Chunks of dismembered wife found in whale | Art Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Chunks of dismembered wife found in whale 

Amber Hawk Swanson recycles her art-project spouse in "All That Is Left of You / Everything You Are Now"

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All That Is Left of You: Shoulder Flesh by Amber Hawk Swanson

All That Is Left of You: Shoulder Flesh by Amber Hawk Swanson

Amber Hawk Swanson had a full-size, posable silicone doll made in her exact likeness, named it Amber Doll, and married it in Las Vegas in January 2007. Then she started making public art with it. Swanson didn't interfere when strangers would interact, "often violently," with Amber; the fabricated spouse, she wrote, acted as a "surrogate to my own experiences of objectification."

In 2010 Swanson became interested in Tilikum, the orca whale who killed his trainer in front of an audience of tourists at SeaWorld Orlando. She drew connections between Tilikum and her wife: time in captivity had physically transformed them both. Amber, of course, had been wrecked after a good run of manhandling, while orcas—a sociable breed—tend to break their teeth trying to chew through bars. "Tilikum's body, much like that of Amber Doll's, presents a physical manifestation of emotional trauma," Swanson wrote. She therefore dismembered Amber, live, on the Internet—which is a surprisingly unnerving thing to watch—and turned pieces of her into Tilikum. Stapled and pasted together, the severed bits became the semblance of a whale. Swanson's show "All That Is Left of You / Everything You Are Now" includes video she made of the process. It also features the 12 pounds of silicone that didn't make it into Tilikum. A shoulder piece, for instance, is now its own work of art. Amber Doll yielded no scrap.


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