Originally published in Speak Magazine, Summer 1997
Plastic Twin Tourists
by Amy Berk
The London based art duo Jemima and Dolly Brown recently came to San Francisco "on holiday." They visited tourist sites and the like, but they received as much attention as they paid, as Dolly is stitched together out of sex-doll parts and plastic casts of Jemima Brown's hands, feet and head. She is Jemima's life-size plastic twin, "her imaginary friend made real." Jemima Brown refers to Dolly as her collaborator, albeit a fairly unwilling one. According to Jemima, even though Dolly is not physically productive, she is the catalyst, the one that makes things happen. Current products of their pursuits include photographs of the pair in various venues, and videos documenting their interactions with each other and with other people.
In the cozy living room set-up that inhabits their exhibition "Plastic Twin Tourists" at PUSHArtspace in San Francisco, I asked Jemima Brown about her intriguing and complex relationship with Dolly. The gallery contains photos and paraphernalia documenting Dolly and Jemima’s journey to America complete with ID photos, images of them preparing for their trip around London, at Heathrow and sitting on the plane.
SPEAK: Tell me about what your experiences with Dolly have been like on this excursion.
Jemima: The experience itself is like a performance that has lasted the entire trip. Here on holiday with Dolly I'm much more involved with her on a day to day basis than I would be normally. She lives in my house in London, she has a chair that she sits in, in my bedroom -- she definitely has some kind of physical presence in my life, but I don't take her everywhere. Here on holiday it's more about emotional endurance. She's the purpose I'm here, so I've been thinking about my relationship to her a lot because I'm here with her all the time. Sometimes I try to compete with her, to try to do the things that she does best, like sitting still, but then she always wins. But then there are things that I am better at, like being alive.
SPEAK: Has spending so much time together made you closer to Dolly?
Jemima: I think in a way I have become closer to her. It's been a real test for our relationship. It's put a strain on, and changed the relationship in some way. It's made me want to have her become totally dependent on me. She's getting away from me too much when I share her. I'm reluctant to let her take on a life of her own, although that's one of the things I set out to do when I was making her. The process of defining my relationship to her has made me so protective of her that I don't want her to have her own life. I'm frightened for her that she won't be able to cope. I'm not worried that she's going to upstage me, as she does that anyway.
SPEAK: What kinds of reactions have you and Dolly received?
Jemima: At Pier 39 I think I was getting a taste of what it might be like to be famous, for people to see you and immediately feel they have a right to approach you and question what you're doing. My desire to attract attention or maybe to be famous is manifesting itself by dragging this corpse around with me in some kind of twisted female Frankenstein thing. But a failed Frankenstein, as she never comes to life. I always have to activate her. A lot of people laugh when they see Dolly.
SPEAK: Why do you think people find her funny?
Jemima: Humor is very important with Dolly -- black humor. I drag her around like a dead body and a lot of people laugh because they find her a combination of surprising, shocking and funny. They see her and catch a sidelong glance, and she appears convincing but they know something's wrong. That's what people find funny and I think that's the case with any kind of life-size mannequin. The more like a real person it looks, the longer the illusion lasts, and the more surprising it will be.
SPEAK: If I asked Dolly a question, would she respond?
Jemima: She's pretty blank. I should say that she's gazing into space, unresponsive, seems pretty oblivious to what we are talking about. She’s unwilling to participate. I could speak for her but I can't guarantee that it would be accurate. I think she's quite powerful in a way through her silence. Even though she's really unresponsive and she doesn't participate in events, she's always the focus of them, she's the reason for them. She has a lot of control over situations. I sometimes feel that she controls me. It's us together, but the attention is more focused on her. I run around and kind of organize things for her, almost like her agent. Sometimes I wish she could have a mind of her own, but I also respect her silence, the way she can just sit there.
Collaborators/clones/twins Jemima and Dolly Brown address identity, gender, sex, voyeurism, tourism and colonization -- of the mind, body and other things, and act as vehicles for intense art about internal and external relations and relationships.