Marina Bychkova (all images courtesy of enchanteddoll.com)
Dolls perhaps fascinate us because of their beauty; their utility as both artwork and plaything; their physical manifestation of our inner dreams; their ability to allow the fantasy of control. We can hold a fantasy in our hands – a beautiful woman, a powerful hero, a child we can raise with love or any number of other permutations.
Dolls are a medium, and their stories are endless.
The creators of dolls are often assembly lines churning out “Baby Dolls” or “Fashion Dolls” or “Action Figures”, but I found some very special dolls that are hand crafted by one young woman: “Enchanted Dolls” by Marina Bychkova.
From her site enchanteddoll.com she plies her craft, her art in building very special dolls from a very special point of view. I had a chance to ask Marina some questions about how she does what she does, and how she markets her product on the web.
Baz: Your website paints an interesting picture of the passion and process involved in creating these dolls. How involved with the creation of the website were you?
Marina:My fiancee and I built The Enchanted Doll website together. He is a web designer and I’m a control freak and the website is our love child. Though it was Chad who built the site, it was designed and developed by both of us over the course of several weeks. I am very actively involved as a concept designer in all stages of the work to make sure I was getting exactly what I want and hold the ultimate veto power.
The advantage of working together with your romantic partner is the degree of communication and collaboration it allows, but the disadvantage is that it also creates friction that one would normally have with coworkers, over creative decisions and differentiating work habits.
Baz: You also have forums where fans talk about the dolls with great love. When did you decide to create the forums and how do you think the forums have effected your base of fans?
Marina:Chad is the one who maintains my online presence and he is responsible for putting my work where it can be found. Having said that, we don’t establish or run any of the forums; my collectors and fans are the ones organizing and running them, sometimes with, but most of the time without my awareness. And that’s not a bad thing: There is no such thing as bad publicity; it only generates more and more awareness of Enchanted Doll.
The Internet is a rapid, mass media tool that allows global access to millions of people almost instantaneously. It must be utilized to the fullest.
Baz: What were some of your earliest experiences with dolls that made them so special to you?
Marina:I don’t believe that any single, early life experience with dolls is responsible for my intense interest in making them. I think I was born with some sort of sensibility that manifested in this particular and a rather peculiar way, and then was further shaped and channeled by a multitude of factors in my upbringing.
Some of my earliest memories were of beautiful dolls that didn’t exist anywhere but my head, so I was forced to try and make them because I was desperate to play with them. It took thousands of tries to get what I wanted and I’ve been chasing that dream of a perfect doll ever since.
There was one, rather sad experience when I was seven, that criminalized my creative interests in the eyes of my grandmother and possibly affected the form of my creative expression forever. I had cut out a silhouette of a beautiful, naked woman from a neo-classical painting published in an art magazine and made it into a doll.
She was beautiful with her smooth curves, fair skin and raven hair, holding a gold arrow in one hand and a blood red apple in the other. She was my secret, but one day my grandmother discovered her hiding place and was scandalized that I would dare to play with a naked doll or that I would even dare to find a naked woman beautiful for that matter. I never saw her again after that day, but her image has been imprinted into my mind ever since as the perfect beauty.
Baz: Your dolls include a number of features – genitals, nipples, options wounds or bite marks – that other dolls don’t have. Is this a reflection of your initial love of dolls growing up as you grow – adding those new elements as you got older?
Marina:I’m interested in juxtaposing binary opposites within my dolls: beauty and ugliness, love and violence, eroticism and repulsion. Most of the dolls out there are just plain happy or expressionless and that’s what makes them hollow and one-dimensional. Giving dolls attributes that are not traditionally associated with dolls, gives them an existence beyond the realm of toys to which they have been confined for centuries.
Creating an unexpected element within something familiar and common is a ‘trick’ I learned in art school. Approaching a traditional and a highly decorative craft of doll making from a conceptual standpoint only makes the objects more thought provoking. I’ve come to really value my five-year training in concept art because it had nothing whatsoever to do with dolls or learning any particular set of skill or techniques.
It was all about thinking, challenging accepted notions of art, channeling creative impulses into unconventional ways of expression and developing creative thought process. It was very frustrating at the time because a lot of the time I felt that I wasn’t achieving anything significant. It was all scattered and all over the place. It’s only now becoming apparent how much I actually learned. My dolls wouldn’t be the same today if I hadn’t gotten art education.
Baz: Do people sometimes come to the site and ask questions that suggest they didn’t really look at the site and just expect it to be a typical doll?
Marina: Yes, I do get people email me asking questions that suggest to me that they don’t really bother looking past the first 3 pages. It’s bit frustrating because the site contains so much information about the dolls and most answers can be found there. But on the other hand, this also suggests to me that people see my work and they get so excited and impatient that they fire off an email to me right away asking a bunch of things before they calm down a bit and look through the rest of the site, finding the answers to their questions. And that’s not so bad.
Baz: There is an aspect of interaction with your art that makes fan participation so important. People play with the dolls, and so do you on the site. How important to you is that element in your art?
Marina: Actually, I don’t play with dolls in a conventional sense of the word. I handle them constantly, yes, because I work on or with them all the time, but I have no interest in playing with them. It’s difficult to explain and may come as a shock to you, but in general I don’t really care about dolls that much, they are just vehicles for creative exploration with intriguing possibilities to me. My mission objective in life is showing people that dolls, when pushed beyond the boundaries of their traditional aesthetic, can be fine art.
Interaction of my dolls with their owners is of the uttermost importance to me and that is why I go to incredible lengths in developing highly articulated joints while keeping to the realistic anatomy of the human body as much as possible. It’s a real challenge trying to seamlessly integrate the joints into the natural bodylines because ultimately, they are a visual disruption regardless of the fact that I find them strikingly beautiful.
But at the same time they allow for a doll to come to life and therefore a careful balance between appearance and function must be negotiated. I don’t believe in static dolls that don’t move. They don’t deserve to be called dolls because they are nothing more than clothed figurines and people who make them don’t deserve to be called doll artists because they don’t make dolls. Yeah, I said it!
Baz: When boys play with dolls they get called “action figures”, but it’s all the same thing. When someone plays with a doll what is the attraction? What is the fantasy?
Marina: I have been thinking about why dolls are so important to us. My own theory is based on Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory of The Mirror Stage, during which a child becomes aware and captivated about by its own image. Some of the oldest dolls discovered by archaeologists are over thirty thousand years old.
The concept of a doll has been around from the beginning of humanity. This leads me to believe that dolls are a physiological necessity to human beings and play a major role in mental and emotional development. I think that in search for identity, humans use dolls as mirrors and project their own image and their subconscious needs onto them.
They are very important vehicles and reflections of Self for children during their most formative years. That is why, I think, as children we all play with dolls and subsequently ‘grow out’ of them as we age and our social and individual identities become fully formed.
I will go further to speculate that based on that theory, adults who continue to play with dolls must have some psychological ‘deficiencies’ such as malformed identity, and still require dolls to compensate for those. If this is the case, then it follows that people like me, who NEED to make dolls, must have some major psychological issues as we literally try to construct our identities with the dolls we make. Either that, or we’re geniuses that have excess of something in the brain. Perhaps that depends on the kind of dolls people make.
But I’m not a psychiatrist and these are just my musings on the nature of dolls and humanity.
Baz: Does your making the dolls change how you play with them? Do you discover things about the dolls that you wouldn’t have if you only purchased them and weren’t so intimately involved in their construction?
Marina:As I’ve mentioned before, doll construction is pretty much the only thing that interests me. Playing is not a part of the appeal. Last time I owned a doll I didn’t make was when I was twelve. To me Dolls of other artists exist only as research material for market tendencies, technique studies and various other observations.
They are learning tools. Some dolls out there are truly impressive, but most are very mediocre. It’s difficult to impress me these days with anything doll related. It’s a shame, because nothing stimulates and inspires me more than seeing beautiful things, learning from them and incorporating them into my own work to make something better.
Baz: Artists often seem to have “Dream Projects” that they may feel they are unready or unwilling to do because they are such important fantasies to them, or that seem overwhelming to them. Are there different types of dolls that you’ve thought of, but haven’t made yet?
Marina:I’m always anxious to begin new projects and face new challenges that come along with them, but there just isn’t enough time to do everything I want to do. So, I have to prioritize, giving preference to some and leaving others for later. Every idea has its own gestation period, some appearing seemingly in seconds while others taking months or even years to formulate.
I’m inclined to think that all creative ideas are born years prior to their materialization, through exposure to constant visual stimuli, but they exist only as disjointed impulses until enough information is gathered to enable them to form into coherent thoughts. And then, a final piece of the puzzle falls into place and an inspiration, a clear vision is born.
Every project is important to me in different ways, but I noticed that I work much better when I don’t over think or over rationalize it. Creative flow comes much more easily when I let myself forget about the importance of the work and allow myself to make mistakes. I disapprove of artists who cuddle their work and inflate its importance so much that they worry about every minute detail to the point of redundancy.
In the grand scheme of things, nothing is really that important, so you might as well have fun doing it. The best work, I believe is produced intuitively, and if you have to wait years to do something for fear of doing it wrong, well, then you’re not a very good artist.
Baz: The doll community seems pretty active in their love of the hobby. How has the influence of what other designers and collectors are doing colored your work?
Marina:It’s impossible to be completely original, because ultimately what we make is based on what we already know. On some level, everything’s already been done and we simply expand on those concepts. Inevitably, everybody is influenced by something else and my own work borrows from, references and cross-references, is inspired and enriched by a multitude of other sources constantly.
I can’t possibly draw the line and say exactly where somebody else’s ideas end and my own begin and to what extent it colors my work because most of that borrowing is done subconsciously. I see something that intrigues me and convert and adapt it to my own style of creative expression without even being aware of it most of the time.
What I can say for certain is that I don’t often look to other dolls for inspiration but to other mediums instead, such as illustration, traditional and contemporary painting, sculpture and industrial design. I try to broaden my learning and inspirational horizons as much as possible in order to create effective, exciting and unexpected results when those foreign concepts are applied to my own work.