Inspired by the “ideal” portrayal of the body of a woman, the Barbie doll, visual artist Allie Pohl of Los Angeles created a thought-provoking and boundary-testing series called Ideal Woman. This collection of sculptures, influenced by the shape of the womans torso and other body parts.There is no doubt that humans are heavily impacted by society and often do things, such as alter their bodies, in response. This is a concept Pohl has explored deeply with her series Ideal Woman. In this interview, Pohl discusses the message behind her works and the underlying truths of her influences and inspirations.
Lola Who: Tell us a bit about Ideal Woman.
Allie: I have always been interested in why we follow certain cultural trends. For example, the concept of body hair and hair removal: we remove hair from certain parts of our body and add it to others. As a way to respond to this cultural phenomenon, I created a series of sculptures using a “My Size Barbie” (the doll), as a metaphor for the “ideal woman,” and I had Chia grow out of areas where our society removes unwanted hair, i.e. the armpit, vagina, and legs. The sculptures transformed from prepubescent to womanhood during the time of the installation. I was captivated by the shape of the midsection and started to explore different ways to appropriate the shape and what it really represented.
Lola Who: What were some of the major influences for this project?
Allie: Barbie is an American cultural icon born in 1959, a derivative of the Lilli doll, at the dawn of Post-War consumer culture. While originally intended as a toy for young girls, its ubiquitous presence resulted in a brand that has come to represent the ideal of female physical perfection. Although she has become more diverse and ambitious over the years, her physical shape has not really changed. She is an unnatural, unrealistic portal of beauty.
Lola Who: How has the response been to the Ideal Woman project? Have you been surprised?
Allie: The reaction has been very positive. I think everyone can relate to its message.
Lola Who: How has your work evolved from the time you started until now?
Allie: The sculptures have gotten larger! I have been able to explore ideas furtherthe more you work with a concept or idea, the deeper you can dive in.
Lola Who: Ideal Woman is depicted using many different mediums, including neon lights, porcelain, resin, even plants, and combinations of these materials. What inspired this and what were you hoping to communicate with it?
Allie: When I become fixated on a cultural phenomenon, I read extensively on that subject matter, talk to everyone who will talk to me about it, formulate what I want to say, and then start thinking about the best way to visually express my thoughts. I am not a medium specific artist because I feel each medium helps convey a different ideathe medium is the message! Neon = commercialism. Porcelain = refined yet also industrial. Grass = the bush! The piece goes from prepubescent to womanhood during the installation.
Lola Who: Clearly, Ideal Woman is meant to be provocative of thoughts towards the image of women. In what ways does this project address issues of feminism?
Allie: The project is not about “feminism” but about the demands and expectations that are placed or expected of people. Ideal Woman also addresses shifts in cultural trends. There are pendulum shifts in fashion, pubic hair athletics, tattoos placements, breast size, booty size, etc. Once you permanently alter you body, there is no turning back.
Lola Who: Tell us a bit about Peacocking. What inspired the switch to highlight the bodies of men from women?
Allie: Inspired by online dating, particularly the ever-so-popular Tinder, I chose to explore how men market themselves to women. From my research (online and in person), I created man merit-badges, based on the traditional boy scout badges, that represent the qualities men most commonly try to convey. I also made sculptures of dissected mannequin parts from different decades to show how the idealized form has changed and to highlight how contemporary men are also subject to societys notions of perfection.
Given the change in cultural trends, this is not surprising. Gay culture has become more acceptedboth socially and politicallymen are getting married later in life, resulting in them spending more money on themselves. You open up GQ today and you might as well be reading Cosmo, theres everything from designer clothing to shaving products.
Lola Who: What do you hope people will take away from the works of Ideal Woman?
Allie: I took the Ideal Woman figure and enhanced it to Western societys socially constructed ideal of 36-24-36 to show the naturally unachievable nature of this form. By developing a new image, I hope to force the viewer to be aware of the unattainable nature of the cookie cutter form that pervades our culture. Perfection does not exist. We need to embrace the qualities and characteristics that make us individuals. The aesthetics of youth are overrated.