People have used different kinds of dolls and puppets as a means of representation since the beginning of history. We have always projected onto dolls not only our yearnings, ideals, and desires, but also our phobias and our darkest fears, or have represented ourselves in them.
That may be because the doll is an object we appropriate in childhood, investing it with emotional meaning. Perhaps this is why the doll is closer to us human beings than a sculpture, however beautiful or realistic, can ever be.
There are countless examples of doll-beings that moved beyond the space of childhood to inspire artists, writers, poets, and filmmakers—becoming a powerfully effective artistic medium.
One particularly compelling case, which has captured the imagination of so many artists and always fascinated me as well, is the legend of the golem. Specifically, what interests me about the golem is its balance between two diametrically opposite ideas: the construction and simultaneously destruction of an artificial being; the articulation of a duality between the hero and the antihero.
Analyzing the figure of the golem as an artificial being, as Homo artificialis, we will discover that the golem is situated right on the borderline between doll and human being. I like to think of this duality as a little limbo in which all ideas are in abeyance, suspended in an equilibrium of two sometimes contrary, sometimes complementary pieces.
When I began work on the installation Crisálidas, I was very much aware that this duality inheres in the chrysalis—the butterfly pupa. It is nothing other than a passage between two states of one and the same being: that of the larva and that of the butterfly. It is a phase of waiting, of repose; it might be seen as a moment when one is neither completely alive nor completely dead, as a kind of sleep, somewhat like the pre-"robot" made of clay before the Rabbi breathes life into it, activating or deactivating it with an incantation.
The creation of Crisálidas also owes much to another association: a doll from my childhood, a stuffed toy called Gusiluz that was manufactured in Spain in the 1980s. Gusiluz was a worm with human features, whose face glowed at night. It fulfilled the same function as the Guatemalan worry dolls that help children fall asleep and soothe their fear of the dark.
These guardians of the night, like the golem, protect the creatures around them at their most vulnerable. They, too, move within the sphere of duality, at the frontier between the monstrous and the heroic, the animate and the inanimate, the living and the dead.
The artist Jorge Gil lives in Spain. His sculptures and installations explore many different aspects of the human condition, including identity and individuality, vulnerability and loss. They culminate in the question of what it actually means to be a human being. As his means of representation, Gil favors dolls, puppets, mannequins, automata, and silhouettes that substitute for the subject.
Translated by Kate Sturge
Jorge Gil (2016), Crisálidas (Chrysalises). Article in the Exhibition Catalogue GOLEM.
Chapter 3 - Transformation: Selected Texts (6)
The Golem in Berlin
by Peter Schäfer
The Golem Lives On
With Texts by Martina Lüdicke, Anna-Dorothea Ludewig, Louisa Hall and Caspar Battegay
With Texts by Emily D. Bilski and Martina Lüdicke
With Texts by Emily D. Bilski, Christopher Lyon, Rita Kersting, Jorge Gil and David Musgrave
With Texts by Martina Lüdicke, Peter Schäfer, and Harold Gabriel Weisz Carrington
Horror and Magic
With Texts by Martina Lüdicke, Karin Harrasser, Cathy S. Gelbin, Helene Wecker and Anna Augustin
Out of Control
With Texts by Emily D. Bilski, Arno Pařík, Marc Estrin and Charlotta Kotik
With Texts by Joshua Cohen, Tracy Bartley, Cosima Wagner
Golem Catalog Online
Selected texts from our catalog
Golem Catalog – Print Version
The full version of our catalog is available in German.
Exhibition catalogs, the JMB Journal, book series, and more
All About ...
Trailer, views of the exhibition, and more
23 Sep 2016 to 29 Jan 2017