|Hans Bellmer devoted his life to rebellion against his father, against authority and propriety. Following a number of arrests in his native Polish/German mining town for 'inciting workers to Socialist rebellion' and 'undermining the moral supports of the State', Bellmer was sent by his father to Engineering school in Berlin, but quit after a year and eked out a living as a freelance book-cover designer and graphic artist for advertising. He considered himself a colleague of George Grosz, Otto Dix and John Heartfield/Herzfelde, whose style he copied extensively on the covers of various sensational novels. He also befriended doll-maker and set and costume designer Lotte Prinzel, who had helped Oskar Kokoschka build a life-size doll companion in 1919. When his father joined a Nazi Party growing in power and control, Hans renounced "all work which could be in any way useful to the State." In 1930, his young wife Margarete ill with tuberculosis, Bellmer became infatuated with his fifteen year old cousin Ursula. Two years later he took his wife, brother and young cousin to see a production of Offenbach's 'Tales of Hoffmann', which included 'The Sandman'. Fascinated with the story of the doll Olympia, frustrated in his desires for Ursula, and unable to have any children by his frail wife, Bellmer decided to make himself a doll to act out his fantasies. Funded secretly by his mother, and with the help of Lotte Prinzel and his brother Fritz (who quit his job as an engineer to work on the project), Bellmer constructed his First Doll in 1933. It was made of wooden broom handles, metal rods, nuts and bolts, with one hand and two feet carved out of wood. The head and torso were of flax over a wooden frame, covered in plaster, shaped and painted. This "anagram of the sexual elements of a girl's body" had in place of a womb a panorama of six images "of bad taste representing the thoughts and dreams of a young girl", viewable through the navel and activated by pressing the left nipple. Bellmer documented the Doll's construction with photographs, ten of which and a short text were published at Bellmer's own expense as 'Die Puppe' in 1934. Bellmer saw the doll as a final triumph over the adolescents with "wide eyes" who had shunned his attentions: "Certain objects from their domain had always aroused my lust . . . I was no longer able to find the mysterious ways of these little darlings insignificant . . . all that could be easily taken for seduction, even stimulate desire." The latter photographs in 'Die Puppe' showed the Doll, in whole or in parts, arranged so as to embody some of Bellmer's fantasies. Photo number nine "with its carefully positioned jumble of torso, head and limb plus wig . . . a hint of underclothing set against the background of a striped mattress creates the most astonishingly powerful and disturbing image of the series", says Peter Webb. Bellmer's cousin Ursula took photos of the Doll with her to Paris in 1934, and showed them to Breton and Eluard, who proclaimed it to be "the first and only surrealist object with a universal, provocative power." The photos were published in 'Minotaure' no.6 in December, and in February of 1935 Bellmer came to Paris to meet the Surrealists in person and to organize the translation of 'Die Puppe' and its publication in France. Dissatisfied with the immobility of the first Doll, Bellmer was already at work on perfecting his creation. Hunting through museums in Berlin with Lotte Prinzel, they had found a Dürer-era wooden artist's mannequin which used ball joints for maximum mobility, including a 'stomach sphere' separating the torso and hips. Upon his return to Berlin, and again with the help of his brother Fritz, work began on the second Doll. Re-using the child's face of the first Doll, and some of its limbs, Bellmer created a new, grotesquely eroticised body, centred around the bulbous stomach sphere and its prominent navel. Reversible hips/torsos featured a hairless vulva, buttocks, and spheres that operated as either thighs or huge, high breasts. The Doll's legs (up to four) invariably ended in white socks and little-girl 'Alice' shoes, its head topped with a bow. Over one hundred photographs of the new doll were taken in varying guises - headless and with four legs; armless with its face concealed behind its giant, spherical breasts, with an extra vulva between them; tied to a tree; crouching in an ill-lit stairwell--all were sexually provocative poses of barely concealed violence and violation. "The Surrealist object", says Webb, "subverts the utilitarian purposes of a thing to achieve a certain wish fulfillment". It embodies a "battle on behalf of the pleasure principle against the reality principle." In Bellmer's Dolls, their shock value explicitly aimed at Nazism as the ultimate embodiment of the Law-of-the-Father, can also be seen the battle of the castration complex, fetishism and the uncanny. By shifting Surrealism's transgressions into the realm of the perverse Bellmer, along with Bataille, Dali, Masson and others, highlighted a contradiction inherent in Breton's earlier programme of anti-authoritarian rebellion. Through outrageous acts of fetishism the perverted sons of Surrealism turned their Oedipal battle against their fathers into an assertion of their own phallic power. By breaking his Doll's body and re-arranging its parts in fetishistic, erotically charged ways, Bellmer is at one assuaging his own castration fears and asserting his phallic, creative force. Still not satisfied with the manipulative possibilities of the Doll, Bellmer went on to make 'The Machinegunneress in a State of Grace' (1937)- a sculpture of female body parts and metal rods, inviting comparison with the Surrealists' favourite image of the sexually predatory woman, the praying mantis- and to produce increasingly bizarre and explicit drawings of his fantasies. In 'L'Anatomie de l'image', a text begun in the late '30's but not published until 1957, Bellmer attempts to map the "physical unconscious" he believes links body and mind, self and other. The whole body, he asserts, is a site of shifting desires, displacement and transference. Thus the pain of toothache is echoed in the involuntary contractions of the hand, making it resemble a tooth. The pain is displaced, the sensation divided amongst disparate parts of the body. Desires are similarly mobile. Hence Bellmer can speak of the shifting of a little girl's vulva into her armpit as she sits with her chin in her hand. He attempted to represent these shifts with the physical displacement of his Dolls, but ultimately felt he could only accomplish the visualization of his desires on paper, in amorphous, transparent images of coupling bodies. This is his conception of androgyny, but in every single 'erotic' image he produced, the figures dismembered and penetrated are never less than identifiably female. His gaze is undeniable male, possessive, controlling. He is afraid of the power his female figures, but never allows them any control or dominance. In his uncritical defense of Bellmer, Webb11 makes a misguided comparison in suggesting that Bellmer's work is as self-revelatory as that of his contemporary Pierre Molinier- misguided in that Molinier played out his sexual fantasies and tribulations on himself; he was his own model, dressing in suspenders and high heels, sodomizing himself with a 'godamiche' (dildo). Bellmer's perversions, whilst reflecting his inner turmoil, always needed an outlet, and that outlet was always female. Hal Foster, in his work Convulsive Beauty, clearly shows Surrealism's link to Freud's 'uncanny', to the return of the repressed, the compulsion to repeat and the drive toward death. According to Freud, the uncanny (unheimlich) is something familiar that is alienated through repression, "the name for everything that ought to have remained silent but has come to light." Inherent within it is a compulsion to repeat, "a compulsion powerful enough to overrule the pleasure principle." Freud's essay includes a reading of Hoffmann's 'The Sandman' (1816), an uncanny tale par excellance. Freud begins with a discussion of the automaton Olympia with whom the hero falls hopelessly in love. For Freud's predecessor Jentsch, waxwork figures, the unsettling feelings prompted by ingeniously constructed dolls and automata perfectly illustrated his conception of the uncanny: "doubts whether an apparently animated being is really alive, or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate." Freud's concern with 'The Sandman', however, lies more in the tale's treatment of the Oedipal conflict, with its attendant anxieties about castration and its repeated motifs of eyes and blindness. The reason for this Freudian digression should become clear when it is applied to the work of Hans Bellmer.|
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