311: Plastic art: Food chain Barbie (Friday 2 July 2004)

Food chain Barbie (Friday 2 July 2004)

compiled by Isobel Harbison

From the series Food Chain Barbie by Tom Forsythe, first shown in the 313 Gallery, New York, 1999. Image held here .

A court ruling earlier this week has demanded that Mattel, the company responsable for manifacturing the world's most plastic blonde, pay all legal fees and court costs of the Canadian based artist Tom Forsythe incurred during the long legal dispute between the two parties. The artist has been defending his work from the doll manufacturers since 1999, who claim that by photographing the dolls in sexually provocative positions he is breaking copyright laws and causing terrible publicity for the company.
Forsythe claims, "I wasn't expecting this work to even be that controversial. It started out as a riff on plasticisation, on crass consumerism, but when I started to work with the doll I added the dimension of the impossible beauty myth." The images contain Barbie, seated or wedged into common consumer items. More controversial images include Food chain Barbie , where the voiceless blonde was wrapped in a tortilla, covered in sauce and placed in an oven. Other images reveal the plastic doll being skewered, launched into a toaster or posing naked on top of various kitchen appliances. Forsythe claims that his intentions were to highlight society's "materialistic and gender oppressive values."
Mattel, who lost their case in 1999, then lost their subsequent appeal in December 2003, have been ordered to pay Forsythe $1.8 million. They are considering a second appeal in the hope of defending Barbie's dignity, and the company's copyright.
2004 has proved to be a difficult year for Barbie, not only due to these ongoing legal disputes. Sales have fallen 15% already in 2004 and she recently separated from her partner of 43 years, Ken. On the other hand Forsythe is in much better form, claiming that he is "amazed and ecstatic" at the ruling, and believes that he has "set a new standard for the ability to criticise popular brands and do so without the fear of being sued."