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The Inner Cathedral: The Exquisite Dolls of Mari Shimizu

The ethereal creations of Mari Shimizu are hauntingly beautiful and impossibly detailed. Shimizu crafts elaborate ball-jointed dolls which possess an angelic appearance of purity and seem haloed by their tragic suffering. The figures are saints, martyrs, Madonnas, and vampires emanating an aura of innocence overshadowed by affliction. Many of them contain intricately carved Gothic arches, chapels, or even miniature Gardens of Eden within their torsos – the most delicately beautiful element of her works. These hollowed-out cavities of the architecture of anatomy are inhabited by demons and angels, homunculi, scenes evoking Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, as well as antique cabinets of curiosities. Combining biblical themes with her love of historical fashion, Mari Shimizu’s doll sculptures are like three-dimensional paintings with as much detail and subtlety as that medium, in their small-scale, inner paradises and hells.

The roughly 2-foot dolls are characterized by both captivating realism and disturbing surreality. Their unnnerving, almost obscene quality reminds me of the doll projects of Hans Bellmer, an inspiration of Shimizu’s. Working with traditional Japanese materials, Shimizu forms the heads and limbs out of papier-mache or clay, and the hair is made with goat’s hairs or silk threads.

Reminiscent of Anatomical Venuses, these entrancingly lovely, dolorous ladies have a wasted, spiritual look and sometimes are even dissectible/vivisected, with removable organs. The lacy decay of some of their figures, with spots in their flesh as if eaten through by decomposition, exposing ribs and inner cavities, is touched with a melancholy, morbid sensuality. Their bodies seem to be both the sacrifice and the altar upon which they are sacrificed. Also intriguing are the sculptures that represent dryads of the dead, human-tree hybrids seemingly overtaken by decay and strange growths of skulls and corpse-like beings.

These fragilely beautiful girls, with their air of adolescent bloom, at the same time give the impression of being catacombs containing hordes of the dead and decomposing. Thus, they are always both radiant and dark. Although they seem like the miraculously preserved and incorrupt bodies of saints, they have a breath of the crypt. I particularly love the Death and the Maiden-themed pieces which vividly depict the juxtaposition between a young girl in the bloom of youth and the macabre specter of Death, giving shape to a figure that seems literally torn between youthful beauty and grim dissolution. One of these is currently available for sale on Akatako, as well as one of her anatomical girls, in a violin case.

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Erik Bergrin

Erik Bergrin is an artist and costume maker whose collection of fiber sculptures called Shadowwork, incorporating techniques such as sewing, weaving, and coiling, are visual expressions of a ritualistic ceremony that created a mental hell. Resembling massive cocoons or sarcophagi for human forms, outlandish, abstract, and powerful, these sculptures are savagely original and dreamlike. They are terrifying, enigmatic, eerie, and wonderful. He is currently working on a stunning series based on his interpretation of the eight dissolutions of the Buddhist death process.

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The Dissected Martyr: Sculptures by Emil Melmoth

Emil Melmoth‘s sculptures are astonishingly beautiful and disturbing. Visceral, provoking, profane, they resemble bizarre religious medical experiments, crafted to a high degree of grotesqueness and macabre sensibility with meticulous detail. The extreme realism of his work only enhances its potential for horror. The subverted martyrs, women, children, demons, and hybrid beings which populate his sculpted imagination appear to be suffering greatly, as though their very nature were pain. They seem to have been granted existence by a diabolical and surpassingly sadistic God – creatures of hopelessness sewn together by an omnipotent needle. Their suffering is made palpable and shockingly tactile.

Blood and despair, tortured flesh, tormented ecstasies, distortions and abominations are rendered with painstaking subtlety in clay, metal, and wood. The victim-subjects appear vivisected, autopsied, flayed, torn apart and joined together countless times, in unholy combinations. This process of ghastly martyrization seems slow and infinitely effective, infinitely sinister. The carnal and the fleshly, the otherworldly and the ecstatic, combine in his subversion of spiritual works, embodied with merciless scientific exactness. The Last Rites Gallery aptly describes his works as “portraying macabre, fragile, and powerless aspects and philosophies of life. Melmoth’s wax anatomical models revel in a dark and surreal environment, where his depraved sculptures live in affliction: fragile beings in an eternally harrowing state of mind.”

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Semi-Opaque Sleeper: The Art of Christina Bothwell

These extraordinary and peculiar sculptures by Christina Bothwell play with transparency, opacity, and the meanings conveyed by textural contrasts. Suffering seems to engrave the faces of her figures and to stamp its personality upon them. They have a naive simplicity along with their subtle symbolic tones. I have never seen sculptures quite like these before, and they are instantly distinctive and unforgettable. Her rendition of the sleeper using solid, opaque substance for the physical form and that lovely, occluded-glass material for the astral body or spirit is such a succinct, apt, and beautiful visual metaphor. Friendship, childhood, transformation, isolation, the aching love and expectancy of motherhood, the waking nightmares of life…everything within the shadowy depths of the vast human heart seems embodied in her bold yet delicate sculptures.

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Darla Jackson Sculpture

Darla Jackson creates intriguing sculptures of animals such as rabbits, birds, snakes, and mice, using them to explore human emotions. I am struck by the contrast of black and white in her pieces, the enigmatic nature of the surreal depictions of the animals, and also by the poignant sadness of some of them, the impression they convey of being victimized, abused, and harrowed.

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Tabaimo

Tabaimo’s immersive, haunting video installations delve into the complex contemporary psyche, exploring themes of isolation, anxiety, and malaise. Surreal and a little unnerving, lovely and delicate and nightmarish, they are evocative of traditional Japanese woodblock prints and combine hand-drawing with computer animation. An exhibition of Tabaimo’s works is currently at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

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