Unlike many one-time little girls, Mariel Clayton never gave up playing with her Barbies. Born in Durban, South Africa in 1980, Clayton is not a lackadaisical sufferer of Peter Pan Syndrome but a self-described “doll photographer with a subversive sense of humour.” Her portfolio, indeed worth a few warped chuckles, is built on eye-boggling dioramas which poke at contemporary lifestyles, relationships and stereotypes. By intricately piecing together and posing Barbie dolls and Japanese kawaii miniatures, Clayton creates scenes she describes as simultaneously meaningful and meaningless, vignettes of domestic life gone bad which probe the common perversions and disillusions which sometimes wind up consuming members of consumer cultures. Her images are deliberately left open to viewers’ vastly differing interpretations. Though dotted with more details than the eye can soak up at once, like a super adult Where’s Waldo page, the images can be likened to blank canvases in their openness to invented story lines. Onlookers’ individual, twisted responses are critical to Clayton’s practice, which in turn aim to cultivate critical thinking through silliness, astuteness and sporadic showers of obscenity.
Big ideas can be found in the smallest, weirdest of settings. Picture Barbie as a community college dropout, married to an abusive, cheating hoarder who will one day drive her towards booze, cigarette and painkiller habits, homicidal rage and, eventually, to end it all alone in the bathtub. Clayton perverts childhood memories, though in a cheerful way, and shows she’s comfortable with bloodstains speckled across things others strive so hard to keep pristine. She literally toys with accepted conceptions of innocence and maturity, of simulations, reality and secret lives. Combining the cutesy with the horrific, the private with the secretly spied on, Clayton crafts artificial realms that often provoke surprised sputters of quiet laugher. Do we laugh because we’re suddenly uncomfortable? Or because in the more clandestine corners of our minds, we’re totally identifying with the dependencies, laziness, sadness and plain gross humanness Clayton lays before us?
Take a peek below to see some of the big drama brewing inside Barbie’s Malibu Beach House. Like or despise them, Clayton’s images will be exactly what you want them to be, and will slyly remind you of your expectations of others’ behaviour. But before scoffing offhandedly at the perma-smiling inhabitants of Clayton’s cluttered, plasticised dimensions, pause to consider how you carry on behind the scenes.
Discover more of Mariel Clayton’s works at 5 Pieces Gallery