Early Friday afternoon, local photographer Jen Williams looked like she was preparing to play house.
She assembled a miniature 1950s-style kitchen with colourful cupboards perched above a plastic refrigerator, stove and sink.
She set a tiny dinner table with plastic plates, knives and forks.
She clothed a Barbie doll in a dress and apron, and fashioned her nylon blonde hair into a beehive — the stereotypical image of a housewife.
Then she gently placed her in the kitchen.
She bent her over.
She opened the door of the tiny yellow plastic oven and stuck Barbie’s head inside.
Williams wasn’t playing a twisted children’s game, she was preparing for the opening of her first solo photography show in Studio 204.
She set up the disturbing kitchen scene to show how she constructed the images in her exhibition, Plastic, which opened at the gallery on Friday.
It’s a 10-photo conceptual series that knocks Barbie from her prom-queen throne and throws her into the gritty day-to-day reality of being a woman.
“The idea was to present scenarios we’re familiar with, whether we like it or not, in our real life that you don’t see reflected in the plastic perfected reality that’s put out for us as kids in these toys,” said Williams.
In this series Barbie is no princess or president.
This Barbie is beaten down, battered and uncertain.
In Bulimia, a naked Barbie doll carefully examines her form in the mirror.
“If Barbie, who’s already crazily, ridiculously perfect, doesn’t think she’s good enough, what chance do the rest of us stand?” said Williams.
Another piece, called Barbie Bakes a Cake, is a triptych of three photographs that show Barbie being beaten up by her partner then retaliating by making him a cake full of rat poison.
Williams calls the photos “constructed narratives.”
And Ken comes along for the ride.
In one image, titled Happy Kens, two of the male dolls lie in bed together reading.
“Happy Kens was a statement to say that I believe people have the right to be with whomever they want to be with,” said Williams.
She uses the iconic plastic dolls in the photographs because everybody is familiar with them.
“Barbie is so pervasive, little girls just love her and she represents what a woman should be,” said Williams.
The dolls in the photographs are the same ones Williams played with as a child.
She ordered the Barbie accessories online after scouring websites like EBay and outbidding (or outwitting) the throng of hard-core collectors looking to get their hands on similar treasures.
With more than $3 million in retail sales, Barbie is the No. 1 girls brand worldwide, proclaims Mattel’s website.
“From urban teen to fantasy queen, she’s every girl!”
Has Williams heard any word from Mattel, about her unauthorized use of the dolls’ images?
“No, let’s not get them too excited yet,” she said with a laugh.
Williams has a collection of more than 20 dolls — some Barbies and some more political.
She’s got former US president Ronald Regan, George Bush junior and senior and outspoken right-wing commentator Ann Coulter.
“I’ve been waiting for just the right one for her,” said Williams, with a devious laugh.
On the far side of the gallery hangs a very different photo that shows Williams’ sense of humour.
In Brokeback Bush, a doll that looks a lot like US President George Bush cuddles up to another doll that looks a lot like former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Beside the pair burns a plastic fire and snow-capped mountains rise behind them.
“It’s just a bit of a lampoon,” she said.
“It was asking to be done and I just happened to have the doll.”
Williams began the doll project while studying commercial photography at Langara College in BC.
She grew up in Whitehorse, moved away and has now settled in the territory for the time being.
And she’s been working on the doll series for nearly two years.
“I had no idea that this was living inside of me, something just opened and this came out,” she said.
Williams’ doll photos will also be featured in the December issue of a new magazine from the folks who make Adbusters dubbed Geez.
Plastic will run until December 7 at the Studio 204 gallery located in the alley just behind Main Street.