Hanging from the wall, the dolls have eyes that seem to follow you, many white eyes in faces with unwavering stares that never change. Sometimes they have human features with sad expressions, other times they have the head and feet of animals, as in “Rabbit Warrior,” a militant figure with a demeanor made curiously comical by his long ears. Using clay, wire and fabric, Sandra Storey and Margriet Aasman’s new show I Never Really Played with Dolls creates a macabre, intriguing, dark collaboration.
The creations are the brainchildren of longtime sculptor Storey and graphic designer Aasman. The pair initially came together as student and teacher, as Aasman — who had a solo show in 1991, working in pastels — wanted to learn how to use clay, they said. However, the relationship quickly evolved.
“I went first with (Storey) to learn how to work with clay,” Aasman said. “And dolls just sort of became part of the process.”
Aasman said the pair really didn’t know each other before they started working together in this capacity, something which changed over time. The process involved a lot of “brainstorming” and “problem solving,” she said. Deciding what to create, how to make it, even how the dolls should be jointed was all an intense collaborative process.
“We have a really good friendship — that’s really what this show is about: our friendship and relationship…. When you’re working with a team of creative people, you’re all just better.”
Sculpture, said Storey, is often a very solitary process, and working with someone so intensely was a new experience for both of them.
“If you can imagine spending a year with someone you don’t know, that amount of creative time with someone…. Your relationship is accelerated,” Storey said.
“Margriet is one of my dearest friends now.”
Perhaps one of the most visually striking pieces is a sculpture entitled “Sedna.” Based on the Inuit spiritual being of the same name — the goddess Sedna is typically associated with control of the sea, specifically the marine mammals Inuit hunters rely upon — the piece features a large ship replete with miniature fish and birds, delicate and deliberately-crafted whales and seals. Other pieces in the collection also appear to be heavily influenced by First Nations cultures, such as the intricate “Caribou Shaman,” an anthropomorphic figure whose chest opens up into compartments which hold various birds and animals.
“I’ve always been interested in mythology and folklore,” Storey said. “Mythology is a way to make sense of what we don’t understand by looking at the everyday.”
“There’s a crossover with First Nations (mythology) but we all have personal experiences about how these animals (in the North) behave.”
Some of the work is quite personal, Aasman said. One of the dolls, for example, commemorates the time her younger sister fell through the ice while she was out for a walk and the strength she exhibited in getting herself out.
“Here’s a doll you can toss aside and rip the stuffing out of and discard, but it’s so resilient,” she said.
With their strange, unfriendly faces and their vacant stares, the figures may appear to some to be more sculpture than any “doll” you might want to give a child, but both Storey and Aasman refer to them that way.
“Call them dolls,” said Storey. “After all, what is a doll?”
The show runs in the Focus Gallery of Arts Underground until Oct. 28.
Contact Lori Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org