Doll ceremonies, Funeral ceremonies


Zeynep Sayın


November 2, 2011 – Nizhny Novogrod: A pervert exhuming children corpses and turning them into dolls is arrested for keeping their mummified corpses at his flat and then sent to a psychiatric clinic. Having mummified 26 girls aged between 3
and 15, Anatoly Moskvin dresses them up and keeps their corpses at his home like little dolls. He speaks 13 languages and lectures at a university on the Celtic culture. This is an unsettling, creeping image – one stays speechless. Corpses are there, waiting and all quiet. Smokes do not resemble the fire, they follow the traces of it; similarly, Moskvin does not follow corpses with a mimicry of a death mask that defies similitude. He creates doubles out of them, he absorbs a reference (the dead) and then turns it into a personal totem, a doll.

Symptoms in medicine, clues in criminology and psychoanalysis, artistic details in Morelli, Warburg and Ginzburg… Rather than mimetic similitudes, they are images emerging out of similitudes. Smoke is not an image of the fire through similitude, it is a trace that one can follow. Traces are then the clues that detectives chase, their relation to originals and copies is not through similitudes. Moskvin’s image, that is to say, is curious: it is the corpse per se, yet it also bears the trace of a corpse. Producing doubles of faces and bodies, tattooes and reliefs are based on distinguishing one face (or any face) from the others and assigning symbolic and social functions as well as a special meaning. A corpse, on the other hand, cannot form any social relationship – neither with humans nor with societies. A corpse is not a human. A baby is not sa human, either. They both possess a gaze, the absence of gaze in both is deep and insistent. A corpse is not the image of itself. The moment death arrives, it turns into a similitude that does not resemble the body (Blanchot). It is not the same body anymore, it is a corpse as a body’s image. It has no similitudes, not even with itself. A mummified body, the emergence of a body which hosts both its own corpse and its double, is called an effigy by the Romans. An effigy is odd and uncanny.

Moskvin is thought to have dug up 150 children’s graves. His perversion is not due to his exhuming or mummifiying corpses and then creating a baby house. His fault is that he does this at the wrong place (Russia), at the wrong time (2000s) and with the wrong corpses. He violates the owners’ rights to funerals and images. Mummifying corpses (those of children) and storing them in canopic chests or baby houses is not new. The 19th century has an abundance of photographs that belong to dead children – reminding one of the tradition of mummification. Images of ancestors form a common consciousness, memory, genealogy and archive for the living. Mummified corpses are the predecessors of family albums. The dead determine the identity of the living. Family albums pass on to next generations the relations between
family members and how close they are. Each family member has a special story, grandchildren keep telling them. Tomb figures buried with the dead, holding each other, and dolls made of clay, cloth and wood have all their stories of their own. They remind you of a grief: a loss, an absence, an abandonment. And they can be stored within small boxes or model houses inside graves. Mummified corpses can lie within other graves, boxes or chests within graves – just like matryoshka dolls, offering you several levels and layers. Some collect these models since the early ages; Burnaburiash, the king of Babylonia, possessed a collection of grave dolls and model graves in 1350 B.C. And we do know, at least since Adorno, that museum and mausoleum share the same etymology.

Moskvin’s perversion does not follow this path. The following are all legal matters: which corpse receives which exact image, which grave possesses which memory,
who inherits images following one’s death. Mummies, remnants of a corpse, bone relics, headstones, death masks, tomb figures in the form of dolls, votive offerings under altars: they are all doubles of the dead. Through them, the living meet within a common past subconscious. The are uncanny (unheimlich in Freud), and they unsettle others. Matters such as who can trace back the other is determined by the laws that own corpses. Family albums cannot be passed on to other families, memories are not to be exchanged and confused. Even if no one talks about it, the past and the present of the living is completely based on the dead lying in their graves. The law protects the dead when they are buried, mummified or photographed. This very law draws the line between the public and the private for centuries. Communities own certain rights over their dead. Family members do have secret connections that are available only to themselves. Moskvin’s mistake has nothing to do with mummifying the corpses at a wrong time. What makes his deed improper is the violation of an image’s privacy, a privacy that supports certain relatives within their abandonment: mummifying the corpses of which past, present, and very ownership do not belong to him. Looking at death has something embarrassing about it.

What he did was nothing new. Insisting on sewing dolls, bisque fire clay dolls, revealing these long-forgotten dolls as art again, Başak Bugay does not do something new, either. Yet, it is a re-making. Like any artist, Başak Bugay aims to do something new. Rather than merely referring to the past, confining this past into a history and consuming it within familiarity, she reveals the past once again. Başak Bugay reveals the hideouts of (handmade) tiny little people. Her work lies within a continuum of a long tradition.

From the Roman effigies (sculptures, doubles, remnants and wastes of the dead) to wax sculptures of babies in the modern times, there stands an uninterrupted history. Here one should remember Jeremy Bentham, whose skeleton has been mummified and dressed with his own clothes in University College London. Decapitated in the Maori style, his skull defies onlookers with his blue glass eyes. Having developed the concept of panopticon in 1785 as a surveillance-based prison, Bentham perhaps wanted to make his privacy public with his own image, perplex his audience by keeping two eyes on them, and generate an ambiguous space. Panopticon is a prison based on a circular building, with one-room cells arranged around the outer wall
and the central point dominated by an inspection tower. The word means seeing it
all and it refers to central inspection. It leaves no space to prisoners inside their cells. Although prisoners know that each mistake will be punished, they never know when they are going to be inspected. In Bentham’s words, this is a design for the invention of a mastermind. Bentham probably considers his corpse as a mastermind’s means for power acquisition. The power that death holds runs in between the living and
the dead, a corpse and an image, similitude and non-similitude – and the onlookers remain under survelliance. The founder of the panoptic surveillance system, Bentham demanded his skeleton to be preserved and his head to be desiccated as practiced by the New Zealand Maoris. According to legend, students from the competing Kings College London once stole the head and demanded a ransom in 1975. Bentham’s surveillance without real eyes trigger legal cases.

In May 2011 the French government issued a bill to repatriate the tattoed and preserved heads to where they belong: New Zealand. And the first mummified
head was returned to officials from New Zealand after 136 years with a state ceremony. Maori heads, kept by their relatives after being tattoed to honour them, were discovered by foreigners as of 18th century and taken overseas and sold – over 500 Maori heads were displayed in museums. The shrunken heads of the Shuar people of the Amazon and mummies all around the world share similar destinies. Although mummies can be at times our only means to learn the past, they are not mere archaeological artefacts but are also corpses that need to be returned to their relatives. Yet there has been collectioners like Moskvin or Horatio Gordon Robley who collected tattoed Maori heads.

Moskvin could be a noble figure in the Roman Empire or in north Egypt. If that was the case, he would be mummifying his dead and taking death masks from them a long time ago. Masks from children would also be involved. Adorning an atrium with death masks, proving one’s rich and noble heritage was sine qua non for the nobilitas and dignitas. Nobility is related to noscere, to come to know and prove one’s ancestry through images. Turning into images, corpses bear witness to ancestry. And an image indeed means a death mask: imago. Generations of the dead that are composed of an increasing number of masks – one person preceding the other all the time… The masks used by actors and actresses are called the same: imago, and this is something used only during funerals as opposed to persona, which is used at other occasions
on the stage. Bearing the mask of the dead, the family is able play two personalities within one single body: himself/herself and the dead. As a replica of the dead’s face and its negative, a death mask is akin to persona in theatre – both being an image of a recollection. If Moskvin had done the same deed centuries ago in Rome to his own ancestors, he would have separated the double of the corpse from the corpse itself as a trace, defined the relation between the corpse and the image as a legal matter, (as
in Fayum portraits and Togatus Barberini) drawn his family tree and allowed certain rememberance of his ancestry within his own body. Corpse theatres: Death masks used to be stored in atriums and displayed to guests as images. There used to be regulations and laws deciding which imagines should be presented to the public and which nobility’s image to be printed on coins. The recollection and the image of an ancestry was a guarantee for next generations. Masks of the ancestors, just like Shuar and Maori heads, were title deeds for families: They used to be staged just like persona, and those in power could even be prepared funeral ceremonies. Unlike the ignoble, the anonymous, those without a face, the sovereign had a right to an image in Rome. The image of a corpse was a right that exclusively belonged to the sovereign.

The imago tradition was sustained with Jesus, who was born in the Roman Empire and resisted it. Being the god’s son, he was bearing the traces of his father, he himself was a mask of his father. Imago dei, gemina persona. Two images, a double mask… Possesing two separate natures, Jesus stood within a dual existence (una persona, duae naturante); he was a living dead, a mummy bringing together the living and
the dead, the afterlife and the life as we now it, death and life itself, and the corpse and the mask. He proved his ancestry with the god he was following, and he had the very right to follow him through this father-son relationship; the images referring to his birth and death would stand not only in sanctuaries, at crossroads, on buildings, at squares and on fountains, but also in hospitals, schools and state buildings. His portraits and effigies would be later used by imitators and followers for establishing legitimacy. Jesus was himself a double joining both worlds, the past and the future. The real kingdom did not belong to Rome but to Jesus. The emperors and the kings of this world were the representatives of Christus.

Jesus was the messenger prophesied in the Old Testament by the anointed kings. But the successors would follow the divine trace in him and find representation in kings who mimicked his role with their imagos and personas. Jesus was inherently Christus, God’s grace made him the christus of earthly kingdoms and worldy representatives of the divinity. The Roman Empire and the catholic ecumeny met here on the basis of a common representation. In a few centuries, mummies of the Roman Empire would be replaced by doubles and sculptures of Jesus and kings that were made of wax, wood, marble and stone. Jesus was both the crucified saviour and (till modern times) the baby in his cradle. Death and play were equally serious matters that one could die for.

A play, in Greek, was called agon. Translated as competition or rivalry, the word also meant suffering or agony since actors and actresses were risking their own lives. Agon used to cover a large area from theatre to war, from rites to ceremonies. As one plays, one gets carried away and I is another. Wearing masks (or sometimes without them), one would play someone in his/her own body. Toraja people in contemporary Sulawesi perform a ceremony that looks uncanny (unheimlich) to others since it moves around the border between the living and the dead, life and death. The people of Toraja in Indonesia keep their dead at home for days, weeks or months before eventually burying them. Dessicated in the past, these are the ghosts that are now preserved by formalin. Thought to bear the souls of the dead, they are dressed and primped every day. Just like the cult of ancestors in Rome, where corpses are buried under homes, is called penates (penetrating into the privacy of a house, it shares the same etymology with penis) and eventually becomes the god of house, souls that belong to corpses live here again with family members. Unable to leave their ancestors, families serve food to those dead bodies every day.

There is a distinction between the saint of a house, a tomb, a death mask and a mummy. Masahiro Mori analyses the similitude between oppositions such as a puppet and a human, a dream and a ghost, a toy and a human, a corpse and a human. Measuring these similitudes and the first reaction people show on a biaxil coordinate system, Mori claims that the greatest proximity (corpse) leads to the greatest distance (horror). There were many that were dreadful yet none was as dreadful as a corpse:
A corpse’s non-similitude to a human as well as its similitude cannot be substituted by any produced image. While an image is supposed to substitute a void created by a corpse, Moskvin and the people of Sulawesi merge the corpse and the image under a single signifier. That the German surrealist artist Hans Bellmer turned his lover Unica Zürn’s real body into a puppet made of human flesh was creeping as well; yet, her body was alive, and she would be free as soon as she gets rid of the bounds that hold her. The mummies of Moskvin and the Toraja people, however, would eventually have their veins filled in blood and stand as zombies.

Oscar Kokoschka treated Alma’s puppet as her double and wanted to substitute the absence of the body with the image. Uncanny Mori can find it, the similarity between the puppet and the human is acceptable. A zombie, however, is alive although it is dead. A dead rising from the dead would be the creeping of all. The image substitutes the dead and points at something that does not exist: an absence. The people of Sulawesi reveal the referentiality of a corpse within a corpse – as in the case of zombies. And they transform a corpse into a puppet.

They have another tradition in which they exhume their dead every three years, dress them in their personal clothes and then take them for a walk in their villages. This most celebrated festivity is called ma’nane. It brings together the skies and the earth, the living and the dead, corpses and puppets. My heart hosts endless festivities, jesters and cantos.

Corpses are subject to civil law. Corpses are personal gods. Corpses belong to people. Speaking 13 languages (alive and dead), Anatoly Moskvin tore apart the relation between the play and the agony, the mummy and the corpse, imago and persona, the corpse and the double – and created a void.

In 1918 Kokoschka orders a life-size doll from the Munich doll maker as a substitute for his lost love. Alma is one of the most famous woman of the 20th century: She marries Werfel and Mahler – and drives others insane. The doll is finished next year in February 22. This is a great disappointment for the painter. His erotic dreams are shattered, and he sees it as a still life model for his paintings. He would have the courage to destroy it only after painting her perhaps a hundred times. Kokoschka organizes a big party, and he destroys the doll in great grief. To get rid of ghosts, one needs to destroy dreams.

Destroying puppets is a risky business in Japan. According to Shinto belief, all entities (animate and inanimate) possess a soul. Their mothers or grandmothers accompanying them, children go to fruit-offering shrines with their battered dolls.

In the shrine lies a large number of dolls: Barbies, teddy bears, manga characters. Mothers approach a priest; apologizing, they grab the dolls that their kids are not leaving and deliver them. The priest throws the dolls into a recently dug tomb and burns them all with a torch.

Dolls possess souls. If someone attempts to seize another person’s doll or violate his/ her property, the doll turns into an evil spirit and haunts that person. This is why people leave food on graves – so that the dead can rest in peace. Those who do not distinguish between the animate and the inanimate, and those who treat dolls, anime and manga characters as living beings are called otaku (addict). Otaku is both active and inactive. Those forming passionate relations with a special object of desire are called otakus; Kokoschka, for example, would be an otaku. In Japan there are cemeteries where sex dolls are buried; children are not allowed here, ill-fated husband visit these cemeteries after office hours to see their dead partners and leave flowers. Known kavagava bochi (cemeteries for doctors’ secretaries), these cemeteries are filled with visitors during weekends. These are the people who decided to kill and bury their partners after receiving psychotheraphy to overcome their fetishist drives – they are in tears just like Kokoschka. Mourning over their losses shatters their hearts. Derived from the Latin word factitious which means something mimetic and artificial, the word fetishism was first used by the Portuguese to define wooden cult figures of the west Africa, which are believed to hold supernatural powers. In Portuguese the word feitiço also means spell and magic. Puppets of real bodies are objects of magic. Like any image, their power is bigger than how they look. Fetishists are fascinated by their own corpses and puppets. To sum up, fetishism has a lot to do with the uncanny and the corpse.

Başak Bugay is an otaku living in Turkey: She is addicted to the traces of another world, a world that is inanimate – and she produces fetish objects. Like great photographers picturing ghosts rather than the dead, she seems to have produced negatives of ghosts. She prepares and stuffs model houses and puppets with special material rather than simple fiber. The stitches of her dolls are deliberately revealed, and the dolls themselves are stuffed with a special method. Standing next to each other, some dolls present striking contrasts. Some lack arms and faces. Others seem to be on the verge of explosion – about to be disembowelled and dissolved. Hanging from the ceiling with hooks, the creatures seem to compete to qualify as the uncanniest. Creatures that belong to other universes, other dreams and other worlds land on the earth, and now they wear death masks. To humans, they look as odd mirrors. One feels restless and senses an uncanny feeling in front of them. The reason is that these creatures, playing dead humans, force us into an internal collision and even further collide us with one another. I is always another.

Then there are also miniature dolls and model houses: dollhouses of which concrete walls seem to be still wet, their windows installed only recently, and the buildings are not plastered yet. What does not look uncanny is purely uncanny; something can become alienated only on the condition that we were close first. These models alienate children in the eyes of adults, and they remind you that alienation is derived from silimarity. Children, especially those that are really small, frighten one. They stand as reverse mirrors: as if they are larger souls within shrunken bodies in the adults’ magnifying mirrors – they will not escape death, either. As shrunken forms of adults, they seem dismissive with their defying looks. One feels odd seeing death within a child, rather than a baby. Seeing a corpse within a baby is odd and embarrassing. Dollhouses turn the greatest familiarity (home) into the greatest alienation (toy).
The model houses that Başak Bugay produces can be inspected either through the windows (here one needs to bend down) or from the top. One of them reminds of a camera standing on a tripod (albeit with four legs), or camera obscura. Gray walls of model houses and white dolls create an unsettling atmosphere – almost contagious.
It reminds one of spaces where disease and death reign: beds on which no one sleeps anymore, crumpled sheets, a dirty toilet with poor lighting. A toilet is the single uninspected public space. One is not inspected only in graves and toilets. As in the case of the central tower of the panopticon, inspection here penetrates into both toilets and graves. It alludes not only to the fact that children play with a loss, an absence, a double of something that does not exist, but also to another fact that they resemble puppets playing children in their own bodies. And this very feeling triggers uneasiness and embarrassment in us. The work of Başak Bugay is unsettling. One feels that he/ she is looking at things and spaces that one is not allowed. Feeling a need to protect children from these dollhouses, we are alienated from them: We realize that who we want to protect is ourselves, not the children. Unable to hold ourselves back, however, we remove one cover, look through a hole and infiltrate into a private space. What we are looking at is a dollhouse after all, right? Yet, it is not. Death is one’s private space. ‘The embarrassment we feel when confronted with death is due to the inconceivable and inexplicable character of the moment of death (…) Like the repetition of certain needs implies something improper, the fact that a blood clot can terminate life is just as improper.’ Looking at the work of Başak Bugay, one thinks about the private space. Here one thinks about a corpse, a funeral, a child, the public, a toy and an artwork. Looking through a door that belongs to an outbuilding, one sees a puppet lying on the ground and covered with a white piece of cloth (instead of a newspaper) so that its dead body is not revealed. An elderly doll covered in blankets and with its head sunken in pillows… Another doll in front of a full-length dressing mirror with red lips, polished nails but no legs… Finding these people in their seclusion, we feel quilty and uneasy. That fact that privacy means death rather than sexuality startles us.

All legal matters are resolved here: In the model houses and dolls Başak Bugay produces, wealthy ancestries with successors bearing memories and similarities cease to exist. One cannot find any trace of an ancestry, a class or a god – no one
can prove his/her ancestry. These dolls have no relatives, no names, no faces – they are anonymous, so are their memories. Images have possessions, death means abandonment. Başak Bugay stitches the dolls of the ignoble, and she bisque fires the masks of not having a face. They inhale the grief of loss and absence. They give us what they do not possess, and we are not able to possess even when we receive it. With stitches on its body, a bandage on its head and with open hands, a doll looks at you directly and insistently with the eyes of a child. One can find in its eyes the obstinate void that Bentham, the Maoris and the people of Shuar have. Death will come and will wear your eyes (Pavese). The image of a baby, as if reflecting on water, reflects on a mirror that is inside of a box and the mirror reflects the box as well. The mirror keeps pointing at its similitude to a corpse.

What Başak Bugay does is not new. Almost with an obsessive-compulsive disorder, art keeps repeating itself. Both smallness (Thomas Doyle/ Lorenzo Manuel Duran/ Evol/ Joe Fig vb.) and greatness (Leandro Ehrlich/ Dalston House/ Lilian Bourgeat/ Jean- François Fourtou/ Hale Tenger etc.) are uncanny and unsettling. A corpse is unsettling. Childhood is unsettling. A purely unsettling feeling makes one escape. The feeling of familiarity, on the other hand, terminates what we call art, and rips a work of its value. Reaching a balance in Mori’s curve of uneasiness would mean not to terminate one’s own work on a level of familiarity or not to unsettle people to the point of making them close their eyes. Başak Bugay strikes us with the reality of playing with model houses and dolls – with no glorification, no exaggeration or no over-emphasis. Joining a play mimics something that is not a play – it requires imago and persona. Wearing the right mask or following the right trace at the right time reminds us something that we did not even realize we forgot. Rather than worshipping ancestors, this can reveal to us how ancestors were worshipped. It can help us revisit the histories of art (image/ culture/ politics/ law) based on simple baby dolls. Bugay’s work can offer pathways into the right traces of the history through baby dolls.


Translated by Çağdaş Acar