Pictures by Valerie Fujita
Last Friday, I visited Pygmalion school, the doll space for learning the fabrication of ball jointed dolls, thanks to the doll artist Mican. I was happy to visit a place where almost (or even no) foreigners went before. It is in the area of Jiyugaoka, a cozy neighborhood of West Tokyo that I was meeting with Mican and her two friends, a trio of doll artists, the Three Jakou. The school is in fact a small private school made of two apartments transformed into ateliers, but where students come from all over Japan, to learn this art that disappeared ages ago in Europe, although France invented the technique.
Be aware, that Japanese artist ball jointed dolls are not to be taken for super dolls, also named Super Dolfie, in silicon and industrially made, to satisfy dolls Akihabara collectors (Korean dolls also made of silicon are actually copied from Japanese silicon dolls, after Japan started to sell them numourous). We are in Pygmalion far from Akihabara, in an atelier where laugh is allowed but shouldn’t distract from concentration. The dolls are all handmade by their sculptors, using Japanese paper mixed to some other products, slowly drying out and at the same time sculpted to acquire their own special shape, under the vigilant look of their teacher, Ryo Yoshida (doll artist, photographer, writer, editor, he wrote dozens of book on the subject, perfectly know the technique and its origin, and is well aware of Hans Bellmer and his work).
How Mican and her friends arrived there? Mican simply explained “A lot of the students who arrived in that school are like me; they once discovered the book Katan Doll (a book by Ryo Yoshida, introducing on ball jointed doll art) and immediately wanted to learn about this art”. Some of the dolls have of course some erotic taste, especially because the point is to make them as real as possible; and some dolls look scary but we shouldn’t misinterpret their meaning from our Western point of views.
For example, the doll presented by Ayumi is not dying or suffering; the red bubbling arms are actually energy coming out of her body, and the holes on the face are spots to bloom flowers; we would also notice that the face is typically Japanese, looking like the Japanese woman spirit (that you’ve probably already seen in Japanese horror movies). Mican's doll here is a woman from the desert; usually, dolls have glass eyes (all handmade), but Mican sculpted on this doll wooden eyes to express the fact that the doll is parched. Ayumi Transitori dream's version of Alice in Wonderland is not a ball jointed doll; Ayumi came to learn the technique in that school, but has been progressively attracted by smaller dolls and objects, to finally put her dolls in a closed space, to control their world.
Some people would judge this art as deviant. Some would love it. Some would wonder again and again what is the point, the lead, but wouldn’t be able to take their eyes off of it. Once thing is sure, this art is far from what we see in our Western societies, and raises a lot of questions. But isn’t that the point in art, to have one’s self wonder and think over?