Rosa, Irma and the Sandman
Identical twins Rosa and Irma Bohlin were born in 1915 in Stenungsund in the Bohuslän region of Sweden. I discovered the beautiful intricate dolls and dolls’ clothes made by them while I was on a study trip to the Bohuslän Museum in Udevalla. Seamstresses by profession, they made clothes only for women, and their own collection of dolls. The connection between the double/identical twin/ dolls and Freud’s theory of The Uncanny is well known. The idea that something causes a disturbance deep in the unconscious, causing a feeling of uncertainty and ill ease.
Rosa and Irma shared a bedroom all their lives, dressed identically, bickered constantly and were never without each other. Using the photographs of them in the museum collection as starting points I worked in and around my own home in Somerset, UK, building sets and finding props and clothes to set scenes reminiscent of Stenungsund, their home town. First I performed as Rosa, confident, smiley and positive, then as Irma who was shy and a little sad. For The Sandman I recreated the studio of a local photographer from the early 20th century whose work is held at the museum and who had photographed Rosa and Irma many times. I posed with one of the twins’ dolls (whose eyes were lost over time) to make a single photograph that encapsulates the darker side of childhood. The title comes from the German short story ‘Der Sandmann’, by E.T.A Hoffman (which was the basis for Freud’s essay Das Unheimliche/The Uncanny). It is the tale of Nathanial, a man still traumatised by a childhood nightmare, where the Sandman comes to the house at night and plucks out the eyes of children.