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The uncanny valley

This is an ongoing collection of paired-porcelin busts – one a boy and one a girl. I am not the creator of the busts nor have I decorated them. I am merely the collector, buying the heads when they cross my path. Currently, the collection consists of ten pairs. 

The busts are a creation of Holland Molds, based in the United States of America. Customers purchase the molds bare and paint/glaze the exterior anyway they see fit. This activity was in vogue in the late 1980s and 1990s in North America and Europe. Nowadays, these molds are mostly found in thrift stores. This is where I am found the first pair. 

For many years, I called them John and Jane – in reference to the naming of unidentified corpses in crime scenes. After collecting a few more pairs, however, naming became more complicated. Some of the pairs do not have human-like features painted on them, but are rather glazed in opal or metallic tones, not distinguishing the eyes, lips, nor lips.

I began to wonder why I named the busts in the first place. I normally would not name inanimate objects, like a chair or table. Yet when interacting with these human-like objects, my first reaction was to name it. A greeting, in a way.

The “uncanny valley” is a characteristic dip in emotional response that happens when we encounter an entity that is almost, but not quite, human. [When the entities] are close to, but not quite, human, people developed a sense of unease and discomfort. If human-likeness increased beyond this point, and they became very close to human, the emotional response returned to being positive. It is this distinctive dip in the relationship between human-likeness and emotional response that is called the uncanny valley.
— Stephanie Lay, Journalist for the Guardian

When we see or are in the presence of a human-like inanimate object, we cannot help but see ourselves. They are our doppelgängers. There’s a fear that we are the imperfect version of humans, while they are the future. We will die, and they will last forever.