Fondazione Prada’s new exhibition, ‘Surrogati. Un amore ideale’ (Surrogate. A Love Ideal) explores the emotional bonds between humans and their inanimate companions.

From childhood dolls provide companionship and entertainment, not necessarily as an alternative to human relationships but as an entry course to discovering their complexities: from the mundanities of domestic life and platonic bonds to the thrill of R-rated doll-on-doll action. While dolls are typically cast aside in favor of actual human relationships—or the virtual world of Fortnite—some are unable to separate themselves from people in their synthetic forms. If anything these relationships are more prevalent in the digital age. We’ve all been sucked into YouTube wormholes of sex doll brothels and the loners who frequent them, while “doll therapy” is increasingly being used to bring joy to dementia patients.

Fondazione Prada’s new exhibition, Surrogati. Un amore ideale (Surrogate. A Love Ideal), highlights two photographers exploring the emotional bonds between humans and their inanimate companions.

Jamie Diamond’s Forever Mothers (2012-2018) and Nine Months of Reborning (2014) are the result of her immersion into a community of outsider artists who make and engage with dolls to simulate motherhood—much as a child might do with a Cabbage Patch doll and plastic stroller, though the hyper-realistic nature of these tiny figures, from their clothing to their wrinkled faces, imbues each portrait with an eerie sense of surrealism. “Working with the community allowed me to explore the grey area between reality and artifice where relationships are constructed with inanimate objects,” Diamond says, “between human and doll, artist and artwork, uncanny and real.” Her other series, I Promise to be a Good Mother (2007-2012), sees the photographer embody the role of mother—this time, her own, in a restaging of intimate childhood memories extracted from her girlhood diary.

Left: Jamie Diamond, 4.12.12, 2012. da/from “I Promise to be a Good Mother.” Right: Jamie Diamond, 5.28.12, 2012. da/from “I Promise to be a Good Mother.”

Elena Dorfman’s project Still Lovers (2001-04) navigates the relationship between humans and sex dolls. You might recognize Davecat from a string of shock docs (Married to a Real Doll, My Strange Addiction) about his unconventional domestic life. But Dorfman paints Dave and those like him in an empathetic light—not questioning his motives so much as forcing us to confront our own notions of love and objects, and the value we place on each. “This body of work is my witness to an unsettling yet moving way of life,” Dorfman says. “My ambition is never to judge, but to allow the inhabitants of this secret world to share their daily lives with me. In the familiar surroundings of their homes, I watch the scenes of domestic life unfold.” The images are captivating simply in their normalcy—a beautiful sense of boredom permeates one image of a woman smoking cigarettes at a picnic table with her lifeless companion, resembling a 60s film vignette as much as a documentary portrait.

“Surrogati. Un amore ideale” (Surrogate. A Love Ideal), an exhibition curated by Melissa Harris, is on view from February 21 to July 22, 2019 at the Osservatorio venue in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan.

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