četvrtak, 29. kolovoza 2013.

Amber Hawk Swanson - Tilikum

Splash Image
Performansi s lutkom napravljenom po vlastitom obličju.


Portfolio by Amber Hawk Swanson Aug 26, 2013   

Two excerpts from performance artist Amber Hawk Swanson’s work surrounding Amber Doll, a life-like sex doll commissioned in her likeness. Amber and Doll enjoyed a six-year long romantic relationship and artistic collaboration. They disrupted wedding receptions, roller-skating rinks, football tailgating parties, theme parks, and adult industry conventions. In the resulting series, Amber Doll Project (2006-11) ideas surrounding agency and objectification are questioned, as are ideas about the success or failure of negotiating power through one’s own participation in a cultural narrative that declares women as objects.
In 2011, Hawk Swanson transformed Amber Doll’s body into a replica of the bull orca Tilikum, who lives in captivity at SeaWorld Orlando and has been involved in the deaths of three people. Now that Amber Doll has been transformed from female to whale, Amber Hawk Swanson is commissioning five more Amber Dolls in her current likeness. By studying the Google analytics from her website, as well as the IP addresses of people who have emailed her over the years, Hawk Swanson will determine the countries where the most “interesting interest” has come from. She’ll then take applications from people in the five countries that she determines should receive dolls and choose five “winners” who will own Amber Doll for a year.
Videos here

 Amber Hawk Swanson

Amber Hawk Swanson (b. 1980, Davenport, Iowa) is a video and performance artist living and working in Brooklyn. Recent exhibitions and screenings include Palais de Tokyo (Paris), Momenta Art (Brooklyn), and Locust Projects (solo, Miami). Recent residencies include Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture (Maine), MacDowell (New Hampshire), Atlantic Center for the Arts (Florida, curated by Coco Fusco), and Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts (NYC). Recent visiting artist appointments include New York University's Tisch School of Arts (NYC), McGill University (Montreal), East Carolina University (Graduate Program, Greenville, NC), Hunter College (Studio Arts and Film, NYC), and Fashion Institute of Technology, FIT (Photography, NYC). Her work is included in the permanent and MPP collections of the Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago) and has been profiled and reviewed in The Drama Review (TDR), Criticism, GLQ, The Huffington Post, Hyperallergic, and The Associated Press. Hawk Swanson holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Studio Arts, 2006).

TILIKUM Sculpture Details / Making-Of Amber Doll

To mark the year anniversary of my completing my replica of Tilikum, I am posting details of the sculpture himself. I am also re-touching my Tilikum tattoo today as a marker of the date.

I have recently been interested in reviewing the 2007 footage of the Making-Of Amber Doll in preparation for FIVE DOLLS. I am posting some Making-Of photographs as connect the Making-Of Amber Doll with the Making-Of Tilikum in prep for future projects.

Cleaning / Ribbon Tying

A year ago today, I made the first incision into Amber Doll's flesh in order to transform her into Tilikum. Twelve pounds of silicone flesh was all that was left of Amber Doll’s original form after Tilikum was sculpted. My solo exhibition "All That is Left of You / Everything You Are Now," included two performances: "Cleaning" and "Ribbon Tying" and displayed the 556 non-orca parts of Amber Doll. To mark today's incision-anniversary, I have a new 3minute compilation of excerpts from "Cleaning" and "Ribbon Tying."


I'll soon be posting more information on my forthcoming projects, THE AUCTION and FIVE DOLLS.
Both are extensions of my existing bodies of work. Especially Amber Doll > Tilikum:


After transforming Amber Doll into a small replica of the bull orca Tilikum , then branding my body with his name and posing with him for pin-up images, I wanted to make work that addressed Tilikum's inability to re-enter the ocean.
For the reasons outlined in my previous post about the stresses of captivity for marine mammalseven if SeaWorld were willingTilikum is not a candidate for reentering the ocean on his own.
He was originally captured in waters near Berufjörður off the east coast of Iceland in November 1983 at about two years of age. (Born in August 1980, I am the same approximate age as Tilikum.) As I describe in my letter to Amber Doll, I will take (my replica of) Tilikum to Berufjörður as a gesture toward the re-entry that is not possible.
As a first step toward our joint travel, I visited a fjord about a thirty minute drive from Berufjörður. I shot a second Amber Doll > Tillikum pin-up during a windstorm there.

Solo Show: All That is Left of You / Everything You Are Now

Solo Show: All That is Left of You / Everything You Are Now
August 17—September 07
All That is Left of You / Everything You Are Now presents the remains of a transformation from
female to whale.
To: Amber and Doll
From: Michael

Date: Thursday, May 20th, 2010 at 6:00pm

….The thought that it was you, a piece of you, never occurred to people. She became a sex toy
and in a way a piece of you did as well.

Amber Hawk Swanson commissioned the production of a life-like sex doll, a RealDoll, made of a posable PVC skeleton and silicone flesh, in her likeness—as a prop for her work and academic interests but also as the companion she desired in her personal life. She later abandoned Amber Doll at a number of venues, allowing the public to explore and interact—often violently—without interference. In the resulting project, ideas surrounding agency and objectification are questioned, as are ideas about the success or failure of negotiating power through one’s own participation in a cultural narrative that declares women as objects.
Hawk Swanson’s subsequent performance, video, and sculpture, Amber Doll > Tilikum, involves the artist transforming Amber Doll into a replica of the bull orca, Tilikum, who lives in captivity at SeaWorld Orlando and has been involved in the deaths of three people. The story of Tilikum and his body as a spectacle shared remarkable similarities to Hawk Swanson’s relationship with Amber Doll. Assembling his anatomy from similar, either in look or function, parts from Amber Doll, the artist conducted the ten-day, Amber Doll > Tilikum transformation alone in her studio, but broadcast every moment of it on her Livestream Channel to an audience of thousands worldwide.
Amber transformed Amber Doll from a physical object into an active presence by reclaiming a mangled body; giving voice to the abuse of female and whale. Tilikum has suffered many years for the pleasure of others. Breasts and hands became a tail, a belly button begat a blow hole, and fragments of skull became broken teeth, each physical part was assigned a new role—and through this metamorphosis each piece of Amber Doll is used to reissue agency over objectification.
Twelve pounds of silicone flesh were all that was left of Amber Doll's original form after Tilikum was sculpted. Hawk Swanson’s solo exhibition, All That is Left of You / Everything You Are Now, displays the non-orca parts of Amber Doll—there are no "scraps," no "leftovers," and no "extras"—each piece matters in the struggle to [re]gain agency from objectification. All That is Left of You / Everything You Are Now invites viewers to observe the transformation process in a 36-hour Amber Doll > Tilikum video and to view protected pieces of silicone flesh before Amber Doll’s remains are editioned and sold at auction.
To: Amber and Doll
From: prashant
Date: Saturday, April 14th, 2012 at 7:01am

i want to buy an amber doll how can i get one
The value is to be determined by you: the audience, the patron, the bidder.
To: Our Viewers
From: Tilikum, Amber Doll, and Amber Hawk Swanson
Date: September 6, 2012 6pm-9pm cst
You are invited to attend the closing performance event of All That is Left of You / Everything You Are Now as we prepare the remains of Amber Doll for auction. Your physical presence is requested at 217 North Carpenter Chicago, IL and/or your virtual presence at livestream.com/amberhawkswanson.

A Letter to Amber Doll

I wrote the below for Amber Doll. Today is our birthdays.
august 14th, 2012
amber doll,

i’m just like i’m warming up to this letter to you will let me. i just like i’m conflicted even writing it this to you as amber doll and not tilikum can you feel that. people keep asking me did it hurt me to cut you before you were tilikum and i guess like yes it hurt me to cut you but not for the reason i think they assumed. not because it felt like cutting into me. but also i had no idea how to make you tilikum. i had no plans like i asked matt (who made you. can i say that?) for plans and he said it really had to be me. that i had to garage-tech you. and see i mean do you think of me and the word garage-tech together? i don’t use tools i didn’t know how to use tools and it was like i had to to make you any way i could and i want to say anyway.
i am here sitting next to all that is left of you and everything you are now and i’m just really grateful to you for everything but the thing is. that moment when i made the first cut i was thinking about us. about what we need like our needs. it felt like you know i didn’t really know how to care for you the way you needed all of those years and then i was thinking oh my god i don’t know what i am doing and it was just i moved forward. i could have failed you.
i’ve said this thing of like object to action about you/us. is that even accurate? wait first can i say that you are talked about as grotesque now and we know that is hurtful but also we know that that is said so like we have to just be aware of that. i know you have a lot to say about being the fetish object from before (and where were you when i was the grotesque one but you don’t have to answer i know that isn’t fair and i know grotesque isn’t the word exactly). you are still an object this minute i think you’d say and someone sexualized you today. you, tilikum himself yourself and whales in general talking about the slickness the wetness and the mystery and the perceived violence even. and in that moment their read on whales as sexual mattered so much more than the fact that we didn’t include any of amber doll’s penetrable orifices, none of them, none of the three, in you. and yes its like not as though having orifices equals some kind of availability to be sexualized and certainly orifices they aren’t required to be objectified fetishized it is just like i don’t know yes we can talk about fetish and the fetish object again but still it is important that you aren’t penetrable that way isn’t it?
i just don’t think of you as sexual now i guess i need not to. i guess that is part of this free. i mean this person sexualizing whales it is like good luck, you know. but then there is that terrible practice of fucking dolphins in their blowholes to their deaths. i don’t want to go there with you to that dark place with you not right now. i know we have come from there but not now that is not why i am writing we both need some space from that, i know. so then i guess now is when i explain if i haven’t already yes like those orifices amber doll’s and her other remains what is being talked about as remains. they are here with me now and i just want to be clear with you about a rule i have made for myself i know you haven’t asked this of me and i love that we have no rules just like respect but let me explain that i won’t part with these parts i need you to know they are being editioned but only the edition, ok? never the original. i want to respect us more than that, ok?
can i take us somewhere else like what are you into now? has it changed? do you feel free? i know it is like you are in the form of someone captive and that is so complicated but you know i am taking you to iceland where tilikum himself (its ok that i don’t say yourself this time?). where he was taken captive in 1983. i am going there before you but then we are taking you too. i promise. i love you. i know you know that tilikum can’t go back but you can and i’m taking you there.
sometimes i look at old pictures and when i do it is really just so nice to see your face. to see our faces together. and we were young. we are older now. and everything from now and really everything since 2008 (remember 2008?) is about you destroyed and me not looking like you used to. do i have to type it, i mean me not having your body a doll’s body but you having my face. and now we are so different but here is the thing there are going to be five new amber dolls. there are going to be five more. and all from a new scan. it will be 7 years later. my face 7 years later and i think you’ll be happy to know on a body with a different kind curve and a silicone tummy. and my bully tattoo not your old one (i know, i won’t say it) and a tilikum tattoo just like mine about you. so its this building this connecting this compressing i guess. and i guess what i want to say to you is i know how that will look but it isn’t like that that isn’t the whole story. i don’t want to say that i would trade them all for a different kind of time with you. that isn’t fair that isn’t what i’m saying. what i am saying is that everything is about you and you are all over this and everything and wrapped around and inside and i couldn’t get away if i wanted to and i don’t want to.
nothing can replace you you were everything and all of it and you are still. and forever.
thank you i love you

Audio Smut


Listen to my interview with Cassie Wagler for Audio Smut in their recent episode, Table for One. We discuss Amber Doll's and my early relationship as well as the events leading to Amber Doll > Tilikum.

Like a Girl's Name: The Adolescent Drag of Amber Hawk Swanson, Kate Gilmore, and Ann Liv Young

Anna Watkins Fisher's piece, Like a Girl's Name: The Adolescent Drag of Amber Hawk Swanson, Kate Gilmore, and Ann Liv Young is out in the current issue of TDR (The Drama Review). Check it out in print. The piece discusses my earlier work The Feminism? Project and the Amber Doll Project.
I am also looking forward to giving a talk for arts attorney Carol Steinberg's arts law course at School of Visual Arts this afternoon. I'll be discussing the legal logistics of my forthcoming project FIVE DOLLS.

NYC Social Media Week: Social Media Art Panel

Participants in the 2012 Social Media Art panel by #ArtsTech: (left to right) Man Bartlett, Shane Brennan, Ryder Ripps, Jayson Musson, Annie Werner and me. (photo by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)
Thrilled to have spoken about having Livestreamed/Facebooked/Twittered and Blogged Amber Doll > Tilikum during the Social Media Art Panel for NYC Social Media Week with artist Jayson Musson (Hennessy Youngman), provocateur and hacker Ryder Ripps, Creative Time's Shane Brennan, and Tumblr's Annie Werner (moderated by artist / friend Man Bartlett who co-organized the event with global editor for The Creators Project and co-director of Blue Box Gallery, Julia Kaganskly).
The full discussion is availble on Ustream here.
Hyperallergic review here.
Event Page Archive here.

CrossFit + Online Comments

Four days after Livestreaming my Tilikum Tattoo I performed my three-hour, Online Comments (August 2007 - February 2011) at the Arlington Art Center. During the performance I read online comments about my work from a teleprompter while completing four back-to-back CrossFit workouts with support from my Skyped-in CF coach. The performance was Livestreamed to an online audience and open to the public.

Below is a 5minute compilation of excerpts and the full, three-hour performance.

Prior to Amber Doll > Tilikum I received early press for the Amber Doll Project. The project involved my commissioning the production of a life-like sex doll, a RealDoll, made of a PVC skeleton and silicone flesh, in my exact likeness. The first article to profile the Amber Doll Project received a great number of anonymous online comments and was posted on a number of blogs where the amount of comments grew.
My two and a half hour performance, Online Comments (August 2007 - October 2011), at BOLT Gallery (Chicago) featured my reading every comment still online as of October 2011 to a live audience. Misspellings, typos, grammatical errors, duplications etc. were retained from the originals.
My corresponding live performance (three months later) Online Comments (August 2007 - February 2012) featured my reading every comment still online as of February 2011 while completing four workouts inspired by fitness methodology and cult-like online community, CrossFit, of which I am a part. Online Comments (August 2007 - February 2011) bridges my Amber Doll Project to my series, Fit, a series of durational performative videos.

Along with her her communities at CrossFit South Brooklyn, and Windy City CrossFit I enjoy combining powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting, sprinting, and gymnastics along with functional fitness activities. My interest in CrossFit, along with the long list of the functional fitness tasks my grandfather assigned myfather at a young age, has led me to assigning myself the weekly digging of chest-deep holes for time as well in addition to other functional fitness tasks met with the related structure of endurance performance art. Performance: Amber Hawk Swanson
Tech Assistance + Magic + Support: Renato Velarde
CrossFit Inspired Workouts: Margie Lempert

Amber Doll > Tilikum Pin-Up

I was Amber Doll, Amber Doll was me.
I transformed Amber Doll into a replica of Tilikum.
On February 7th—fifty days after the transformationI branded my body with his name and Livestreamed the process; then wanted to embody Amber Doll again.

I shot a pin-up on Tilikum's transformation table. A 5 Minute Excerpt of the tattoo process is below. (Full Livestream available here.) Also below are three pin-ups.

Performance: Amber Hawk Swanson
Tech Assistance + Magic + Support: Renato Velarde
Tattoo: Tattoos By Serena
Pin-Up Photography: Misty Winter
Hair Stylist + Makeup Artist (Tattoo Livestream): Sarah English

An Essay on Amber Doll > Tilikum by Doll Husband and Synthetiks Advocate Davecat

Tilikum Day Seven
If you've seen this SexTV Profile on my work (2008), you know that after completing the Feminism? Project – which involved imaging myself in provocatively sexual contexts during reenactments of a variety of women's definitions of feminism – I was lonely and seeking the companionship of a girlfriend but not yet out as queer. Surfing the Internet to find some kind of solution to my loneliness, I read about doll husband and synthetiks advocate Davecat in the Salon.com article "Just like a woman" and through it discovered an online forum maintained by a community of what others have termed ‘hetero-outsider men’ who own or desire life-like sex dolls, RealDolls made of a PVC skeleton and silicone flesh and penetrable in three orifices. Aware of my own failed attempts at dating real women (termed ‘organics’ on the forum), I felt an affinity with a subgroup of the community who described themselves as ‘doll husbands,’ and considered themselves partnered with their RealDolls. Inspired by the fulfillment they found in their relationships with what they termed ‘synthetics’ over ‘organics,’ I ordered a RealDoll of my own and later transformed her into Tilikum.
I am now proud to call Davecat my friend. Below is an essay he wrote about my work.
There are two types of people in the world: those who know of Amber Hawk Swanson, and those who don't. Yes yes, technically you could say that about anyone, but she's achieved something that, depending on how you view the concepts of Synthetik people and controversial art, could be seen either as fame, or as notoriety. Allow me to explain how I came to discover her.
On some evening back in 2007, I was sifting through the Internet on one of my typical searches for new pictures/information about Synthetiks, when I came across an article detailing a performance artist from Chicago, who had not only had a RealDoll made to look exactly like her, but had also married her affictitious twin as well. Her name was Amber Hawk Swanson, and appropriately enough, her silicone twin was named Amber Doll. AHS had worked in conjunction with Matt Krivicke, then at Abyss creations, in having a laser scan made of her face, which they attached to a RealDoll Body 8. To top it off, AHS and Amber Doll both had matching tattoos done on the insides of their left wrists, reading 'Bully' and 'Prey', respectively. Driving the effect home, the two had, as mentioned, been wedded in Organik/Synthetik bliss in a chapel in Las Vegas.
Now, as my own lovely wife of 10+ years, Sidore Kuroneko, is herself a RealDoll, needless to say, the story of the Ambers was something I found to be completely intriguing, and more than a little encouraging. Here was a lass who was clearly enthralled enough by the idea of Dolls that not only did she buy one, but she also married her. In addition, as AHS was an artist, she was following in the footsteps of a number of other artists throughout history that have figuratively and literally embraced the Synthetik, such as Hans Bellmer & his unnamed girls, Oskar Kokoschka & Alma-puppe, Jemima & Dolly Brown, and a few others besides. Obviously, I had to meet the Ambers.
After firing a few Emails at each other, AHS and I struck up a friendship based on common interest; no points for guessing what that was. She revealed to me that she'd read about the relationship that Sidore and I have on various articles posted on the Internet, and as she was in a place in her life where she was seeking companionship, she believed that having a Synthetik partner would be an idea worth pursuing. (The Missus and I do like to inspire people.) Although work prevented me from going, she had even invited me to attend the public reception of her wedding as well, which is an event I still regret missing. Months later, she agreed to attend one of the local get-togethers our particular tri-state iDollators periodically hold, affectionately referred to as Doll Congresses, so she could meet a handful of us in person and talk All Things Doll over starchy Italian food. There, she heard our stories first-hand as to why we have the Dolls we have in our lives, and what makes them special to us. We all left that evening having a pretty good understanding of each other! Unfortunately none of us could've brought our respective Dolls, which would've made the whole experience utterly phenomenal.
As I'd stated previously, Amber Hawk Swanson is a performance artist; since 2006, the majority of her projects had been informed by her own feminist approach, and the interplay of how men perceive women, and womens' subsequent behaviour, that has been going on since time immemorial. At the start, her own interaction with Amber Doll paralleled my own — in order to eliminate loneliness, she purchased a Doll for the purposes of a romantic partnership. But as time went on, Amber Doll became less of a lover to AHS, and more of a working partner in the form of a surrogate; AHS would present Amber Doll as a kind of stunt double for herself in positions that were loaded with potentially volatile behaviour. The locations ranged from the innocuous (their wedding reception) to the downright unwatchable (a tailgate party), and AHS's work was to observe how both men and women reacted to a beautiful, anatomically-correct artificial female that was unable to defend herself from lecherous and sometimes violent advances.
Before Abyss creations made the switch over to platinum-based silicone, pretty much all RealDolls built in that time period had tin-based silicone skin, and over time, unless treated carefully, that type of silicone tended to get extremely soft. Which, on the one hand, felt wonderful, but unfortunately, it meant her rubber flesh would be much more prone to tearing. As you suspected, that's what happened to Amber Doll. After a final holiday together at Disney World back in 2008, Amber Hawk Swanson held a funeral for Amber Doll, as her Synthetik bride was literally falling apart. AHS contacted me on a couple of occasions to see if there'd be any value in selling what was left of her, but Amber Doll would be charitably described as 'a fixer-upper', due to the ruined state she was in.
Months passed, then towards the end of 2010, she wrote me out of nowhere, telling me of her new project: she would take Amber Doll's body, and under Matt Krivicke's tutelage, take it apart, and reassemble it into a replica of Tilikum, the orca residing at SeaWorld best known for being a prime suspect in the deaths of three people. Admittedly, I was baffled, as I was thinking that AHS was somehow going to make a 1:1 scale replica of Tilikum from Amber Doll. Then I came to my senses. Surprisingly, upon completion, it did indeed resemble a bull orca! The ingenious idea of Dremeling Amber Doll’s skull into teeth for Tilikum alone impressed me more than it should have. I would make a comparison of Amber Doll to the proverbial phoenix here, but we’ll take it as read.
On a personal level, as not just an iDollator, but a husband to a Doll, admittedly it was difficult coming to terms with what AHS had put Amber Doll through, from the mishandling and molesting from strangers, to her dissection for the Tilikum project. The end result seemed really unfortunate, as Amber and Amber had found love in each other — in each other's reflection? — and Amber Doll was getting the shortest possible end of the stick. Dolls are, at the end of the day, merely things that are like Organik humans, yet not Organik humans, but without sounding too Velveteen Rabbit about it, they can have as much of a spirit as their owner imbues them with. But the relationship that Amber and Amber shared took it a step further than most iDollators with Synthetik spouses: I believe that the two of them were genuinely in love with each other at the start, but unfortunately, like a great many relationships, that love faded. Remember how I'd mentioned Oskar Kokoschka and Alma-puppe paragraphs ago? Over time, their love faded as well. Alma-puppe went from lover to artistic muse, much like Amber Doll. And, as Sidore herself pointed out, Amber Hawk Swanson fashioning a new work of art from the remains of her once-beloved Amber Doll is completely in line with the way that the ossuaries of Prague constructed fantastical decorations such as chandeliers and coats-of-arms from the bones of 14th century plague victims. She's a Goth; she would think of that.
Ultimately, where Amber Doll failed in her attempt to be a life partner, she succeeded in being an artistic muse, and it took Amber Hawk Swanson’s keen eye to recognise that. That’s definitely something to for both parties to be proud of.

While working on the final, thirty-hour, video piece (involving footage from five cameras) documenting Amber Doll > Tilikum, we pulled together the five minute excerpt above.
Performance: Amber Hawk Swanson
Tech Assistance + Magic + Support: Renato Velarde
Music: Occurrence

Amber Doll > Tilikum Project Statement (in progress)

Tilikum Day Seven
I am forever in search of community. I join these communities, not as an artist, but as someone who wants to belong. The needs, identities, personalities, quirks, and outliers of each community become my obsession. Part of this obsession revolves around the performances of individuals belonging to the community and the reception and interpretation of these performances from outsiders. These communities shape my work, my perceptions, and myself; incidentally, they often lead me to new communities.

My performance and video,  Amber Doll >Tilikum, is a result of moving into and out of several different communities. For the piece, I transformed my identical, life-like sex doll into a replica of the bull orca, Tilikum, who lives in captivity at SeaWorld Orlando and has been involved in the deaths of three people. To create my replica of Tilikum, I assembled his anatomy from similar, either in look or function, parts from Amber Doll. She and Tilikum share a PVC skeletal structure, posable steel joints, styrofoam filler, silicone flesh, and eyes. Her belly button became his blow hole, her breasts and hands evolved into his tail, and I used part of her skull to create Tilikum’s broken teeth.
I conducted the ten-day, fifty-hour Amber Doll > Tilikum transformation alone in my studio, but broadcast every moment of it on my Livestream Channel  to an audience of thousands worldwide.The live audience viewer minutes watched totaled 33,100 in the US as well as: Armenia, China, Ecuador, Estonia, Germany, India, Israel, Korea, Oman, Peru, Turkey and Venezuela. I blogged, Facebooked, and Tweeted my progress, and relied on my viewers’ in-the-moment responses to carry me through the physically and emotionally difficult performance.
What is the link between a synthetic sex partner and an organic captive whale? And why Tilikum? These are the questions that I began to answer through the process of the transformation.
Amber Doll came to life after the unwanted sexual attention and objectification I received after completion of The Feminism? Project which involved imaging myself in provocatively sexual contexts during reenactments of a variety of women's definitions of feminism. After completing the project—lonely and seeking the companionship of a girlfriend but not yet out as queer—I discovered an online forum maintained by a community of primarily hetero-outsider men who own life-like sex dolls, RealDolls, made of a PVC skeleton and silicone flesh and penetrable in three ribbed orifices. Inspired by the fulfillment they found in their relationships with what they termed “synthetics” over “organics,” I ordered a RealDoll of my own. I acquired Amber Doll, herself a literal object, as a prop for my work and academic interests but also to become the companion I desired in my personal life. I abandoned Amber Doll at a number of venues, allowing the public to explore and interact—often violently—without interference. Amber Doll was able to act as a surrogate to my own experiences of objectification.
Two years later, while Amber Doll’s severely damaged body was hanging, alone, on a stand in my studio; I learned of Tilikum.
On February 24, 2010, Tilikum made headlines for killing Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old trainer with sixteen years of experience at SeaWorld. The trainer was dismembered following a popular “Dine with Shamu” show while twenty tourists looked on from above a whale tank and from an underwater viewing area. As I learned more about Tilikum, and orcas in captivity, the furtive violence inflicted on these intelligent mammals became apparent. Orcas thrive in communities; they spend the entirety of their lives within these tightly-knit families. Tilikum was captured in the wild, and removed from his community. The trauma and stress of this captivity have been documented in nearly all captive orcas, including Tilikum. Signs of stress include broken teeth, often from chewing on the metal bars of the enclosure, and collapsed dorsal fin, often accredited to the physical deterioration from lack of adequate space to swim. Tilikum’s body, much like that of Amber Doll’s, presents a physical manifestation of emotional trauma.
The story of Tilikum and his body as a spectacle shared remarkable similarities with my relationship with Amber Doll. By allowing others openly to explore and violate Amber Doll, I disrupted the social norms of public and private space. The deviance Tilikum performed through his body, by killing his trainer, was an act of defiance against those who objectify him. The trainer’s body becomes a spectacle that takes the attention away from his body—the focus is still on Tilikum—but he now owns a presence.
The idea of this shift from object to action and spectacle to presence gave Amber Doll new purpose. I no longer needed Amber Doll to be my object; I needed her to be an action. Through the action of her transformation I could give voice to Tilikum, and, begin to give presence to the community of the objectified. Do you have suggestions on the above? New perspectives on my work you'd like to share with me? Write me, I'd like that. amber@amberhawkswanson.com

All That is Left of Amber Doll + Thank You / Credits

All That is Left of Amber Doll, January 2012
Amber Doll > Tilikum would not have been possible without the following people + communities + organizations + companies:
Renato Velarde, all things video & stills + tech + support
Sarah English
, Hair Stylist + Makeup Artist + all around amazing
Travis LeRoy Southworth
, color correction + early/long-running inspiration
Jenyu Wang, stills
Colin Lyons, documentation + knew Amber Doll in the early days
All of My Loyal Whale Whatchers but espeically Sam Feder (with special thanks), Gwen Locke Lis, Bea Bosco, Elizabeth Axtman (The Love Renegade), Christa Holka, Man Bartlett, Davecat, Alex Fullerton, Kristin Lohr, Lacie GarnesLilly McElroy, All Members of The Henbane Collective, Susan Locke Ashman, Kate Fisher, Heather Chappell Lohr, Amy Miller, Coya Paz, Jennifer Valles, Michelle Johns, Nina Xoomsai, Linda Barba, Ali McDonald, Cara Thaxton, Ben DeLaCreme, Nako Okubo  Michael Waugh, John Criscitello, Megan M. Gallagher, Emily Joseph, Cassie Sampson, Mitchell Squire, Jared Haberer, Rosel Kim, Julie Casper Roth, Pamela-Cleo Goddard, Kristen Martilla, Ryan Flynn, Sean Graney

    Tilikum > Tilikum: illness + collapsed dorsal fin + missing / fractured teeth

    Tilikum is ill. As Jeffrey Ventre, MD and John Jett, Ph.D, explain in Keto & Tilikum Express the Stress of Orca Captivity, Tilikum's broken and drilled teeth seed his blood stream with bacteria. If he were to unfortunately die, it would likely be from a type of sepsis or tissue infectionthe cause of death for Kalina, the “Original Baby Shamu” (the first killer whale born and raised in captivity at SeaWorld) who died of Bacterial Septicemia in October of 2010.
    Now that I have transformed Amber Doll's severely damaged silicone flesh, PVC skeleton, and steel-infused joints into a small replica Tilikum, I'd like to point out two comparison details that reflect symptoms of stresses in orcas in captivity. (both reference Ventre and Jett's paper)

    Left: Tilikum, Right: Amber Doll > Tilikum Days Seven / Eight
    Collapsed Dorsal Fin
    Quoting from Ventre and Jett's paper: In the ocean, lateral torisonal, and compressive forces generated by moving water typically sculpt erect dorsal fins. It is known that in humans, healthy connective tissue and muscle and bone will adapt to loading by becoming stronger. In all likelihood, these collapsed dorsal fins are caused by increased hours of surface floating (or slow circle-swimming) and a removal of those forces. This process is accentuated in male orcas, whose fins grow much taller than females. Collapsed fins like those above, are very rare in the wild.

    Left: Tilikum's Jaw, Middle: Dremeling Amber Doll's Skull into Tilikum's Teeth (Day Ten), Right: Amber Doll > Tilikum Day Ten
    Broken and Drilled Teeth
    Quoting from Ventre and Jett's paper: Captive orcas break their teeth or horizontal steel bars and concrete, sometimes exposing the pulp of the tooth. This pulp is drilled out via modified "pulpotomy." Subsequently, the animals require lifelong daily teeth flushings to combat food plugging, as these open holes are a direct route for bacteria to enter the bloodstream. The  prevalence of broken teeth increases with age. Tilikum has lost the majority of teeth on the lower jaw. The decimated jaws of captive orcas are a carefully managed topic from a public relations standpoint, with tooth flushing explained to visitors as "superior dental care."
    On Day Six of Amber Doll > Tilikum I spoke with Jeffrey Ventre, former Senior Trainer at Shamu Stadium (1987-1995) and Samantha Berg, also a former Sea World Trainer (1990-93) who was working at Shamu Stadium the day Tilikum arrived at SeaWorld Orlando. Links to the resources and projects they kindly mentioned during our Skyped conversation are below (in order mentioned). Video of our conversation is embedded below (from the Amber Doll > Tilikum album on Vimeo). A higher quality version will be available soon.

    Day Ten Streaming Videos

    Day Ten involved dremeling Tilikum's fractured teeth out of Amber Doll's skull and painting his flesh black and white. (Read why many of Tilikum's teeth are missing or fractured here.)
    I photographed several steps of the process on my iPhone.

    After last Sunday's ban on Ustream, I have lasted nine days on Livestream. Both streaming clips from Day Ten are below (also on Vimeo):

    Days Seven / Eight Streaming Videos

    After some early morning preparations, Day Seven began at 11am on Saturday morning and ended well into Day Eight at 6am on Sunday morning. In the nineteen hours I worked, I continued to adhere parts of Amber Doll's "breadbowled" damaged flesh onto Tilikum's skeleton (made from Amber Doll's) and the foam filler I created in his shape (made up of Amber Doll's chest cavity, thighs, arms, and calves).

    As Tilikum began to take form, I adhered Amber Doll's skin to the silicone flesh I had alredy adhered to the skeleton / foam filler.
    I photographed several steps of the process on my iPhone.

    ***THE FINALE will be Livestreamed: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 at 7pm cst. I'll be painting Tilikum and creating his teeth by dremeling them out of Amber Doll's skull).***
    Please help me spread the word. Below is a FB/Twitter-ready post:
    THE FINALE will be 'd: TUESDAY at 7pm cst. See Tilikum come to life! http://bit.ly/rF6UIq

    After Sunday's ban on Ustream, I have lasted six days on Livestream. All five streaming clips from Days Seven / Eight are below (also on Vimeo):


    Tilikum complete (pre-painting)
    I transformed Amber Doll's severely damaged silicone flesh, PVC skeleton, and steel-infused joints into a small replica of the bull orca, Tilikum, who lives in captivity at SeaWorld Orlando and has been involved in the deaths of three people.
    A post that includes embedded videos for Day Seven will follow, as will a follow-up performance involving my painting my TIlikum replica and adding his teeth.

    Day Six Streaming Videos

    Today I continued to use Amber Doll's damaged PVC skeleton to finish Tilikum's skeleton. I adhered pieces of the the foam filler that made up her cheast cavity, thighs, arms, and calves to the skeleton to start fleshing out the shape of Tilikum. I then began to adhere pieces of her silicone to the foam filler—all on my doll disassembly/whale assembly table. After Sunday's ban on Ustream, I have lasted five days on Livestream. All four streaming clips are below (also on Vimeo):
    At 2pm cst Jeffrey Ventre MD, former Senior Trainer at Shamu Stadium (1987-1995) Skyped in to Amber Doll > Tilikum. Ventre is co-author of of the critical paper Keto and Tilikum Express the Stress of Orca Captivity (along with John S. Jett, Visiting Research Professor at Stetson University). Jeffrey Ventre worked with Tilikum during 1994-95 and now takes an evidence-based approach to marine mammal activism.

    At 2:30pm cst Samantha Berg, also a former Sea World Trainer (1990-93) joined the conversation. Berg was working at Shamu Stadium the day Tilikum arrived at SeaWorld Orlando after he was moved from SeaLand of the Pacific (Victoria Canada) where he was involved in the death of trainer, Keltie Byrne. Berg is now an acupuncturist and the owner of an acupuncture center in Palmer, Alaska. I have a great number of links to post following-up on the conversation and will do so on Sunday. In the meantime, I have posted just a few below today's streaming videos. (The first hour of streamed video was not recorded but I am shooting with five cameras so a long-form edited version of the performance will be available for exhibition soon.)

    Skyping with Jeffrey Ventre and Samantha Berg

    Links following-up on my conversation with Jeffrey Ventre and Samantha Berg:
    Dorsal Fin Collapse in Killer Whale Explained

    Voice of the Orcas

    Death at SeaWorld

    Former Trainer Says Killer Whale Captivity Causes Attacks

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