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The Beautiful And Gruesome Porcelain Dolls Created By Jessica Harrison

I'm a little late to the party but I'm a big fan of Jessica Harrison's take on the traditional porcelain doll.

We've all seen them. Whether they sat on our great aunt's mantlepiece or hid inside our charity shop's special glass cabinets. They're bland, vanilla, a bit outdated and oh-so-sweet. Porcelain figurines, those harmless trinkets of pristine femininity, are everywhere and some of the ones by Jessica Harrison are in desperate need of some first aid.

Harrison's series "Broken" features found, mass-produced porcelain figurines that have been stabbed, maimed, beheaded or skinned -- their poised posture withstanding the injuries, however serious. Through her work Harrison toys with the relationship between interior and exterior, especially in respect to the female body, and explores what happens when our expectations of pristine forms are ruptured. Her porcelain dolls smile cheerily with their flawless up-dos and tightly wound bodices, despite the bloody masses of guts and innards pouring out from inside their lace gowns.

Harrison comments on her powerful category-jamming in her artist statement. "Here, what should be hard is soft, what should be brittle is flexible, what should be fragile is fleshy, what should be precious is broken," she writes. "These bodily expectations make ceramics an ideal medium with which to explore our tactile certainties of objects and the relationship between what is considered to be outside the body and what is believed to be inside."

The work pokes fun at the grotesque elements of femininity, piercing through the Victorian notion of ladylike manners and women as porcelain dolls. In the artist's words: "'Broken' figurines describe a turning inside out of middle-class Englishness; a self-destructive ornamentation where object becomes organ, private becomes public, inside becomes outside."

In another project, Harrison has adorned the pristine skin of porcelain dolls with permanent decorations historically reserved for hardened sailors. Her figurines receive the tattoo treatment, once again turning the female form into a canvas on which she explores the binaries of the body.

"Harrison proposes a multi-directional and pervasive model of skin as a space in which body and world mingle," proclaims Harrison's artist statement. "Working with this moving space between artist/maker and viewer, she draws on the active body in both making and interpreting sculpture to unravel imaginative touch and proprioceptive sensation in sculptural practice."

Her tattooed creations made their debut at Galerie L.J. in Paris. Titled "Flash," the works drew inspiration from French philosopher Michel Serres, who muses about the relationship between the soul and our sense of touch.

"I touch one lip with my middle finger. Consciousness dwells in this contact," he wrote in Les Cinq Sens (The Five Senses). "Often consciousness conceals itself in folds... when the skin tissue folds upon itself. By itself, the skin takes on consciousness... Without this folding-over, this contact of the self with itself, there would be no internal sense, no body of one's own."

For Harrison, this consciousness oozes to the surface for all to see, taking the shape of inked roses and ships and skulls. In stark contrast to the flowing ball gowns and neatly pinned hair, her women possess darkly ornate bodies that prompt the viewer to question what lies beneath.

"Her research considers the relationship between interior and exterior spaces of the body, but looks neither inwards towards a hidden core, nor outwards from the subconscious," her statement explains, "instead looking orthogonally across the skin to the movement of the body itself, using the surface of the body as a mode of both looking and thinking."

Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, Harrison pursued a PhD in sculpture in 2013, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Intrigued by the "tactility" of the medium, she infused her 3D objects with a sense of mortality and being we typically associate with humans, not dolls.