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Living doll 

Barbie has been used so often as an artistic muse and fantasy appliance, it seemed like she had nothing more to say -- that her symbolic critique in the service of feminism had been maxed out.

Recent Georgia State MFA graduate Sheila Pree's work, however, suggests that Barbie has more to teach us about a notion of perfection etched into the mind's eye, which mingles the plastic and the flesh, the real and the ideal.

In large 24-by-30-inch color photographs and a series of smaller works, Pree juxtaposes Barbie's plastic flesh and real, human models to create digitally altered hybrids of the fake and the genuine. The hook in Pree's Plastic Bodies series is what different effects can be created from that core concept. In one image, a real woman's eye and lips are placed beside Barbie's to create a chilling Stepfordian commentary -- the Barbie eye has a painted-on sparkle to replicate the sentient glow of a real human being, but it's the dark, glistening human eye that suggests some things can't be imitated, try as we might.

In other works, a kind of droll, subtle humor emerges from a perfect doll face onto which Pree has placed parted lips that reveal crooked-teeth. Other works create a dark commentary by presenting the fashion-forward glamour of Barbie in one image, which is then placed next to an image of Barbie's rear view -- complete with seams in her ersatz skin and a trademark (c)1999 stamped into her "flesh." Those "imprinted" rear views have eerie associations with future shock literature, the tattoos given to Holocaust victims and a pernicious kind of corporate branding. And by using "multicultural" Barbies in her photographs, Pree also subtly mocks the notion of "diversity" implied in Barbies created with darker skin or eyes with a barely perceptible exotic tilt. Rather than the political advancement suggested by a more rainbow-hued Mattel, such diversity perhaps only indicates a corporate desire to use ethnicity and culture to sell products that reinforce the same ugly values for all.


Sheila Prees' Plastic Bodies runs through June 11 at Kubatana Moderne, 1831 Peachtree Road. Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. 404-355-5764.

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