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Annabelle’s Got Nothing on These Strange Dolls

 ANNABELLE’S GOT NOTHING ON THESE STRANGE DOLLS
Vermont artist Beth Robinson is not your usual doll maker, and her uniquely grotesque “Strange Dolls” are not meant for kids.

Puking Princesses, Soul Eaters, Madonna Whores! These strange creatures and more are among the Strange Dolls that comprise Vermont artist Beth Robinson’s unique collection. Robinson created her beloved Strange Dolls in 2003, after a close friend opened her eyes to the art of Japanese doll making via a twisted fairytale-themed exhibit.

“The doll artists were creating characters, and capturing moments and expression in certain environments,” Robinson says. “But the environments were played down. I felt like it was more about the interaction between the characters. It was the first time that I had seen a childishness that was paired with the grotesque, so that really clicked in place for me in terms of where I wanted to go with my own work.”

A self-taught artist, Robinson played with several mediums before realizing doll making united all her artistic loves.

“When you’re doll making, you do bring them all together because you’re sculpting, painting, sketching, designing, sewing,” she says. “That’s another way that everything clicked into place. I could explore all these different things that I loved to do and combine them into one art form that made sense.”

Robinson’s dolls are made of polymer clay, vintage fabrics, acrylic paint, and—yes—sometimes real human hair or teeth. While some might find her use of human body parts repulsive, others find it endearing in a seemingly absurd and eerie way. Robinson has a personal connection with each and every Strange Doll because she molds human-like qualities directly into their characters and expressions, she says.

“My work is pretty intense, emotional, and self reflective.”

Beth Robinson, Strange Dolls, Vermont

Beth Robinson, Gator Girl

So where does the inspiration for each Strange Doll come from?

“It could be a conversation with a friend, or it could be something that’s going on in the world,” Robinson says. “It could be my own memories and reflections. I could be driving, doing laundry; basically doing something really mundane, and then, in the quietness of my mind, it all comes together.”

Robinson’s art does not try to make a statement about a controversial political event or create the next movie monster directly. Instead she feels that, “artists are introverts so we process things in a different way than most everybody else. I feel like making this artwork is a way for me to process… whatever that is.”

Beth Robinson, Hooks, Strange Dolls Vermont

Beth Robinson, Hooks

After moving around a lot, Robinson finally settled in the Green Mountain State at the age of 18. She and her Strange Dolls live in the quaint town of Essex, Vermont, where she has built a bit of a cult following. The influence of New England on Robinson’s work is especially clear in a new exhibit at Burlington’s S.P.A.C.E. Gallery called Conjuring: She Rises. In the exhibit, Robinson and 12 other women artists will use their art to reflect on the 325th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials relative to the current political and social climate.


Many thanks to Take Magazine and writer Gabrielle Head for this feature. The original article>>

 

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S.P.A.C.E. Gallery Conjures a Witchy Exhibition

By SADIE WILLIAMS

On Friday, May 5, a band of witches will take over the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery on Pine Street in Burlington. That’s right, witches. Kind of.

The show, titled “Conjuring: She Rises,” is a group effort loosely curated by artists Beth Robinson, Jules Polk, Morgan Stark and Athena Kafantaris. “Curated” in the sense that those four women created the theme and selected the artists, but they aren’t exerting much influence beyond that.

Timed to coincide with the 325th anniversary of the Salem witch trials, the show connects the archetype of the witch to feminism through performance, real-time rituals, paintings, sculptures, photographs and video installation.

Each artist has contributed content that indicates a highly personal and political motivation for participating. Whether it’s a display of wands or photographs of all-female ceremonies deep in the woods, the work is decidedly feminist and steeped in ritual. It proclaims creative female power in its many forms.

Robinson is known for her line of Strange Dolls, meticulously crafted figures with macabre costumes and makeup. The seed for “Conjuring” sprouted last year, she said, when Polk bought one of her creations. Polk collects kitchen witches — small dolls intended to ward off evil spirits — and thought Robinson’s doll would fit right in.

"Lady of Lethe” by Beth Robinson

“Lady of Lethe” by Beth Robinson

Soon after, Polk proposed a show about kitchen witches and asked Robinson to curate it. The latter artist, who organizes the annual “Art of Horror” exhibition every October at S.P.A.C.E., said yes. Just not in the fall.

October passed, and then came the general election, and Donald Trump became the president-elect. Suddenly, the proposed show took on a whole new purpose: showcasing female power.

Two weeks after the election, Polk and Robinson met with Kafantaris and Stark. “We hashed it out a little and realized that this whole idea of a witch hunt that’s going on in the world right now is perfectly applicable,” Robinson said. “So we decided to get 13 [women] artists — a coven of artists — making work based on that theme.”

The “coven” doesn’t view the witch hunt as a simple metaphor. The artists draw a clear line from the historical persecution of healers, single women and females in general — under the umbrella term “witch” — to the manner in which the current administration incites hatred of immigrants and people of color, as well as disrespects women.

“Ashes I” by Athena Kafantaris

“Ashes I” by Athena Kafantaris

As Kafantaris put it, “Instead of fear of [women] copulating in the woods with demons, we have xenophobia.”

Polk weighed in on the subject over email. “A witch hunt is the Muslim ban,” she wrote. “A witch hunt is hunting down illegal immigrants for sport. A witch hunt is when your life and liberty are threatened because you are classified as hysterical.”

She concluded: “We overclassify people as ‘other’ and tend to take their rights away.”

“Conjuring” is perhaps the first show of its kind in Vermont, but witches are hardly new in art or feminism. Proponents of the latter have often touted the totem of the witch. A late ’60s activist group called Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy From Hell — or W.I.T.C.H. — dedicated itself to overthrowing the patriarchy with a variety of witch-themed political stunts. These included a group hex on New York’s financial district on Halloween in 1968.

Recently, a new branch of W.I.T.C.H. surfaced in Portland, Ore. It has adopted a slew of names that yield the acronym and penned a manifesto that claims the word “witch” for all those deemed “other” by a patriarchal and oppressive society.

In many ways, the witchy elements of “Conjuring” are in line with that manifesto. An excerpt reads: “A witch is a fearsome creature, inspiring terror and awe, channeling a primal, visceral energy in the name of peace, progress, justice and harmony. A witch is a conduit for transformation. A witch taps into the power within and harnesses the power without in service of a better world.”

The concept of internal power resonates with the organizers of the S.P.A.C.E. exhibit. As she explored her art practice post-election, Kafantaris said, “I went harder back into what’s true in my life. I went into the woods, where the noise receded. I felt more sure of myself and what I believe in that dip of faith.”

”Momento Mori” by Annika Rundberg

”Momento Mori” by Annika Rundberg

One project that arose from her inward retreat was a series called “Ashes,” for which Kafantaris videotaped women responding physically to the concept of “rebirth and regrowth after devastation.” Footage and stills from that shoot will appear in “Conjuring.” The image used to promote the show, of five women dressed in black, holding hands and encircling a tree, comes from Kafantaris’ series.

For her part, gallery owner Christy Mitchell recounts a recent compulsion to craft a ritual related to personal power. “I had to let go of something,” she said, “so I went to the lake and asked, ‘What am I supposed to do?'”

That experience resulted in videos and images that are also part of “Conjuring.” They address the question Mitchell asked herself during her experience: “Can we conjure power from within ourselves without knowing how to do it?”

Robinson is contributing a series of dolls titled “Madonna Whores.” They explore Sigmund Freud’s theory of the Madonna-whore complex, which holds that men can’t love what they desire or desire what they love. The dolls are depicted in various stages of restraint, silenced by ball gags, masks and duct tape. Anne Sexton’s “Buying the Whore” poem is inscribed on their pale bodies.

In addition to the work on the walls, the opening reception for “Conjuring” will offer multiple performances. Kafantaris will perform as the elaborately costumed Throat of the Loon. The Accaliae, a theatrical belly-dancing group, will appear, and Stark will lead a ritual ceremony.

Other participating artists include Wylie Sofia Garcia, Leslie Fry, Sarah Vogelsang-Card, Meredith Muse, Nyx Black, Melaney Pettini, Leslie Roth, Annika Rundberg and Nikki Laxar.


Originally Published: MAY 03, 2017
Link to original article 

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I met the ladies of Nerdy Curiosities while vending at Vermont Comic Con and they were kind enough to take the time to do a little interview:

 

Sorry for all ‘ums’ and ‘hms’, my brain was completely frazzled after 2 crazy months of events and vending, the huge success of the Art of Horror opening night (and all the prep that went into it) and the annoyance of the Mixed Emotions show cancellation and the new found home for it at One Arts.

After the interview I promptly got on a plane and took off to the Dominican Republic for a MUCH NEEDED week long vacation amongst Dr. Seuss like palm trees, beautiful flowers, funny birds, and glory of the Caribbean. I did nothing for a week but drink cocktails, listen to music, read voraciously, and doze on the beach, under the stars.

Then I came back home to this:

IMG_20151018_163731

Guess it is time to get back in the studio and get to work. Who wants to be outside?

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Last year Bruce and his assistant spent a week in my studio shooting the process of creating my Strange Dolls and interviewing me about my work and creative process. This has been a long time coming but here is the final cut of the mini documentary. Thanks to Cabin 46 for this look into my world.

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Here is my goofy self in the Lakeview Cemetery, talking about my Strange Dolls. Thanks Eva Sollberger for an awesome day and a great visual creation for Stuck in Vermont. (Note Eva’s awesome little silent film at the end).

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This is a little late in getting out there but I wanted to post it anyway. Not only because I make a brief appearance because my studio was open during the Holiday sHop but I really love how this video shows off our vibrant little community in the South End Arts District of Burlington, Vermont. They interview a lot of the key people in the neighborhood and highlight work that makes us who we are.

So to get a taste of what my local art community is like, check this out…

VT Events: South End Holiday Art sHop from VCAM Vermont on Vimeo.

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Happy Halloween!

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