that she thinks she is hiding.” Louise Bourgeois, speaking of the subject of her work Femme Maison (translated into English as, Housewife).

Louise Bourgeois, Femme Maison, 1994, white marble, 4 1/2 x 12 1/4 x 2 5/8″

When I finally retrieve the mannequins, they appear to me as body parts, dismembered, as a result of an accident perhaps. I photograph the parts as if one of a forensic team, noting any distinguishing features.

I wonder about the use of body casts in art.

I read: “Dismembership: Jasper Johns and the Body Politic Performing the Body/Performing the Text, eds. Amelia Jones and Andrew Stephenson, 1999.

I do a google search for mannequins and come across Fabio Palmieri’s documentary, Irregulars: A Short Documentary That Traces Cyrille Kabore’s Harrowing Journey as a Refugee Set Against a Mannequin Factory (2016). I’m impacted by the story and the metaphor of the mannequin on mass, “the judging faces looking back at me”. The unsettling gaze of the inanimate.

Still from documentary Irregulars. Timestamp 7: 06
Still from documentary.

My mannequins don’t have heads — there weren’t any heads, they are arms, legs, bodies without heads. They are old, they are used, and they were discarded. They don’t look back at me with judgement.

I realise if I stand on my tippy toes (or in most fierce high heels) I am the same height as a typical mannequin. If it had a head we would see eye to eye. Knee to knee, hip bone to hip bone, neck to neck, this mannequin before me has no head. I stare at it but it does not stare back at me.

I bring the mannequins through the front door. I need to carry them, and they are stiff and falling apart in my arms. They are very awkward to move around corners. I am loosing the human connection with these plastic pieces — and in this moment of striding, I walk through the kitchen and right on out the back door and into the garage. I prop them up against some door and window parts, also brought inside, from the front yard. They remain unchanged, seemingly unaffected. … I still feel a little guilty however that they have been relegated to the garage so soon in our relationship.

After some time, having left the mannequin parts with other discarded bits and pieces of machines; bike bits; kids toys and car seats, any emotional attachment seems to have dissipated. I want to get on with my casting idea and am looking for a body to lie on the floor for a few days. With no human takers, I turn to the torso-like form in my garage and take it down to my studio, not as a guest but as a co-collaborator. The form seems to be okay with this idea and lends its; torso shape, size 7 foot feature, elongated leg-like thing with proportionate bump-bits. The coat hanger frame serves the purpose well. It is form, form fitting.

Mannequin Antics