Crafts / Sculpture & Installations


The Inner Cathedral: The Exquisite Dolls of Mari Shimizu

The ethereal creations of Mari Shimizu are hauntingly beautiful and impossibly detailed. Shimizu crafts elaborate ball-jointed dolls which possess an angelic appearance of purity and seem haloed by their tragic suffering. The figures are saints, martyrs, Madonnas, and vampires emanating an aura of innocence overshadowed by affliction. Many of them contain intricately carved Gothic arches, chapels, or even miniature Gardens of Eden within their torsos – the most delicately beautiful element of her works. These hollowed-out cavities of the architecture of anatomy are inhabited by demons and angels, homunculi, scenes evoking Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, as well as antique cabinets of curiosities. Combining biblical themes with her love of historical fashion, Mari Shimizu’s doll sculptures are like three-dimensional paintings with as much detail and subtlety as that medium, in their small-scale, inner paradises and hells.

The roughly 2-foot dolls are characterized by both captivating realism and disturbing surreality. Their unnnerving, almost obscene quality reminds me of the doll projects of Hans Bellmer, an inspiration of Shimizu’s. Working with traditional Japanese materials, Shimizu forms the heads and limbs out of papier-mache or clay, and the hair is made with goat’s hairs or silk threads.

Reminiscent of Anatomical Venuses, these entrancingly lovely, dolorous ladies have a wasted, spiritual look and sometimes are even dissectible/vivisected, with removable organs. The lacy decay of some of their figures, with spots in their flesh as if eaten through by decomposition, exposing ribs and inner cavities, is touched with a melancholy, morbid sensuality. Their bodies seem to be both the sacrifice and the altar upon which they are sacrificed. Also intriguing are the sculptures that represent dryads of the dead, human-tree hybrids seemingly overtaken by decay and strange growths of skulls and corpse-like beings.

These fragilely beautiful girls, with their air of adolescent bloom, at the same time give the impression of being catacombs containing hordes of the dead and decomposing. Thus, they are always both radiant and dark. Although they seem like the miraculously preserved and incorrupt bodies of saints, they have a breath of the crypt. I particularly love the Death and the Maiden-themed pieces which vividly depict the juxtaposition between a young girl in the bloom of youth and the macabre specter of Death, giving shape to a figure that seems literally torn between youthful beauty and grim dissolution. One of these is currently available for sale on Akatako, as well as one of her anatomical girls, in a violin case.