Recent Updates & Announcements

Compilation of Excerpts (2005–2023)
all artworks by Amber Hawk Swanson, collaborators listed in the project links below, compilation edited by Renato Velarde

Winter 2023–24

My practice began with Feminism? Project (2004–2006), ten scripted video performances based on my interviews with white women in Iowa—including family members and former sorority sisters—who evidenced a lack of awareness about or rejection of feminism. Mimicking amateur pornography, my performances of their raw responses intoned in a valley-girl voice became flip one-liners and ironic ramblings that simultaneously functioned as a set of open questions about feminism and pornography. 

In 2013, I expanded the project to explore white feminism’s erotics and problematics in a different way with artist Xandra Ibarra for a video entitled Untitled Fucking. Through queer sexual vocabulary of topping and bottoming, we staged the complicated interplay between the performance of white feminism and feminisms of color.

Inspired after frequenting an online forum for iDollators, I commissioned a silicone Doll in my likeness. Amber Doll Project (2005–2011) became a lived performance with multiple categories of output including documenting my process of leaving her unattended and allowing the public to interact with her—often violently—without interference.

From 2011–2017, I created sculptures during livestreamed durational performances for the iDollator community, creating space for conversations through the teaching and learning of gendered skills as applied to idiosyncratic tasks.

Beginning in 2020, I collaborated with iDollator Davecat and his roboticized silicone spouse Sidore on a multi-faceted talk show, The Harmony Show (THS), a durational performance and social mode of study that explores sexual racism as well as how Dolls are racialized by those who market them and those who live with them.

Compilation of Excerpts (2005–2023) includes excerpts from the following, in order of appearance:

Feminism? Project,(2005–2006)
Making-of Amber Doll, (2006–2007)
Wedding Reception, Tailgate, Girls Gone Wild, Pinball, and Rollerskate from the Amber Doll Project,(2005–2011)
Amber Doll > TILIKUM,(2011)
Online Comments,(2012)
Dollstock / Dollpile,(2013–2014)
Sidore (Mark II) Heather > LOLITA,(2013)
Untitled Fucking,(2013)
a collaboration with artist Xandra Ibarra
Doll Closet,(2014)
The Harmony Show,(begun 2020, produced 2021–present)

Who Speaks for the Oceans?
installation images of Amber Doll > TILIKUM and Sidore (Mark II) / Heather > LOLITA at the Tarble Art Center, photographs by E. G. Schempf

Fall 2023

Amber Doll > TILIKUM (2011), TILIKUM: Berufjörður and TILIKUM: SeaWorld (2012 & 2013), Sidore (Mark II) / Heather > LOLITA (2013), and LOLITA: Penn Cove (2017) were all included in the traveling exhibition Who Speaks for the Oceans? at the Tarble Art Center—organized by Director and Chief Curator Jennifer Seas as well as by Alaina Claire Feldman, Director and Curator of Mishkin Gallery (Baruch College) and David Gruber, Distinguished Professor of Biology and Environmental Sciences (Baruch College).

The exhibition opened September 22, 2023–January 27, 2024 and featured work by Joan Jonas, Miho Hatori, Ant Farm, Ursula Biemann, Myrlande Constant, Jacques Cousteau and Louis Malle, among others. Hawk Swanson gave the 2023 Camille Campo Lecture in conjunction with the exhibition and in partnership with Eastern Illinois University's Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program.

Dollstock / Dollpile, 2014
Photograph by Amber Hawk Swanson and Renato Velarde

Summer 2023

My earliest performance works (2005–2011) directly engaged sexual violence and misogyny in performances that involved imaging myself in overtly sexual ways. The works were decidedly queer and feminist and were scaffolded by scholarly research, yet they were often dismissed as shock art and misinterpreted as antifeminist.

These dismissals and misinterpretations increased after a 2007 article featuring a component of my Amber Doll Project—one involving my process of archiving cinematic rape scenes and shopping for the equivalent costumes worn by the victims at the fast fashion retailer Forever21—went viral. Unrelated Amber Doll videos received more than sixty-one million views. The online version of the article received a large number of anonymous comments and was reposted on a number of blogs, increasing the number of comments.

I was startled by the aggressiveness and pervasiveness of these comments. My intelligence, appearance, fatness, mental health, and trauma history were speculated upon and brutally scrutinized and ridiculed. Many of the comments projected violence upon the site of my body; the article provoked a desire to sensationalize, fetishize, and debase my project and my person. Though the publisher of the article has since deindexed it, the experience of going viral has had a lasting impact on how my work has been perceived.

After experiencing viral articles, cyberbullying, and stalking early in my career, in 2011, I reframed my work’s power to draw large anonymous online audiences by creating durational livestream performances involving life-sized silicone Dolls and the iDollator community. I twice disassembled Dolls—including Amber Doll—using their disarticulated bodies to construct replicas of captive orcas like Lolita, then the oldest orca in captivity. Sidore Mark II / Heather > LOLITA (2013) drew an online audience of 47,000. Often alone in my studio, I drew on my experience as a live on-air radio host/producer to punctuate my livestreams with call-in interviews and readings.

Now, reflecting on my work a decade after LOLITA, after using livestream as the primary platform for my work for twelve years, I find myself in a moment of cultural interest in the hybrid experiences I have long created. As many nondisabled people seek to contextualize the time they spent on Zoom during 2020–2021, and as many disabled people assert their need for accessible virtual and hybrid events, I am interested in mounting more hybrid experiences of my current project, The Harmony Show (2020–present)—a durational performance and social mode of study that explores sexual racism as well as how Dolls are racialized by those who market them and those who live with them.

I also find myself in a moment of shifting levels of acceptance for work exploring and depicting queer sex. At a moment of dire need for health insurance following a spinal condition diagnosis in 2016–2017, I removed web documentation of my explicit work in an effort to appear uncomplicatedly hireable. Unfortunately, doing so removed important context for my larger body of work, resulting in missed opportunities to take part in conversations emerging from the mainstreaming of the MeToo movement.

In preparation for the creation of a new, roboticized Amber Doll with whom I will make collaborative artworks—including for The Harmony Show, during Summer 2023 I added documentation back to the following sections of this site:

Feminism? Project, 2005–2006 and 2013
Amber Doll Project, 2005–2011
TILIKUM: Pinup, 2012
Untitled Fucking, 2013
Dollstock / Dollpile, 2013–2017

I have additionally added documentation of my current project, The Harmony Show, (begun 2020, produced 2021–present).

Untitled Fucking, a collaboration between Amber Hawk Swanson and Xandra Ibarra, 2013

TILIKUM: Pinup, 2012

What People Went Through to Get to Where They Are Today from Feminism? Project, 2005–2006

Prior to 2023
For updates prior to 2023, visit Hawk Swanson’s CV here.