DG Q&A: Art Jeweler Margaux Lange
Overeager makeover artists, devilish little brothers, and occasional Dexter fans have long enjoyed dismembering the world’s favorite doll. By contrast, Brooklyn artist Margaux Lange, 30, describes herself as “an Art jeweler who re-Members Barbie fondly.” She doesn’t tear up dolls for the sake of destruction, or for anti-Barbie social commentary. Rather, she reassembles Barbie parts into joyful jewelry: heart pendants made of Barbie busts, earrings from eyes or smiles.
In December, Lange will have a solo exhibition of her one-of-a-kind pieces at the Luke and Eloy Gallery in Pittsburgh. She sells production designs through Etsy and blogs here. The strange charm of her work has attracted attention from Rob Walker in the NYT Magazine and, most recently, TimeOut New York, where she appears surrounded by translucent bins filled with mostly headless Barbies.
New Yorkers can visit Margaux's studio this Saturday night, September 26, as part of the Morgan Arts Building Open Studio event featuring more than 25 artists (and an open bar). For details see Margaux's blog.
Margaux Lange: I used to be obsessed with Barbie dolls as a kid. They played a pivotal role in my development as a tool for acting out and exploring the human relationships in my own life, as well as the fantasy lives I imagined. My experience with Barbie was uniquely positive in this way. Barbie can be a source of empowerment through exploration and imagination. Each child's experience with the doll is unique and I believe there's a value in that.
I would spend hours crafting many precious details for my Barbie dolls and their miniature worlds, such as: pillows, stone fireplaces, food items, clothing, accessories, etc. Playing with Barbie dolls helped to develop my dexterity and strengthened my attention to small detail: skills imperative to the art of jewelry making.
DG: How did you get started “fondly re-membering” Barbies?
ML: Barbie made her debut in my artwork in high school and then again in various incarnations throughout college where I studied fine Art (The Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, MD.) I started to focus more on jewelry making during my junior year, and I became interested in incorporating found objects into my metal work. Because I had done artwork with Barbie in the past (drawings, sculptures, etc) it felt natural to try her out in the jewelry realm. It was an unusual idea with a strong personal connection for me, so it felt right. The Plastic Body Series Jewelry Collection continued to grow from there.
ML: I had no desire to cut up all my Barbies as a kid, thatʼs for sure! So that has certainly changed. As a child, I would look at a doll and she would instantly transform in my mind into the imaginary personality I had dreamed up for her.
Now I look at a doll as I would any other material: I think about how that piece of plastic is going to be transformed in an interesting, wearable way.
Iʼm also able to intellectually step back and examine the impact Barbie has had on our society from all angles now. I certainly didnʼt think about any of that as a child so of course that has changed as well.
DG: What do you think makes Barbie glamorous?
Barbie is a quintessential icon of glamour. Sheʼs intriguing and appealing on many levels, not to mention she owns the biggest wardrobe on the planet, has a multitude of cars, shoes and accessories, and has had every possible career you can imagine. I think that makes her pretty glamorous.
DG: How has the changing face of Barbie over the years influenced your work? When Mattel alters Barbieʼs face or body, do you relate to Barbie in a different way?
ML: No, I wouldnʼt say that the way I relate to Barbie changes when Mattel rolls out a new style, but it does change my work. For example, Mattel made some major changes to Barbieʼs body in the year 2000 when they introduced the new “belly-button models” which had wider hips, a more shapely bum, and for the first time, a belly button and a smaller chest. Because her new bust size was smaller than the original Barbieʼs, it happened to be the perfect size and shape for making my Have-a-Heart Necklaces, which are now a prominent piece in my production line.
Barbie is a lot more varied than people assume. There is quite a lot of difference in skin tones, body styles, hair colors and facial features as well. Itʼs interesting however, that when we think of “Barbie: the icon” an image of blonde hair and blue eyes is what comes to mind.
DG: When talking about your work, you mention the vast impact that Barbie has had on our society. What do you think is the most important impact Barbie has had over the last 50 years? Do you think her impact has been more positive or negative?
The most important impact she has had has probably been on the millions of little girls who have been drawn to Barbie as a way to understand, what is to them, a very abstract notion of “Womanhood.” Barbie is very unlike us as little girls, and yet under our complete control to manipulate and project onto her “adult-hood” in whatever way we wish. There is enormous power in that type of imaginary play.
However, thatʼs not to say thereʼs nothing to examine regarding Barbie as an ideology. Barbieʼs life of excess has certainly had its negative implications. Particularly the dollʼs emphasis on materialism, beauty, and fashion. We are a nation obsessed with beauty and youth, and Barbie is a direct reflection of our cultural impulses in this way. Plastic and forever youthful, she remains relevant and in-vogue. With each generation, she is re-invented as we see fit to define her. I wouldnʼt be surprised if she sticks around for another 50 years because of this.
Barbie is the most beloved and maligned of playthings. Rarely do we feel indifferent about her. I think the urge to destroy Barbie comes from this polarization. To some, she represents oppression in the form of unattainable perfection and unrealistic beauty standards. Thereʼs something cathartic about deconstructing a symbol of those ideals.
At times, my work has dealt with utilizing the doll as an archetype for critiquing beauty, materialism, and prescribed gender roles often associated with women in our society. Sometimes I aim to distance myself and critically evaluate pop culture in this way, and other times I wish to engage and participate in it. Much like my own experience with womanhood as a feminist: a series of rejecting and embracing.
The Plastic Body Series is sought after by Art Jewelry collectors, Barbie nostalgics, and bold individuals who arenʼt afraid to wear jewelry that sparks a conversation. Some people respond to its humor and think itʼs clever and fun, or it feeds a sense of nostalgia for them. Some wear it as a feminist statement and others simply appreciate it because itʼs bizarre and unique.
I love that everyone brings his or her own baggage and reaction to the work. Itʼs indicative of their own relationship with, or feelings about the icon, as well as how an individual defines wearable jewelry. My goal has been to create Art that a broad range of people can relate to and I feel Iʼve been successful with this.
A background in fine Art gave me the foundation necessary for conceptual exploration in my jewelry work, however, it is my personal connection with Barbie that I credit for the success of this series. It's ironic that what I adored as a child has become the focus of my career as an adult.
ML: I acquire all the dolls as second-hand objects; usually from yard sales, thrift stores, and Ebay. I also have a few friends across the country that are always on the lookout for me. I have thousands of “previously owned” Barbie dolls and parts in my studio from which to choose. It’s important to me that the dolls have had a previous life in the hands of a child. It's a crucial part of the story, the love, and the conceptual basis for the work. I also really like the idea that the dolls are being repurposed after they’re discarded and are contributing to Art, not landfills.
The DG Dozen
1) How do you define glamour?
Glamour is something or someone that exudes a particular allure, an air of confidence, style, uniqueness, distinction, beauty, and grace.
2) Who or what is your glamorous icon?
Besides Barbie? My grandmother was always very glamourous to me growing up. For instance, she would never dream of putting a carton of milk on the table as is, it always went into a “proper” carafe or something first. This seemed very glamorous to me.
3) Is glamour a luxury or a necessity? Luxury.
4) Favorite glamorous movie? I canʼt think of any... I tend to like horror flicks and indie films. Amelie is a favorite movie of mine, and glamorous in its own unique way I think, perhaps because itʼs French.
5) What was your most glamorous moment? My first New York gallery exhibition at Julie Artisansʼ Gallery on Madison Ave.
6) Favorite glamorous object (car, accessory, electronic gadget, etc.)?
My engagement ring! Itʼs made with raw diamonds and yellow gold. Itʼs totally glamorous because thereʼs a big cluster of diamonds on the top and yet because raw diamonds look rough when theyʼre not faceted, it feels humble at the same time, almost like large grains of sparkling sand. Itʼs so unusual, and so me, I just love it.
7) Most glamorous place? Mendocino, California. I went there with my fiancé and we stayed in this amazing bed & breakfast overlooking the ocean. It was incredibly romantic and glamorous for us!
8) Most glamorous job?
Oh dear, I could provide you with a very long list of all the non-glamorous jobs Iʼve had! Picking the most glamorous is a bit harder. I guess Iʼd have to say that being a self-employed artist has been the most glamorous. Even though itʼs difficult at times, I love what I do and I know Iʼm really fortunate to be able to pursue my passion full time.
9) Something or someone that other people find glamorous and you donʼt? Smoking. Yuck!
10) Something or someone that you find glamorous whose glamour is unrecognized? A jewelry artist who is also a dear friend of mine, Kate Cusack: www.katecusack.com
11) Can glamour survive? I think there will always be glamour, although I think the way each generation defines it will continue to shift and change.
12) Is glamour something you're born with? No, of course not. All weʼre born with is our birthday suit!
[Jewelry photos © Margaux Lange. Margaux Lange portrait © David Balogh.]