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Alice Anderson


Bobbin made of wood and copper thread

345 x 248 x 248 cm
How do we remember? What is the shifting relevance of the physical world in a society increasingly part of a digital one? Alice Anderson meditates upon the loss of the tangible, weaving items in copper threads to create ‘recorded objects’, ossifying the formal qualities of the things that lie disregarded around us through a ritualistic process. The material of copper speaks to the computational world that it has enabled through its transference of energy and information, Anderson also relates it to the neural transmission of information across our own organism, a gesture of connection and communication that is borne out in the very process of her artwork’s process which is sometimes undertaken by teams of volunteers.
Alice Anderson
181 Kilometers


Sculpture made after performances, copper thread

200 cm (diameter)
The work 181 kilometres, commissioned especially for the Saatchi Gallery, bears testament to the intensely physical activity of sculptures. Anderson walked 181 kilometres to ’spun’ an entire sphere with copper thread that took days to create, allowing the artist to enter an almost Zen like meditative state of concentration and choreography. As the artist herself explains: The first works that I’ve done involved performances. Since the beginning I’ve experienced my body through movement and today the wire is for me an extension of it. The sculpture Bound was conceived in 2011 alongside is a body of work made for the Freud Museum in London, and references a game Sigmund would play with his young grandson in order to calm what Freud saw as his anxiety of his mothers’ absence. As part of the game he would throw a bobbin and bring it back over the edge of the cot with a string, (Fort – gone, Da – there in German).

© Natasha Hoare, 2015


Alice Anderson: Memory Movement Memory Objects review – a simple enchantment
26 July 2015, by Laura Cumming, The Guardian

The tale is told of a certain Frenchwoman who believed that her husband and children were impostors. Madame M was convinced that her real family had been kidnapped and replaced by a group of cunning lookalikes who were trying to defraud her. Every day, her husband’s hair looked slightly different, his moustache had grown a fraction or her children’s hair was newly styled.

“You can see it in the details,” she explained.

The Capgras delusion – named after the psychiatrist who treated Madame M – is a collapse of both emotional and visual recognition. One fails to prompt the other and vice versa; though exactly how, or in which order, is not yet fully understood. But this mysterious relationship, which governs our lives, is surely at the heart of Alice Anderson’s compelling new show at the Wellcome Collection: what’s familiar to all of us, and ought to be easily recognised, is suddenly not.

A host of objects on spotlit plinths glow in the sepulchral darkness. Each strikes the eye first as an abstract form – cone, cube or sphere, or some combination thereof – before it momentarily resolves into something recognisable. The outsize book is in fact a laptop; the heart-shaped form is a pair of scissors; the miniature radio telescope is a tiny light bulb (serendipitous connection). The transformations are more or less dramatic, but Anderson’s method is unvaryingly simple, not to say primitive: each object has been wound about, over and again, with fine copper wire.

A series of keys becomes heavy, precious, strangely Elizabethan in appearance. A hammer resembles a golden tusk. The knob of a toaster turns into a shining ear, and an old-fashioned Bakelite telephone assumes the shape of an animal’s head (Disney’s Mickey Mouse comes to mind) so that a device for hearing looks as if it might actually be listening. The objects shift category and genre.

Anyone could do it, of course, and plenty of artists have. The wrapping of objects goes back to the dawn of modernism – think of Man Ray’s surrealist sewing machine, Christo’s wrapped buildings, Joseph Beuys’s own body, parcelled up in felt. Even the twining of objects isn’t new. In 2003, Cornelia Parker wound Rodin’s statue The Kiss in a mile of string, shrouding the lovers’ faces and rendering the nature of their embrace anxiously ambiguous. But Anderson’s action (at least that seems the word for it) involves weaving about the studio – while weaving about the object – with her spooling thread.

Films show her in performance, circling a vast globe like a dancer, or feeding out these all but invisible lines round canvases and sheets of paper, as if she were simultaneously drawing and casting a spell.

A ring of upright canvases at the Wellcome Collection looks like coruscating Rothkos, their surfaces glittering as if incised by the blades of ice skates. A bicycle helmet is transformed into a sleek 60s Mary Quant bob. Anderson gets a huge variety of marks and forms from her copper wire – objects are burnished or etched, acquire bulk, weight or softness, appear molten, mummified, blurred or estranged.

And anyone familiar with the work of this French-English artist (born 1972) will immediately notice the resemblance between this copper wire and Anderson’s beautiful hair, source of the early works with which she found fame. Anderson sent curtains of red hair, Rapunzel-like, down the walls of the Royal Opera House, through the windows of the Riflemaker Gallery and round the tower of Frank Gehry’s Cinémathèque Française in Paris. She has fashioned hair into ropes, prisons and cots and wound it round the Freud Museum in 2011, probing at the intense claustrophobia of Freud’s former home (Housebound was the work’s title).

Objects are burnished or etched, acquire bulk, weight or softness, appear molten, mummified, blurred or estranged
One might therefore deduce that these recent weavings are in part autobiographical. And sure enough, Anderson speaks of idly winding copper wire round her video camera one day (she used to be a film-maker) until the object was preserved for posterity and yet almost unrecognisable.

This show is a pharaonic tomb of gleaming relics – the ill-considered trifles of daily life copper-bound forever. The sound of Anderson and her colleagues at work with their spools – somewhere between ping-pong and a treadle sewing machine – relays from speakers that are, in turn, muffled and bound. But you can do it too: visitors are invited to weave their way round a derelict Mustang in the opening gallery. It’s surprising how soon the palaver turns into peaceful ritual.

The transformations aren’t always magical. A suitcase remains a suitcase (like shrink-wrapped airport luggage, in fact), and coins just grow bigger. But there is a simple enchantment in seeing a ladder become a Mondrian and a brush a spindly Giacometti. Best of all are two tiny chairs, one sitting, the other reclining in the spotlight, which naturally invoke sunbathing figures. It takes a few moments to understand that they are old-fashioned flip-top mobiles.

How do we sense this? How does recognition occur? Anderson may not know, any more than the psychiatrist who treated Madame M, but her works go straight to this extraordinarily human capacity, isolating the moment when new perceptions meet old memories to produce a sudden understanding of what we see in our world.

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Alice Anderson, Wellcome Collection
24 July 2015, by Sarah Kent,The Arts Desk

A flight of golden stairs gleams seductively under the spot lights; free of architectural constraints, it serves no practical purpose other than to encourage the mind to wander and perhaps to imagine it as the stairway to heaven. The beauty, simplicity and purity of the structure promise a trouble free ascent to astral spheres; one can almost hear the strings of angelic harps twanging celestial harmonies up above.
Wound round the treads, miles of fine copper wire clarify rather than conceal the form; while evidently remaining a staircase, Alice Anderson’s Stairs, 2014, transcends its quotidian origins to become a sculpture, a physical object that gains its meaning from the realm of metaphor – through the viewer’s mental rather than physical engagement with it.
Jars, 2012, a stack of conical vases bound in copper wire, is similarly beguiling. Referring to modernist sculpture rather than to architecture, the work echoes Brancusi’s famous Endless Column, 1938, a towering stack of identical units considered the finest outdoor sculpture the of 20th century. If Brancusi’s column commemorates the Romanian soldiers who died in World War One, Anderson’s work is also about memory and the rituals we use to bind things to us.

Canoe, 2013, is the most compelling example. Cocooned in copper wire, the mummified canoe reminds one of the vessels in which the dead were sometimes buried in the past and of the belief common to many cultures that the deceased are ferried to a final resting place across infernal waters, such as the river Styx. The focused concentration required to encase the boat in wire reminds one of a funerary ritual, especially as wrapping the object removes it from the realm of the everyday and propels it into the domain of memory.
For years now, Anderson has been obsessively wrapping things, at first in auburn hair and, more recently, in copper wire. Using wire is an interesting alternative to casting mundane objects, including staircases, in plaster (as Rachel Whiteread has done since the late 1980s) or in bronze (as numerous artists including Gavin Turk and Tracey Emin have done since the 1990s). But wrapping is significantly different from casting. Rather than elevating an insignificant object, like a pipe or bin liner (Turk) or a child’s sock and mitten (Emin), into an artwork through a process which destroys the original, wrapping preserves the item while removing it from ordinary usage.
How to chose what to wrap up, though? The ancient Egyptians and Chinese were laid to rest with things that would ease their entry into the afterlife and provide comfort in the hereafter. This could mean anything from horses, carriages and slaves to jewellery, clothing, money, food and precious herbs or spices.
A coke bottle is among the items chosen by Anderson. Its distinctive shape makes it immediately recognisable and, wrapped in copper wire, it gleams with promise – a reminder of the power of global marketing that has become lodged in our collective memory bank as an icon of consumerism. The galleries are filled with things and, while the laptop, video camera and plasma screen have clearly been chosen to represent our moment in history, others – from a tagine pot, to glasses, paint tubes, a pair of binoculars, batteries, a radio, telephone, slide projector, bicycle, stethoscope, pipe, toaster and globe – could have been selected at random.
And once the mummified shapes have been identified, they don’t necessarily resonate beyond the moment of recognition. This is especially true of assemblages in which bones and Apple Mac plugs or a hoover, fax machine, telephone and vinyl discs have been united by copper wire into weird hybrids. As soon as the ingredients have been identified, one’s interest dwindles.

The Bull’s Head, famously made by Picasso in 1942 from a bicycle saddle and handle bars, remains a delight because the dual identity foisted on the objects – as bicycle parts and a head with horns – is so witty. Muffled in wire, Anderson’s elements fail to elicit a conversation between their old and new identities and so remain confused.
Some ruthless editing would improve the exhibition no end. But it is being promoted as a touchy-feely collaboration with the public. Viewers are invited to wrap up anything from a pair of high heels to a typewriter, laptop, clock, electric plug or 1967 Ford Mustang. The car may have some significance for the artist, but I can’t help feeling that a Jaguar, Mini or Rolls Royce would have been a more appropriate choice than a clapped out American banger.
The question that ultimately arises is whose memory is being served? Is Anderson celebrating collective experience – as in the staircase, canoe and coke bottle – or is she focusing on personal memories? Is she hoping to create icons that resonate with our time or quirky individual pieces whose meaning remains muffled and somewhat obscure? I’m not sure that she has decided yet.

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Alice Anderson's Childhood Rituals
October 2015, by Annabelle Gugnon, Artpress

Article in Artpress

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Alice Anderson at the Wellcome Collection review – a weird, wired world
17 July 2015, by Jonathan Jones, The Guardian

Their funeral wrappings glisten fierily in the spotlights that pick them out in a theatrically darkened space. All our yesterdays are here, the things we use and throw away, lost and found in spidery cocoons.

Alice Anderson wraps things in copper wire. It is a banal description of an art that gets some very curious and uncanny results.

This might be in a museum a thousand years in the future, dedicated to the strange artefacts of the 21st century. Why, archaeologists will ask, did the people of that time choose to mummify their old TV screens, obsolete telephones and loudspeakers? Was it a bizarre religious attempt to apologise for the culture of waste that was at that moment eating up the planet?

An electric guitar has been swathed over and over again, the thin thread, wrapped tighter and tighter, entirely containing the instrument so you can see its shape but, up close, cannot make out its strings or fretboard. In caring for it, Anderson has muffled it. This guitar will never wail another solo. Nor will the pipe she has swaddled in copper wire ever again be smoked. This is not a pipe – it is a mummy. It is a ghost.

Anderson is hardly the first artist to have wrapped up everyday objects. Wrapping is in fact a great modern tradition. Anderson’s guitar recalls the shamanistic German sculptor Joseph Beuys who wrapped a grand piano in grey felt – in both cases a musical instrument is swaddled and silenced. Wrapping is eerie, it is macabre. Rene Magritte portrayed lovers with their faces wrapped in deathly shrouds. Man Ray turned wrapping into into a recipe for sculpture as early as 1920 when he created L’Enigme d’Isidore Ducasse by covering a sewing machine with a blanket and tying it up with rope. The sewing machine is unrecognisable inside its swathing: the imagination plays darkly on what might be in there – a rock, a dog, a human torso?

So Alice Anderson is working in a tradition almost a century old when she conceals charger plugs, coins, a telescope, a kayak, spectacles and even a staircase in shrouds of wire. But her art is glutinous in the memory. The reason it works is because she takes the whole thing so stupendously seriously. This is passionate, obsessive, intensely concentrated work. The exhibition is huge. Just when you think she’s wrapped everything there is to wrap, she discovers something else, including human bones – real or fake, it is impossible to tell through the veiling wire.

This repetitive, primitive craft of preservation feels like the work of an outsider artist with no links with the conventional art world. It is not, of course. Anderson is no marginal outsider – she has exhibited at the Venice Biennale. But like the Facteur Cheval who built a palace in his back garden or Simon Rodia who built the Watts Towers in his yard out of wire and scrap, she seems to be pursuing a personal need, a compulsive drive. There is a cult-like quality to it all, the fetishistic mystery of modern supernatural totems. A tagine and a transistor radio, wrapped in wire, both take on the black magic of witches’ bottles or voodoo dolls.

Too much art that gets feted today is rationalistic, making an obvious political point or chewing dully over the legacy of conceptualism. Anderson though is a shaman, a tech age Beuys apprentice. She subjects ordinary stuff to a sea change, creating something rich and strange. Her art is not rational. It is incantatory and mystical. It is a weird – and wired – work of redemption. Visitors to this exhibition are invited to join in wrapping an entire 1967 Ford Mustang in copper wire. Will this collective ritual of mummification awaken the gods of mass production? Can things come to life if we love them and respect them as Anderson does?

Her spooky funeral rites for the modern world left me listening for the ghosts in all our machines.

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Alice Anderson's Childhood Rituals
15 April 2011, by Natasha Hoare, Dazed Digital

This spring twisted ropes of red hair will be wrapped around London’s Freud Museum in an installation by artist Alice Anderson. Renowned for her use of this material as an autobiographical reference to a troubled childhood spent between Algeria and France, Alice’s transformation of this landmark is a response to a ritualistic set of performances started in 2010. A new series of sculptures, fetish-like figures wrapped in red hair, will be on display inside the Museum. Playing on ideas of femininity and weaving, Alice’s work seeks to confront and confound Freud’s positioning of these concepts in psychoanalytic theory.
Dazed Digital: Your Childhood Rituals, soon to be staged at the Freud Museum is a continuation of performances you have been creating since 2010. Do you see this work as a climax to these performances?
Alice Anderson: The performances made in 2010 were re-playing the rituals that I used to do in my childhood - at least as I remember them… I was alone at home waiting for the return of my mother. Probably to calm my fears and my anxieties, I used to undo threads from the seams of my clothes, and wind them around parts of my body or other objects in the house. The Power Figures, which are going to be part of what I am showing at the Freud, are the result of the childhood rituals.
DD: You take the loom of Anna Freud as your starting point for the exhibition. What is the relevance of this?
Alice Anderson: We’ve found out that Freud stated once that the activity of weaving is a cover for ‘genital deficiency’! I wanted to embrace this so-called “feminine” activity of weaving… and subvert the Freudian associations of “genital deficiency” by creating a grid made of dolls’ hair.
There is an interesting conjunction of the masculine associations of the grid, with its claims to disembodied abstraction, with the corporeal, feminine associations of the dolls hair. In the same way that the hair subverts this patriarchal ‘seat’ of psychoanalysis as it is inserted into the context of the museum, so too does it problematise the formalist ideal of self-referentiality.
The mise en scene shows a Mother Doll working at the loom making a grid for her Daughter. Dolls hair is arranged geometrically like the rationality of the grid in a manner which is entirely new in my practice.
DD: What does red hair represent to you? Something autobiographical or totemic?
Alice Anderson: Red dolls hair refers to my childhood memories. More precisely they represent the moment when I started to use hair instead of thread in my childhood rituals. Today, the dolls hair that I am using, has been modeled on my own hair. Even though the hair is not literally my own, it still makes an intimate reference to my body. It is a kind of autobiographical “material”.
Hair represents a significant cultural role and it functions as an important signifier of gender and sexuality. When I produce an “architecture” in a space made of dolls hair, I am orchestrating an intimate gesture, which I present on a large scale.
DD: Your works are intensely personal, do they feel like extensions of yourself?
Alice Anderson: Yes that is why each piece functions as a world in itself. The works are based on my own existence (my own childhood memories) but endows my enquiry with universal significance. I’m getting to the point where I see how an autobiography can be fictional. Memory functions as the ‘master of fiction’ the act of remembering generates an imaginative and fictive account of the past. The conception of recollection does not operate along a linear or objective trajectory.

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Alice Anderson: Tressed For Success
Tuesday, 5 April 2011,by Alice Jones, The Independent

Today Alice Anderson's long red hair is held back from her face by two thick black clips, from which it ripples down her back, almost to her waist. An artist's hairstyle wouldn't normally merit comment, but for Anderson hair is not just a theme of her work, it forms the very building blocks of it. She's sent auburn curtains of it tumbling down the walls of the Royal Opera House and wound it around the towers of Frank Gehry's Cinematheque Francaise in Paris. Her installations choke whole galleries with burnished webs and plaits, flowing out of the fireplaces and cascading from the windows to the street below. Her smaller sculptures are made from the same material – bobbins wound with tresses rather than thread, ginger spider's webs and delicate human forms and nests spun from hair.
For her next three exhibitions, the 33-year-old artist will bind the façade of the Freud Museum with ropes of hair, fill the new All Visual Arts gallery with a giant, 4m-high cotton reel, wound with hair, and lead Latitude festival-goers deep into the woods with tangled hair trails on which they'll run across wax dolls, doppelgängers of their creator, sporting miniature versions of her fiery mane.
So it should come as no surprise that her tiny studio, at the end of an eerie corridor of lock-ups on Battersea's Lavender Hill, is filled, from top to bottom, with hair. It's not real hair, of course. Anderson ships it in by the boxload from a doll factory in China. She had a hard time at first explaining what a French/Algerian/ British artist living in London needed with mile upon mile of the stuff, and why it had to match her own hair colour, but they've reached an understanding now. "It's not too far off, is it?" she says, diving into a box headfirst to compare the synthetic bundle to a handful of her own hair.
It's not. In fact, it's scarily realistic, which provokes a visceral reaction in viewers. "People hate it or they love it," says Anderson. "Your brain recognises something real but then it thinks, 'that can't be possible'. What I like is that there is a real physical attraction – or repulsion. It's like my little capsules there," she gestures at a coffee table covered in what look like ginger fur balls. "It's like, 'Oof, what is that?' You don't know if you want to touch it or not."
For sure, these are no glossy L'Oréal locks. The hair is either tangled and scarily unbridled or, in her new works, twisted into prison bars or restricting ropes. As a material, it's rich in associations, calling to mind everyone from Lizzie Siddal to Louise Bourgeois via Rumpelstiltskin and Rapunzel. Anderson, inspired by Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch, prefers a darker narrative: she doesn't so much tell fairy tales, she twists them. Her 2007 film, Bluebeard, which showed at Tate Modern, had the princess sporting a blue beard and the prince – played by a girl – attached to his domineering mother by a cord. "I'm kind of against fairy tales. The story of a prince and a princess? Ridiculous," says Anderson. "For me, it's nonsense. On the other hand, anything to do with childhood, I use. I use a lot of toys."
Dolls are the other signature of Anderson's work, from an eerie death mask of her own face trapped in a bell jar to a film in which she turns into a wax doll. Anderson had the doll made by a sculptor at Madame Tussauds over two months of sittings which turned into an extended therapy session. "By the end I was saying very intimate things to this girl I didn't know," she says, unpacking a tiny 50cm clone in a red and blue dress from an old hat box. "It was bizarre, like going to the shrink. I swear I was ill for two weeks and all the time this doll was taking shape and getting stronger."
Appropriately enough, the doll is now the star of her upcoming show at the Freud Museum. Her first solo exhibition, it moves away from the free-flowing waterfalls of hair of previous installations to a more controlled, and controlling, set-up. Thousands of metres of hair, twisted into ropes, will creep over and grip the brickwork of the Freud family home in Hampstead, north London, like poison ivy. It's the first time the museum has allowed an artist to use the façade as part of an artwork. "They probably regret it now," laughs Anderson. "This is my fourth proposal. The others were too mad to get permission. I'm a bit like a child. I'm trying to push boundaries all the time." In a further act of irreverence, Anderson plans to place her scale model of the house, complete with hair creepers, at the heart of the museum – right in the middle of Sigmund Freud's famous couch.
Elsewhere, the building will be filled with all manner of strange objects – prone figures, fetishistically bound in thread, and barely-there spiders' webs lurking in the stairwells. The centrepiece will be the loom belonging to Anna Freud, the youngest daughter of the psychoanalyst, who lived in the house until she died in 1982. Perched amongst its bars will be a "mother" doll, spinning out skeins of red hair to trap a "daughter" doll into the corner of the room.
The idea of the exhibition comes, explains Anderson, from her childhood bad habit of picking at threads on her clothes and winding them around her wrist or other objects. "It was when I was alone, waiting for my mother to return, because she was constantly out of the house," she says. "It's a way of calming anxiety. Time is more bearable if you're doing it." As her nerves worsened, Anderson began to play with her own hair in the same way. The 4m-high bobbin, wound with glossy red hair, which fills a room at the newly opened AVA gallery in King's Cross, refers to the same absent-mother ritual.
Mothers – absent or otherwise – have been a constant of Anderson's work ever since her first film, Ma Mère, a quirky series of 20 mini-arguments between mother and daughter (both played by Anderson). Born in London to a French/Algerian mother and an English father – from whom she inherited the hair – Anderson returned to France aged three when her parents separated. For years, according to the artist, she was forbidden to talk about her father or even to speak English. When she was just 14 years old, her mother sent her to work as an au pair in New York.

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Alice Anderson and her looking glass
12, January, 2009, by Ben Lewis, Evening Standard

It is rare to find such precision and originality in the work of a contemporary artist as one does in the fragmented fairytales of Alice Anderson. The 33-year-old London-based French artist, who is instantly recognisable with her long red hair, has shown her films in the Tate and the Pompidou and last year held simultaneous exhibitions at a trio of national French museums, in which she laid out more than 3,000 metres of autobiographical red hair through all three spaces in a gigantic installation called Rapunzel.
In David Gryn’s temporary Knightsbridge gallery, she works to a more modest scale but to no less amazing effect. Upstairs there are a series of maquettes as delicate as they are extreme. A tiny self-portrait of a doll with long red hair lies face down at the bottom of a phallic cylinder of white leather punctured by hundreds of tiny white pins. At the base of another transparent glass cone lies another half-visible naked doll, shrouded in ghostly white cotton wool, on a bed of white quilt. Around the walls are drawings in blood, some of which are of medical instruments, while others appear abstractly sexual. Like her fellow French female artists Sophie Calle and Annette Messager, Anderson’s work is saturated in psychoanalytic reflections and carries an aura of unflinching self-examination. Her themes? The vulnerability and violence in the feminine psyche.
Downstairs you can see the latest of her short films of self-written fairy stories; the story of a girl searching for her name, who becomes a life-size doll in her father’s hands before herself destroying Barbie dolls in the likenesses of her parents. This is like video artist Matthew Barney meets minimal surrealist Robert Gober — only the miniature female version.

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In The studio with Alice Anderson
Thursday 25th February, 2010,by Helen Sumpter, Time Out

Flame-haired, French-born artist Alice Anderson makes sculptures, films and installations that relate to her own body, based on fictionalised memories of troubled childhood family relationships. Her exhibition 'Alice Anderson's Time Reversal', at Riflemaker Gallery from Mar 1-Apr 24 2010, includes two installations made with hundreds of metres of red doll's hair (the colour of the artist's own) and a new film 'The Night I Became a Doll' - a psychological narrative which explores notions of time and reality. Her studio is in Battersea.
Are there specific fairytale references in your use of hair, as in Rupunzel?
'There are, but only in the role of the witch, who has imprisoned Rapunzel in the tower and climbs up her long hair to feed her. Her hair functions like an umbilical cord, with the witch in this dual role as both jailer and mother figure. I'm not interested in the fairytale need for a charming prince to come to her rescue.'
Red hair is very striking. How do you feel about being ginger?
'I didn't really like it as a child but I feel fine about it now. It's interesting though how people either love it or hate it and that it has such powerful associations, such as being a witch or a prostitute.'

What about the spookily realistic doll of you, made by Madame Tussauds…
'She appears in the film and there will be a silicon mask of the doll's face, which is of course also my face, at Riflemaker. If I wear it you can see that it's the same face underneath. It suggests that there are layers of personalities, just as the film itself suggests layers of possible meanings.'

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