Jemima Brown

Text for Artspace Witzenhausen Annual, Mark Beasley, 2005

A figure sits in a chair, her back against the pillar of the gallery she calmly observes all that occurs within the room. A cursory double take and the figure twists in the mind, what at first glance could have been mistaken for the gallery invigilator or a resting visitor is in truth a hastily achieved mannequin, the skirt wrapped around her waist, little more than a drape of brown material covering a single false leg and high heeled foot. It is the latter that somehow troubles the mind as it is easier to fill in the picture, to maintain the image of the bipedal figure. Jemima Brown’s Brown Girl (2004) in all its placid pretence fills the viewer with uncertainty. Surely there is some mistake how can the figure be so calm given her current predicament.

Uncertainty or its precursor the uncanny is a central tenet of Brown’s practice. For the last decade Brown has been joined by her inanimate double, a life sized doll simply titled ‘Dolly’. Modelled upon Brown’s features, and often wearing the same clothes, Dolly is an uneasy and mute collaborator: a guardian spirit or questioning shadow? For all this she is very present, hanging out in the gallery, posing for photo-shoots or propped on the family sofa.
Constructed from modelling wax and false limbs Dolly embodies all that the French theoretician Julia Kristeva described as the abject, that which ‘does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite.’ As a transitional object the doll is more commonly associated with the activity of the child, a mid way point between the child and their external world. There’s something decidedly spooky about an adult woman whose closest companion is a doll.

Freud in his essay The Uncanny (1925) described the use of the double image, whether it is the reflection in the mirror or the mimetic doll, as insurance against or ‘energetic denial of the power of death’. Perhaps the first double of the body is that suggested by the ‘immortal soul’. A part of self that lives on after the flesh has long since given out. From Hoffman’s automated eyeless doll Olympia; the beastly creations found in H.G.Well’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (1968) to the horror of Norman Bates mother propped in a rocking chair there has long been a fascination with the inanimate/animated double of humanity. If not able to fend of the inevitable perhaps Brown has found an effective means for supporting her alter ego and in doing so creates a position for her self in the world. A twisted family tree that endlessly reproduces populating the room with facsimiles that stare blankly and without comment. Brown’s is a pathological desire to reinforce a sense of self that beguilingly examines the line between self-love and loathing.

Mark Beasley, September 2004