Oh, Dolly!

INTERVIEW. The phenomenon that is Dolly Parton takes exhibition form at Bikini Berlin's 25hours Hotel, going on through July 21. While there may be a claim to kitsch about the country icon, eight Finnish artists show the 9-to-5er as transcendental.

Image for Oh, Dolly!
Photo by Jeffrey Keefe

Dolly Parton is no stranger in pop culture vernacular; her shellac-coated beehive ‘do has been her signature look since the 1960s and along with her yodel-ly love-ballads, it can give at first a sense of ultimate kitsch. But underneath all that hair lies real talent. In the wake of her July 6 show at O2 World, the talents of the more-than-just-hairspray diva are being combed through by eight Finnish artists using her character in an exhibition at Bikini Berlin’s 25Hours Hotel following successful stints in Helsinki and London. Fridey Mickel spoke with the co-curator Sampo Marjomaa and participating artist Mari Kasurinen to find out more about what drove them to the show. Catch it before the hair is gone on July 21.

It’s one thing to like Dolly Parton but it’s another to create a three-city exhibition as homage to her… 

SM: Dolly Parton has made people think throughout her career. She has a certain look, which people are drawn to: what should a country musician look like? Can she be covered in diamonds or does she have to look like a raggedy farm cat? I’ve always admired Dolly – I admire her songwriting, talent and genius, and all the media stuff that she has going on. Her character. 

We wanted it to be accessible and with this Dolly theme: thinking about the surface, what’s on the outside and what’s on the inside –it’s a big theme throughout her career, and it’s prevalent in the show.

Did the artists already have Dolly Parton pieces or were they commissioned?

SM: No they are all fresh pieces… The other artists weren’t so involved with her – it was interesting to see how they saw her and what their perspectives were. We hand-picked six people we really admired – we wanted the art to be fun and accessible, ambitious but not serious in a boring way. 

Why not work with artists who were more focused on her?

SM: That’s interesting in any kind of media. If you have a poodle fan, it can be weird because it seems like a closed circle with inside jokes and stuff like that. We didn’t want that. 

Are the visitors getting past the Dolly Parton thing to exchange about the artistic themes?

SM: Some have a pre-conceived notion of Dolly Parton being a bimbo if they don’t know her below the surface. Some people are surprised at how it’s made them think: Dolly Parton is an access point to new views, taking them into deeper thoughts about other stuff. The exhibition is varied, with questions like “What is a serious art piece?” and differences between art and design.

Mari, how do you unpackage to iconography in your work?

MK: Famous people usually have the visual part of their personal branding; six to 12 things they use to make up their specific image. People don’t usually recognize it until you put them all together. You have to be really precise and know exactly how it should be. I experience these icons a lot differently. It’s lovely if people realize through my work how incredibly precise and well-planned everything is. 

Isn’t it weird that nobody has done this before? Or has someone done this?

SM: There’s stuff like fan art… Dolly is a legend, but people are often drawn to the nostalgic side. They somehow think she is living in the 1980s and to some degree she is… Sometimes we take the stars for granted. It’s crazy to me that Dolly has done her thing for so long. We want to see where it goes. As Dolly says – “Dream big” or “Imagine more”.

The Dolly PARTon Exhibit | 25hours Hotel, Bikini Berlin, Budapester Str. 40, Charlottenburg, U-Bhf Zoolischer Garten