Interview with Yurei

Some questions about how Little Apple Dolls came to be, are best answered in the following interview, which first appeared in Lee's Toy Mag in 2005.

 

Lee's Toy Mag - INTERVIEW with Ufuoma Urie 

What compelled you to create the Little Apple Dolls?

As with most creations- the dolls were accidental. Throughout my practice at art college I had been creating photographic works that explored etiological and cosmogonic myths on a very basic level i.e. taking core elements and watering them down. I was also interested in representations of the human form i.e. rag dolls, mannequins, puppets, automatons, figurative ornaments simply for the fact that they were trying to imitate the human form but never quite could. There are numerous examples that testify.
Conventional blonde hair and blue eyed dolls in particular had always seemed strange to me- they evoked a certain type of eeriness that I could never quite put my finger on. As a result I began to look closely at what typified the monstrous and the dialectic of fear. I found that a seemingly average face can be rendered monstrous by altering or distorting one facial feature. I decided to test that hypothesis by making a doll of my own and the first doll was created. At the same time I was composing these narratives that had a heavy reference to Christian texts with an anthropomorphic apple as a hero/savior/sacrifice in stories about preserving the lives of apples and risking all to do so or going on a life altering journey only to face death yet be reborn again. I wrote a story, then made an installation where the apples, possessing other worldly powers, created life from the earth. A few reworkings later Little Apples Dolls were born.


Describe the "In Between Place."

The Inbetween Place, is a metaphor for several themes that run throughout the stories. i.e inbetween life and death, dark and light, consciousness and sub consciousness, the real and the fantastic. In the story of Sine which will appear on the website shortly: The Inbetween Place is closer to a type of limbo where the children find themselves if in life, their lives had been taken unnaturally, someone else was responsible for their death, or they had contracted a life threatening disease. I imagine it to be a place where the ѮormalѠrules do not apply. The children are without voices so they communicate in sounds i.e. cat wails and rustling leaves; their eyes are hollow or sealed shut and they wander oblivious to the place in which they now inhabit. It can be a whole plethora of things- a moonlit lake or a desolate desert landscape but most of all a place where negative energies/forces that exist in life can still affect the children although they are meant to be resting. Hence in the stories their need for protection. Before Sine arrives The Inbetween is a place akin to your typical underworld- it is Sine who brings hope to the lost souls. The Wandering Wood which features in all the stories is the gateway to this place between worlds.


Except for the clothing, all the Little Apple Dolls look identical, even though they have different names.  Why is this?

When I write the stories I imagine my protagonists, prior to entering the Inbetween Place, to look like human children. They undergo a transformation once embarking on this journey to the other realm accompanied by Little Apple Red and/or Sine because they are no longer of this world.They are neither dead (skeletal) nor alive (foetal). At these stages of existence I imagine in some respects, we all look the same.


Little Apple Dolls have a classic Japanese aesthetic (Noh, Oni, Bunraku influence?), names from Greek mythology, like Circe, and western science, like the shadowy Umbrae and the lonely sounding Sine (without?); and the clothing style is very gothic.  And there's a heavy Latin (the living dead language) drapery to your web site.  What accounts for this blend? 

Not sure that there is a simple straightforward answer to this: all I can say is it is the nature of postmodernism and post modern art to flaunt a patchwork of all its influences from various sources of popular culture or high art. Admittedly the  gothic clothing style is an unconscious decision. For a long time the dolls were nameless. Sine was known as the white doll and Circe- the witch. My father was a speaker of Latin and after his passing I decided to name the dolls in his honor. As far as I know his generation was the last to learn the language before it was officially removed from African high school and college curriculums. The sources of the references seem to be forgotten areas of literature, language and art but these are the things that interest me the most. I am fortunate to have been exposed to so many aspects of high culture and am always fed by it. There is definitely a symbiotic process happening here!!! It is an important part of my heritage to preserve tradition and culture through storytelling which is why interweaving mythologies, retelling fairytales and sometimes creating anew has become an important part of Little Apple Dolls. 

Do you foresee an expansion to a more Western aesthetic in terms of the child spirits (different masks, hair), or will the look of the child spirits always remain Japanese?

There are plans for variations on the Japanese aesthetic. This is still under development. "Western" style dolls do exist on the website.

 

Little Apple Red is an interesting "character" in and of itself, and the central one of the Little Apple Dolls.  What does the apple represent?

The apple stories have undergone various re-writes but one aspect that always features is the outward difference from ordinary apples. I suppose its representation is ambiguous. There are obvious connotations of the forbidden fruit in Judea- Christian texts here. I had always interpreted the apple or the fruit or the tree itself possessing omniscient knowledge about the world. Eating from this would give man that same wisdom and so the story goesȢut what if man simply asked the apple or the tree instead of being submitting to temptation and taking the knowledge. What if the apple became a companion, an advisor, manԳ consciousness that sat alongside him in the shape of this apple- (again this is me expressing a different take on things. It comes from a pagan philosophy about everything {even inanimate objects} possessing an energy and being able to communicate thought.)

 

What's the symbology of pins in the In Between Place?  Where does that come from?  What cultural roots, if any, are you tapping there?  It reminds me of Strega (Italian witchcraft) and the practice of putting pins in lemons.  What exactly is the Little Apple protecting the spirits of these children from?

Oddly enough, there is no specific cultural reference for the pins- although there is a shared opinion that the dolls and symbols used within the art relate to voodoo and occultism. In the stories, once the apples had been "changed" something was needed to differentiate them from ordinary apples and stop them from being consumed. I had heard of the pranks involving razorblades and apples common during Halloween and decided to play on this disturbing image. The notion of apocalyptic beauty and abject aesthetics is something that has been commonplace in the work. The image of the pin-cushion apple is another inbetween- it lies on the border between attraction and repulsion. We are compelled to look because it is an object from the everyday but it has been maimed somehow in a way that is unfamiliar to us and may become unsettling. The pins represented a way to show that these inanimate protectors were marked and chosen for a "greater" purpose to those who needed them but outside of the Inbetween Place they are simply misunderstood, untouchable objects. 
Little Apple Red is the children's eyes and ears. The Inbetween Place is supposed to be a place of refuge for the wandering souls but "evil" forces are still at work i.e.  black creatures; soul catcher's who fly above and hunt the children like prey. In some of the stories life failed the children- they were misled and damaged by circumstances they were born into. Little Apple Red ensures that they do not continue to suffer the same fate.

Questions devised by James A. Tomlinson
Managing Editor
Lee Publications