(In)/Animate Objects

A mountain of decaying rag dolls towers to the ceiling, upon which their maker, the grandmother, presides from the throne of her wingback chair.


From the 2016 COLA catalog:

(In)/Animate Objects is the second half of a diptych on the relational world of De Lellis’s fictional protagonist Andrea Lowe, an “objectum sexual” (a real psychological phenomenon in which a person develops romantic and sexual feelings for inanimate objects).

Its companion piece, Object of Her Affection, is a solo puppetry performance that charts Andrea’s relationship history, from losing her virginity to a hunting rifle as an adolescent, to successive heartbreaks with a series of landmark statues, buildings, and bridges, until a final fatal encounter with a crumbling urban tenement.

In the original iteration of the installation, years have passed since Andrea fell from Roy, a crumbling tenement she was in love with. In sorrow, her grandmother has amassed thousands of rag dolls that testify to the insatiable need for love at the heart of the obsessional life.

  • Marsian De Lellis, (In)/Animate Objects, 2016, Photo: Alex Griffin


When I tasked myself to create over a thousand handmade decaying rag dolls, it wasn’t long before a pop-up community of helpers formed not only here in Los Angeles or there in Connecticut, but beyond in Louisville, Brooklyn, Boston, Providence, and even as far as Amsterdam.

Our process appropriated aspects of quilting bees: As our hands collectively stitched irregularities, our minds contemplated the contagion of identity: a repetition of a repetition for which there is no original.

I have gone to great lengths to simulate the wear and tear of actual deterioration processes: the dolls have been oven-baked, burned, singed, stained, sanded, scraped, buried in dirt underground for prolonged periods, run over by a friend’s PT Cruiser, left in the sun, and treated with chemical agents – evidence that they have been used.

Since the initial installation, I have exhibited the dolls in multiple formats: stitched together on a rectilinear slab, exposed on a wall grids, piled one on top of another, and entombed in a glass display case.





(In)/Animate Objects was made possible with funding from the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and through fabrication and assistance from numerous individuals.