Culture  Rubber love

Jean-François Bouchard's "Still Life" explores intriguing alternatives to organic relationships

Finding love, or even simple female companionship, is a difficult endeavour for many men. Some, however, have found an answer: the RealDoll. RealDolls are sex dolls tailored to the consumer’s preferences; each one is individually hand-made, customizable from tongue size to the number and location of beauty spots, and costs $5,000 on average. Apparently, love can be bought. 
RealDoll is owned by Abyss Productions, a small firm in San Marcos, California. The creator, Matt McMullen, employs a handful of workers at his factory and ships out approximately seven dolls per week. The 21st-century Pygmalion was formerly a struggling sculptor who gained considerable attention once he gave up creating 12-inch dolls and began sculpting them in life-size. His dolls are generally considered to be the best in the business, in addition to being the most customizable. Taking great pride in his work, McMullen has said the men who form an emotional attachment to their RealDoll flatter him the most.

Jean-François Bouchard, whose work is primarily concerned with the repressed and hidden eccentricities of the average person, has used the trend of RealDolls as his inspiration in a new exhibition named “Still Life,” a series of photographs of RealDolls, accompanied by their owners’ quotations. Many owners said that their RealDolls provide a permanence and stability which they don’t believe could happen with a real woman. Some even protested that “real relationships are too dramatic.”

Shot in very high resolution, the images are stunning and detailed, emphasizing the artistry and hours of work spent creating the dolls. From groomed eyebrows to perfect teeth, each doll is remarkably lifelike. It becomes more apparent why the doll owners find it so easy to lose themselves in their imaginary worlds, though the exhibition does not make any attempt to sever the connection between the aesthetic and psychological. Instead, it allows the owners of such dolls to explain their relationships and how they arose.  
The 2007 BBC documentary Guys and Dolls explored the emotional relationships that form between dolls and their owners. Among the interviewees was Davecat, also featured in “Still Life.” Davecat lives with his parents, listens to goth music, and is fascinated by Japanese culture. He is the stereotypical image of an iDollater – the name the owners of RealDolls have given themselves – and we are inclined to feel pity for him. But Davecat does not want our pity. He confesses that he still has a desire to be with an “organic woman,” but his current RealDoll girlfriend, Sidore, will be keeping him company until he finds the right woman.

The dolls can also offer an illusion of power, given that they are totally dependent upon their owner. The dolls endow each owner with the power of creation, the chance to play god and mould a personality with his own mind, and this kind of customization proves invaluable to them. As Mike Kelly put it in Guys and Dolls, one cannot roll over at 4 a.m. and just have sex with a real woman “because you have to ask for permission.”

The exhibition at SAS is free, but the photographs, going for $4,000 apiece, are only a stone’s throw from the price of a RealDoll. Invest wisely. Just seeing the photographs, however, allows one insight into apparently one-sided relationships which, in the end, are relationships with oneself. Thanks to the individual attention McMullen pays to his dolls, each photograph captures not only a rubber doll, but a projection of the character of a living, breathing individual.

“Still Life” is on display at Galerie SAS (371 Ste. Catherine O.) through March 14.