Dolls and Miracles

This was taken at the Dean Gallery, in Edinburgh. At night the sign glows, visible from the road above the long wall around the gallery. I was thinking that this image was perhaps not the best way to start off a blog post – how could anything that follows be breezy, while people are contemplating those words?

But that would depend on how you read the sign, really. Perhaps the artist is saying that art can never be a miracle. Arguing against a Romantic mode. Art as always hard graft, patience, thought, inspiration yes, but nothing of  the divine. The artist as dedicated craftworker, rather than priest of the muses. I think the very fact that there is a gorgeous sunny day behind the installation rather undermines the gloominess that can be read there.  Hmm. How would you read it?

I have been off working on the draft of this second novel, as well as hanging out more with our American visitors. Yesterday I went with my mum and D’s stepmother to the Museum of Childhood. Well, perhaps now things are going to turn a little grim. Perhaps darker even than the bunker – depending on your tolerance for creepy dolls.

Oh, Hallo again, mannequins (half way between mannequin and doll, is the artificial child, sulking in the corner there)

I learnt from my mother that I was always unnerved by dolls, which was why I didn’t have them growing up. They tried me with one and it just didn’t take. I probably didn’t like the way its eyes flipped open and closed when you tilted it, the odd softness of the belly and hardness of the face and hands. Tactile issues. I was fascinated by the room full of old dolls (below the room above) possibly because they were at a remove, behind glass.

I was so fascinated in fact I took no pictures at all of the too-small wax heads, the bulging eyes, the thin, real hair sprouting from the heads. The hair of a poor child, I thought, looking at this rich child’s toy. Down on the ground floor, separated from the ‘real’ dolls was a shoe-doll, which is as you’d think a doll made of an old shoe with a face drawn on it. The doll of a slum-dwelling child from London, 1900s. It certainly stuck with me more than the giant dolls houses owned by the aristocracy and merchants children, though again I was remiss in taking a picture.

A nursery, with those hybrid doll-mannequins again.

On this level were mock-ups of the classroom (as seen above), this nursery, a party, and oddly, the window of a children’s shoe-seller’s, which was strangely sad. I stood looking at it a little while, and remembered that it reminded me of a piece of art I’d seen many years ago at an art college show: A segment of a large model train, spray-painted grey, filled with small grey shoes. When I looked at it, all I could think of was World War Two, of the trains going to Auschwitz  and the shoes the Nazis so carefully stored. All that terrible sense of dread and loss contained with in it. How it left me, more than twelve years later, with a lingering sadness over this window full of tiny shoes.

Oh dear, thing have taken a slight turn for the morbid after all. That’s what happens when you go down into a bunker, and follow that with a trip to the Museum of Childhood and then after a ghost tour through Greyfriar’s Kirkyard (graveyard), where there was apparently the world’s first concentration camp – the Covenanter’s prison (the link will send you to more information on that infamous bloody incident). Scotland is certainly full of darkness, but, thinking back, to that sign, to the boat full of daffodils, to all the in-between moments of happiness I’ve had these last few days, this is after all, a matter of perspective. There is the present, the future, the living to think about. The bowl of strawberries and milk, the making of art, and the enjoying of it.



Filed under 2012, art, celebration, Edinburgh, Scotland

14 responses to “Dolls and Miracles

  1. I feel absolutely transported. Thanks, Helen. Hope you’re off to a good week.

  2. CJ

    Gorgeous report as usual.

  3. I was never a delicate doll lover, those eyes and that sick floppiness. But I confess to years of Barbiedom.

    Love the last photo, feel like I can fill my lungs!

    • I only had one barbie, and that was too late, at 11. I’d asked for it just because I thought I should have one before I grew up completely. Too late, too late for me.

  4. This doll exhibit is so creepy. Please tell me this isn’t research…because it is ALL about me, right?

  5. What a great follow up to the Green Corridor! You are surrounded by whispering ghosts…

  6. I never liked dolls, but I loved my trolls. In fact, I still have them. Saying that “out loud” and suddenly I feel a bit weird. I do have two daughters to assuage the weirdness (even though they don’t play with them– I do).
    Love how the words disagree with the mysterious beauty of the background in the first photo– I agree, the view taunts the limitations of the words.

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