An end to Barbie’s reign & other adult tales


“Without doubt it is the mark of our present alienation that we are unable to go beyond our unstable apprehension of the real world: we constantly navigate between object and its demystification, powerless to render its totality.”  Roland Barthes, Mythologies

What myths, codes and screen images subconsciously inform our experience of the world? To what extent can we distance ourselves from such myths, i.e., to what extent can we make a distinction between something which inherently no longer designates reality and its fixed opposite - its mortal nature? At what point does one’s image of a being, human group, cultural phenomenon, acquire a sort of fictive autonomy which makes it an authoritative model of reality to which we must conform? Emilie Chacon’s photographic work raises such issues with great intelligence and poetry. But how does the artist go about addressing such issues artistically?

Firstly, it is necessary to examine the subject matter of her works, content of their frame of reference and centre of gravity. With the exception of her Fifties/Sixties and Madame Nostalgie series (series we shall return to in the conclusion) her subject matter is nothing other than the Barbie doll and, beyond the doll itself, the issues raised by the popularity of such a doll. Who is Barbie? What place, what role does she play in our collective psyche? On a more intimate, deeper level, what functions do the norms (morals, value judgements) conveyed by such a figure play in the emotional development of the children (in most cases little girls) who use them as role models in their games? Is it not through play, with its freeform role playing, that a child continually strives to apprehend his/her experiences-limits – experiences which appear unattainable? However, as far as the Barbie doll is concerned (and the subconscious sexism associated with it) what experiences-limits can a child possibly apprehend other than those which require it to be a fake being, a being fixed in an identity, a role, a function, a sexuality that a given society has decided to impose on it, in advance, at a given point in time.

Contrary to above fixed notion of Barbie, in Emilie Chacon’s works the diminutive mythical figurine is liberated. With her liberation it is possible to express the full horror of her situation. Barbie is usually a myth, a code which tells a woman (and consequently a man, her virile-comic flipside) how she must be in order to be considered fully feminine. However, in Emilie Chacon’s work, she is incessantly pirated, subverted, her awareness raised vis-à-vis her limits and the inadequacy of her point of view. Like the writer Hélène Cixous - whose famous article Le rire de Méduse (The Laugh of the Medusa) is a call to arms for all “monstrous singularities” (of all women having lived so far in terror of the dominant model – or male), in each of her works Emilie Chacon seems to endeavour to reveal through representation women – not the Woman, with a capital W. Only when the Woman (the Barbie doll) is confronted with the reality she falsely claims to signify, will she once again be seen for what she truly is, i.e., a myth.

Frédéric Charles Baitinger