Objects and Art: When Toys Tell Truth

In 1987, a little 43-minute movie was released called Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.  I remember seeing some clips from the movie but never had the opportunity to see the whole thing.  By the time I mustered the courage to watch it, Superstar was withdrawn from circulation due to legal conflicts with Karen’s brother Richard and other family members.

(Blog newsflash!  You can still see Superstar here.  But you might want to hurry…..something tells me it’s not supposed to be there.)

Why did it take courage for me to watch?  Simply put, the clips I saw scared me.  This was no ordinary movie.  The story of Karen Carpenter and her death from cardiac arrest secondary to anorexia nervosa is told entirely with Barbie dolls.

“(Filmmaker Todd Haynes)……spent months making miniature dishes, chairs, costumes, Kleenex and Ex-Lax boxes, and Carpenters’ records to create the film’s intricate, doll-size mise-en-scene. The result was both audacious and accomplished as the dolls seemingly ceased to be dolls leaving the audience weeping for the tragic singer.”

Superstar was my first and still most intense encounter with the technique of objectifying reality so completely that many of the subjective truths we can’t help but “see” in other forms fade to black.  Those subjective truths tend to be either ideas we’ve never questioned or concepts we need in some way to help manage things we find intellectually or emotionally difficult.  By removing literal humanity from the Karen Carpenter story, Haynes revealed human weakness and pain in form more raw than if it had been “real.”  It is as if the mind is being tricked into not using the subliminal cues it usually employs to circumvent “seeing” something it doesn’t know how to place comfortably.

There is a new project out called Why He’s My Ex that uses dolls to explore the dynamics of break-ups.  While it’s not Superstar by any stretch, it presents an interesting dynamic of freezing in a still shot (over and over again) an entirely objectified event that ended a relationship.  Told from a woman’s point of view, the use of the dolls and the single image still manages to cut out the white noise of “he said, she said” that clouds the telling of most break ups.

And last but not least, that which only either a learned theologian and/or toy maker ought to address: The Brick Testament.  If you are Jewish or Christian and you don’t usually see the humor in your respective faiths, you may not want to visit this site.  I wanted to say something like, “I’m a good Christian woman and I think it’s funny,” but I’m not that good and some people don’t think Presbyterians are real Christians.  So just be forewarned, you need to take off any defensiveness hat and just come to this with a mindset of what visually interpreting the Old and New Testaments might look like entirely in…………LEGOS.

I have yet to go through all the images on The Brick Testament, but it is a goal to do so.  Some of them are just truly hilarious.  Sometimes the laughs come because the use of tiny LEGO people in miniature LEGO environments is just so creative and obviously time-consuming to set up that I can’t help but chuckle that somewhere, someone is spending their time doing this — a lot of time.  Sometimes I laugh due to the juxtaposition of children’s toys with dramatic pieces of scripture, such as this line from Revelations positioned with a floating pink plastic LEGO door:  “Come up here and I will show you what must take place after this.”

The funny things, however, are not the true brilliance of The Brick Testament.  By becoming a creator/god of his own worlds, the mastermind behind this art project offers opportunity to ruminate on more than the jokes.  I found myself thinking about why he did this, what his real intentions were, how he made decisions about some presentations, and how utterly absurd and nonsensical much of it all is.

These are pretty much the same questions I ask about God from time to time.

I leave you with a sincere Shalom, and a grateful heart for the visions of artists.

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