Sidore (Mark II) / Heather > LOLITA Statement

Sidore (Mark II) / Heather > LOLITA is my newest work in my alchemic performance series transforming lifelike silicone sex dolls into models of captive whales. LOLITA took place in my New York City studio over the course of six consecutive days with simultaneous broadcast via Livestream. The entire performance lasted 70 hours. The project was commissioned and made possible by Sidore (Mark II)’s and Heather’s longtime partners, noted synthetics advocate and doll husband Davecat and doll owner Jesse.

In a series of actions that are at once tender and destructive, I dismantled Sidore (Mark II) and Heather, two poseable RealDoll sex dolls, and repurposed their PVC skeletons and silicone flesh in order to build a replica of Lolita, the oldest living killer whale in captivity. Lolita has resided in the brutal confines of the Miami Seaquarium—a dilapidated aquatic park with a substantial animal mortality rate—in a shallow pool far less than twice her length for over 43 years. With troublingly unintentional irony, Lolita was named for the protagonist of Nabokov’s eponymous 1955 novel.

During the performance, members of the doll and marine mammal activist community participated remotely via call-ins. Doll husband Davecat read Nabokov’s Lolita in person and via Skype while I transformed both dolls. Over the phone, Jesse described the hidden room he built for Heather, in which she resided for fifteen years. On the final day of the performance, doll husband Mahtek called in to contribute a reading of the eulogy he wrote for his doll Pheobe’s first body. Each of these narrations was an integral contribution to my reconstruction. Former marine mammal trainers turned advocates, who recently appeared in the acclaimed Sundance and CNN documentary Blackfish, also discussed the realities of marine mammal captivity.

My project commingled synthetic, organic, and literary means to address the perverse power dynamics implied by Lolita’s naming and the conditions of her captivity. LOLITA casts a glaring light on the problematic fluidity between the perception of a seductive body and the body in undeniable captivity—particularly in marking a body as "seductive" to erase its “captive” status. In addition to addressing the specificities of Lolita’s long-term confinement and exploitation, the project poses broader feminist questions about surrogacy, domination, and enclosure via the suture of doll, female, and whale bodies.

LOLITA took place exactly two years after Amber Doll > TILIKUM, a ten-day performance involving my own RealDoll, Amber Doll, who was made in my likeness and was my artistic and romantic companion for five years. In 2011, I transmogrified Amber Doll into a replica of Tilikum, a bull orca currently living in captivity at SeaWorld Orlando who had been involved in three human deaths. My female-to-whale transformations explore material capacities for synthesis and salvation, and the promise of the copy. I have been a part of the doll community since 2005 after acknowledging my failed attempts to date “organic” women, and have developed an affinity with “doll husbands” who consider dolls to be life partners. Now, I work at the threshold of the art and doll worlds as a material translator between the two.

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."


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.

All That is Left of You / Everything You Are Now

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 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

All That is Left of You / Everything You Are Now (Catalog)

My solo show All That is Left of You / Everything You Are Now opens August 17th. The below suite of twenty images are for the corresponding catalog of a selection of the 556 pieces of Amber Doll that remain after the Tilikum transformation (which also includes my recent Letter to Amber Doll).

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