November 28, 2003

surrealism: Hans Bellmer's mutilated bodies

Whilst searching for material on Bataille I chanced upon Hans Bellmer and his dolls. This surrealist worked during a time when Nazism was on the rise, Bellmer created several dolls with fragmented bodies that could be dismantled and arranged in various configurations. He created sexualized images of the female body--distorted, dismembered, or menaced in sinister scenarios. Using a narrative format, he then photographed the dolls in a range of grotesque-often sexual-positions. The images he conveyed were of death and decay, abuse and longing
What we have are fragmented bodies or doll pieces; broken up and contorted sexual forms that represent the body of young girls:
Hans Bellmer. Plate 12 of Les Jeux de la poupée (The Games of the Doll). Paris, Les Editions premières, 1949. Hand-colored black-and-white photograph.

In this image the doll is a tragic amputee, armless and tied on a shadowy stairway with frayed twine. The description of the image says:

"With a second (reversed) pelvis substituting for its chest, the doll is given buttocks for breasts, and these seem incongruously large, considering the undeveloped pudenda and the juvenile hair-bow. The doll's left leg is bound at the knee, while the right thigh ends abruptly in midair, exposing a hollow core. All is passive, inert: one hand lies limply against the banister, and a blank, unseeing eye suggests a loss of consciousness.
Who, one wonders, is responsible for the naked and abject condition of the doll?"


Surrealist women are headless, footless and armless . . . they are dismembered, punctured and severed:

Bellmer 's concerns are with the fetishising of body parts and fragmentation of
the sexual form. This comment highlights the Bataillian concerns:

"The fetishising of body parts and fragmentation of the sexual form ignored the constraints of physical actuality. ...Bellmer's sense of taboo lay not in what convention condemned but what was hidden in the darkness of the psyche (where it is far from safe). Bellmer's psychological confrontation and violence may constitute a spiritual jolt that liberates from habit and known codings. He dragged terrible desires out of the darkness and into cognition so that we could assimilate the full reality of our passions and the content of evil in them. How else were we to transcend them (in whatever way we ought) if not by first knowing them?"

This is the Bataillan moment of surrealism, its darker side. An art given over to the uncanny, to the compulsion to repeat and the drive toward death. The uncanny or the return of familar things (dolls) made strange by social, sexual and historical repression. Bellmer's collection of dolls constitute a traumatic tableaux with connections between sadism and masochism butal and between surrealism and fascism.

We should find this disturbing familar.
Consider the violence and repression wrought upon assylum seekers (including women and children) in Australia.

Is not the way we treat children made strange by the political repression by the state.

Are there not connections between sadism of the security guards in the Detention centres and the liberal state?

Are not these mutilated bodies the bodies of children living in detention centres that are run as prisons by private enterprise?

These images of the constructed female body are far more disturbing than the routine pornographic work on the Internet.

On Bataille's account the violence and desire in the mutilated bodies opens up a way of thinking which breaks the patterns of liberal thought, opens the possibilities of new ideas and bypasses instrumental reason and utility, and explores the body's potential capacity to imagine, dream and invent. This is otherwise to the current glorification of the pornographic that is everywhere and which is anything but emancipatory.


Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at November 28, 2003 10:38 PM | TrackBack

Is not Bellmer's work merely the very vision we all conjure up in our wildest of sexual fantasies... ? disjointed members without faces, broken dreams, dark and violent passions.
As a teenager back in the 1960's, obsessed with some pornography I found in my father's mail, these are the visions I still bring to mind.
I seem incapable of "making love" without returning to the vomit of the past...

Posted by: victoria maitland on June 30, 2004 04:54 AM

what is up with these dolls? i was looking for drama research and now will have nightmares!!!!!!!! i want to have your babies

Posted by: kiki on December 7, 2004 03:35 AM

I love his photography of the mutilated dolls. They are romantic, and yet horrible at the same time. He manages to find a balance that is beyond the imaginations of the general public.

Posted by: Heather Hinze on April 21, 2005 11:35 PM

Disturbing, truly, phenomenal work. These went pretty deep for me. The present seems marked by a succession of violent imagery in the media, some of it painstakingly constructed for our "entertainment", some of it, tragically, all too real. This artist has evoked with inanimate objects that same sense of tragedy and brutality for me without fake blood and splatter gore. Perhaps it's the fetishistic/sexual overtones in his work but I find these carry much darker imagery than the latest ultra-realistic special effects or the horror we call world news.

Posted by: Misha Allen on May 30, 2005 12:36 AM

This work is the proof that art will hold it's own last taboo, that of the abuse of the 'unreal'. just because no one got hurt, does that make the psychological violence any less damaging? In creation we are truly free to explore what is possible, but we are all doomed to recreate the repression of the real world.

Posted by: DaN McElhinney on June 8, 2005 08:06 PM
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