Tilikum Day Seven
If you've seen this SexTV Profile on my work (2008), you know that after completing the Feminism? Project – which involved imaging myself in provocatively sexual contexts during reenactments of a variety of women's definitions of feminism – I was lonely and seeking the companionship of a girlfriend but not yet out as queer. Surfing the Internet to find some kind of solution to my loneliness, I read about doll husband and synthetiks advocate Davecat in the Salon.com article "Just like a woman" and through it discovered an online forum maintained by a community of what others have termed ‘hetero-outsider men’ who own or desire life-like sex dolls, RealDolls made of a PVC skeleton and silicone flesh and penetrable in three orifices. Aware of my own failed attempts at dating real women (termed ‘organics’ on the forum), I felt an affinity with a subgroup of the community who described themselves as ‘doll husbands,’ and considered themselves partnered with their RealDolls. Inspired by the fulfillment they found in their relationships with what they termed ‘synthetics’ over ‘organics,’ I ordered a RealDoll of my own and later transformed her into Tilikum.
I am now proud to call Davecat my friend. Below is an essay he wrote about my work.
There are two types of people in the world: those who know of Amber Hawk Swanson, and those who don't. Yes yes, technically you could say that about anyone, but she's achieved something that, depending on how you view the concepts of Synthetik people and controversial art, could be seen either as fame, or as notoriety. Allow me to explain how I came to discover her.
On some evening back in 2007, I was sifting through the Internet on one of my typical searches for new pictures/information about Synthetiks, when I came across an article detailing a performance artist from Chicago, who had not only had a RealDoll made to look exactly like her, but had also married her affictitious twin as well. Her name was Amber Hawk Swanson, and appropriately enough, her silicone twin was named Amber Doll. AHS had worked in conjunction with Matt Krivicke, then at Abyss creations, in having a laser scan made of her face, which they attached to a RealDoll Body 8. To top it off, AHS and Amber Doll both had matching tattoos done on the insides of their left wrists, reading 'Bully' and 'Prey', respectively. Driving the effect home, the two had, as mentioned, been wedded in Organik/Synthetik bliss in a chapel in Las Vegas.
Now, as my own lovely wife of 10+ years, Sidore Kuroneko, is herself a RealDoll, needless to say, the story of the Ambers was something I found to be completely intriguing, and more than a little encouraging. Here was a lass who was clearly enthralled enough by the idea of Dolls that not only did she buy one, but she also married her. In addition, as AHS was an artist, she was following in the footsteps of a number of other artists throughout history that have figuratively and literally embraced the Synthetik, such as Hans Bellmer & his unnamed girls, Oskar Kokoschka & Alma-puppe, Jemima & Dolly Brown, and a few others besides. Obviously, I had to meet the Ambers.
After firing a few Emails at each other, AHS and I struck up a friendship based on common interest; no points for guessing what that was. She revealed to me that she'd read about the relationship that Sidore and I have on various articles posted on the Internet, and as she was in a place in her life where she was seeking companionship, she believed that having a Synthetik partner would be an idea worth pursuing. (The Missus and I do like to inspire people.) Although work prevented me from going, she had even invited me to attend the public reception of her wedding as well, which is an event I still regret missing. Months later, she agreed to attend one of the local get-togethers our particular tri-state iDollators periodically hold, affectionately referred to as Doll Congresses, so she could meet a handful of us in person and talk All Things Doll over starchy Italian food. There, she heard our stories first-hand as to why we have the Dolls we have in our lives, and what makes them special to us. We all left that evening having a pretty good understanding of each other! Unfortunately none of us could've brought our respective Dolls, which would've made the whole experience utterly phenomenal.
As I'd stated previously, Amber Hawk Swanson is a performance artist; since 2006, the majority of her projects had been informed by her own feminist approach, and the interplay of how men perceive women, and womens' subsequent behaviour, that has been going on since time immemorial. At the start, her own interaction with Amber Doll paralleled my own — in order to eliminate loneliness, she purchased a Doll for the purposes of a romantic partnership. But as time went on, Amber Doll became less of a lover to AHS, and more of a working partner in the form of a surrogate; AHS would present Amber Doll as a kind of stunt double for herself in positions that were loaded with potentially volatile behaviour. The locations ranged from the innocuous (their wedding reception) to the downright unwatchable (a tailgate party), and AHS's work was to observe how both men and women reacted to a beautiful, anatomically-correct artificial female that was unable to defend herself from lecherous and sometimes violent advances.
Before Abyss creations made the switch over to platinum-based silicone, pretty much all RealDolls built in that time period had tin-based silicone skin, and over time, unless treated carefully, that type of silicone tended to get extremely soft. Which, on the one hand, felt wonderful, but unfortunately, it meant her rubber flesh would be much more prone to tearing. As you suspected, that's what happened to Amber Doll. After a final holiday together at Disney World back in 2008, Amber Hawk Swanson held a funeral for Amber Doll, as her Synthetik bride was literally falling apart. AHS contacted me on a couple of occasions to see if there'd be any value in selling what was left of her, but Amber Doll would be charitably described as 'a fixer-upper', due to the ruined state she was in.
Months passed, then towards the end of 2010, she wrote me out of nowhere, telling me of her new project: she would take Amber Doll's body, and under Matt Krivicke's tutelage, take it apart, and reassemble it into a replica of Tilikum, the orca residing at SeaWorld best known for being a prime suspect in the deaths of three people. Admittedly, I was baffled, as I was thinking that AHS was somehow going to make a 1:1 scale replica of Tilikum from Amber Doll. Then I came to my senses. Surprisingly, upon completion, it did indeed resemble a bull orca! The ingenious idea of Dremeling Amber Doll’s skull into teeth for Tilikum alone impressed me more than it should have. I would make a comparison of Amber Doll to the proverbial phoenix here, but we’ll take it as read.
On a personal level, as not just an iDollator, but a husband to a Doll, admittedly it was difficult coming to terms with what AHS had put Amber Doll through, from the mishandling and molesting from strangers, to her dissection for the Tilikum project. The end result seemed really unfortunate, as Amber and Amber had found love in each other — in each other's reflection? — and Amber Doll was getting the shortest possible end of the stick. Dolls are, at the end of the day, merely things that are like Organik humans, yet not Organik humans, but without sounding too Velveteen Rabbit about it, they can have as much of a spirit as their owner imbues them with. But the relationship that Amber and Amber shared took it a step further than most iDollators with Synthetik spouses: I believe that the two of them were genuinely in love with each other at the start, but unfortunately, like a great many relationships, that love faded. Remember how I'd mentioned Oskar Kokoschka and Alma-puppe paragraphs ago? Over time, their love faded as well. Alma-puppe went from lover to artistic muse, much like Amber Doll. And, as Sidore herself pointed out, Amber Hawk Swanson fashioning a new work of art from the remains of her once-beloved Amber Doll is completely in line with the way that the ossuaries of Prague constructed fantastical decorations such as chandeliers and coats-of-arms from the bones of 14th century plague victims. She's a Goth; she would think of that.
Ultimately, where Amber Doll failed in her attempt to be a life partner, she succeeded in being an artistic muse, and it took Amber Hawk Swanson’s keen eye to recognise that. That’s definitely something to for both parties to be proud of.
While working on the final, thirty-hour, video piece (involving footage from five cameras) documenting Amber Doll > Tilikum, we pulled together the five minute excerpt above.
Performance: Amber Hawk Swanson
Tech Assistance + Magic + Support: Renato Velarde