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Currently on view at Fondazione Prada’s Osservatorio venue in Milan is “Surrogati. Un amore ideale.” Curated by Melissa Harris, the exhibition features photographic works by Jamie Diamond and Elena Dorfman. Both artists explore the human desire for intimacy—Diamond documenting the Reborner community of women who hand-make dolls to mother, and Dorfman, who captures the domestic lives of people in relationships with sex dolls.
Whitewaller spoke with Harris about Diamond and Dorfman’s ability to approach their subjects without judgment, therefore unlocking a new way of understanding love and imagination.
WHITEWALLER: What was the starting point for “Surrogati. Un amore ideale”?
MELISSA HARRIS: I’m riveted by the expansiveness of the human imagination—our capacity for fantasy, and how this may brush up against the more quotidian aspects of daily life in intimate and unexpected ways. To somehow be able to explore and document this dance between what is real and what is projected, desired, as well as between the organic and synthetic—all the while questioning what it means to be alive—is extraordinary, and both of these artists have achieved this with their projects.
I knew Elena’s work first, and when I saw Jamie’s work I thought it would be fascinating to consider their projects together. Up until now, I have only curated group shows, or one- person shows, and I’d always wanted to explore the dynamic of an exhibition of two artists whose work shares certain common ground—to work with that coexistence.
WW: How did both artists first become interested in exploring the intimate relationships humans have made with human-like dolls?
MH: Both discovered these relationships serendipitously, and found them visually as well as humanly compelling, and neither community had been previously documented in a way that wasn’t somehow judging or marginalizing them. Both Elena and Jamie address, through their work, their subjects’ bonds with their lifelike synthetic loves, in their myriad manifestations.
WW: Like you said, both artists took an approach void of judgment. And as a result, there’s a shared mood and tone to these bodies of work. How does each artist describe her own interaction with her subjects?
MH: I agree with you, and in fact would not have been interested in either body of work had I felt the artists were judging or exploiting their subjects. On the contrary, the work reflects the integrity of the artists, the trust they elicited from their subjects, and their openness when encountering individuals and communities different from their own. Both artists describe their interactions with their subjects as generous and intelligent and emotionally rich.
WW: How will Jamie Diamond and Elena Dorfman’s work interact within the exhibition layout?
MH: Their work will share both floors, but will be clustered and treated discretely. In this way, the viewer will have the opportunity to understand each artist—her work, her vision, and her subject—individually, while also experiencing how their respective narratives riff off each other.
WW: What do you think these series ultimately say about the human desire for intimacy?
MH: That we humans crave intimacy, but this closeness need not necessarily be with other humans. Our imaginations and our needs embrace many possible intimacies.
WW: That idea seems particularly relevant today, as the conversation about isolation—whether politically or socially—becomes ever popular. Was there a moment of discovery or surprise for you while putting this exhibition together?
MH: I had not really anticipated the poignancy or the loneliness that some of their subjects had variously experienced personally, or had otherwise been made aware of. I had also not considered how these lifelike dolls could so easily begin to feel animate.