Silent Partners: Artist and Mannequin from Function to Fetish

This new exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum manages both to amaze and disgust EVE WALLER.

Art Cambridge exhibition Fitzwilliam Museum

As someone who delights in all things sick and grotesque – just ask my dissertation supervisor – I heard the words ‘historical fetish’  and went running to Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum.

Their new exhibition, Silent Partners: Artist and Mannequin from Function to Fetish, aims to display, through a variety of media, the change in function for the human mannequin in art through the ages. And there’s sexy stuff as well. Score!

Walking in, I was confronted by a wooden, beheaded mannequin in a position reminiscent of our very own Cambridge ‘lad’, by which I mean slumped and gesturing at its crotch. Quite an invitation.

They’re coming.

This was shortly followed by what appeared to be a skinned human child, which had been designed for medical students and artists to take apart and then reassemble in order to learn the placement of organs. It was at this point, surrounded by beheaded children and a whole lot of mahogany, that I realised I was in the right place.

What stood out as particularly enjoyable – other than the terrifying number of Chucky-esque doll children with the cold, dead eyes of serial killers – was the room dedicated to mannequin fetishism. This room told an assortment of decadent fairytales.You know the kind: boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy butchers girl, arranges her parts in sexual positions and then takes photos for later ‘fun time’ (if you get what I mean).

One particular tale of love and heartbreak featured an artist named Hans Bellmer and his Artificial Girls, a story of a particularly unattractive (as mannequins go) pubescent assemblage of body parts and a man who fancied his attractive teenage cousin Ursula. And they say romance is dead.

Still a better love story than Twilight

This room was then given its grand freakish finale through two life-sized (and very realistic) models of children. They were wearing black hoodies emblazoned with Swastikas and their faces appeared to have been partially ripped open, exposing a duck’s bill on one and a pig’s snout and teeth on the other. The Daily Mail would have a fucking field day.

All jokes aside, the exhibition really is impressive. It’s like walking through Jack the Ripper’s own personal wank bank, but with a gift shop – where, by the way, it is possible to purchase a back-scratcher in the shape of a disembodied mannequin arm. You’re welcome.

Fuck the patriarchy

There is also some very good – and actually quite moving – stuff on the treatment of Female Hysteria through hypnosis in the nineteenth century. This is explored in a series of photographs that draw parallels between the place of mannequins in art and of ‘uncooperative’ women in society.

The only criticism would be the inclusion of the frankly awful modern art towards the end. You go from a walking tour of the props cupboard for Ripper Street to an explosion of colour which just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the exhibition’s aesthetic. And some of it is really shit.

The exhibition runs until the 25th January 2015 at the Fitzwilliam Museum, giving you plenty of time. And I highly recommended it to all weirdos, fetishists, and other types of humanities student.