That the Barbie doll supposedly imparts an unattainable beauty ideal to young girls is by no means a novel brainchild. It should hardly come as surprise that Alina Mykal, the artist whose practice is closely bound with the politics of beauty, has a strong interest in Mattel's long-legged, blue-eyed toy. Mykal is also acutely informed on the feminist Barbie discourse, and on the so-called Barbie art (attempts to appropriate the Barbie imagery in contemporary artistic production). The starting point for her study was the strategy of temporary acceptance of the common sense, proposed by Naphthalene. What if Barbie does embody the feminine beauty ideal?
“I’m not a Barbie”, multimedia installation by Alina Mykal, includes an important dramatic component. The main discursive object, a panel with found images, is “blocked” by a computer table with a PC. There, by playing Barbie mini games, the viewer receives a preliminary dose of target iconography irradiation. Thus, the artist sets a sort of a soft order of movement in the installation space.
Using the found photo, video and textual materials, Mykal has created a semantically complex multimedia collage, manifesting the ambivalence of connections between a toy as a commercial product, its consumers and the doll-maker corporation on one hand, with a socially determined concept of beauty on the other. Stressing the futility of labeling Barbie as a kind of beauty matrix or an ideological bomb, the artist puts forward a paradoxical hypothesis that it’s not a doll which influences young girls, but, conversely, it is the society that drives the change in doll’s appearance (as well as its inner ideological content).
In this context it seems relevant to consider the obvious but often-forgotten fact that all Barbie dolls are hollow. The emptiness inside the doll alludes to the semiotic floating signifier, which means different things to different people. For this very reason the video in which the artist repeatedly utters “I am not a Barbie” can be read as a form of radical rejection of what was originally taken for granted.