Dollhouse, 1972, wood and mixed media by Miriam Schapiro
Few things motivate me as much as art, houses, literature, history and feminism. The combination of those elements – like in Miriam Schapiro’s mixed media Dollhouse [above] – sets my little heart a flutter with creative muses. Add to that mix a Canadian perspective, and you’ve got me pretty much over-brimming with contentment.
Canadian born Miriam Schapiro‘s 1972 statement piece was part of a larger feminist cooperative installation in California called Womanhouse where an old Hollywood mansion was transformed by a group of feminist artists into expressive rooms dealing with different aspects of women’s lives.
Schapiro and her assistant Sherry Brody spent months collecting bits of fabric, tea towels, lace, and personal mementos from women around the country and then put them all together in compartmentalized “rooms” within a dollhouse.
The result was an expression of the often conflicting roles of artist, wife, and mother that Schapiro was experiencing and that many other women experience as well.
A parlor, a kitchen, a Hollywood star’s bedroom, a “harem” room, a nursery, and, on the top floor, an artist’s studio suggest these conflicting roles. The different symbols challenge the idea that the domestic lives of women prevent them from making “serious” art. At the same time, the tiny rooms in Dollhouse evoke cells in which the hopes of women are often imprisoned.
I remember studying Schapiro’s work in my high-school art class in northern Ontario. The concept of women’s experiences being represented in miniature “rooms” was obvisouly very intriguing to me.
Why? It probably has something to do with the traditional notion that domestic spaces are women’s spaces. And that there can be something empowering and even subversive about women manipulating those spaces.
Have a look at Canadian photographer/artist Julia Callon‘s Houses of Fiction – a series of photographed dollhouse-sized rooms that depict “The dichotomous representation of women – mad or sane”.
Using famous female author’s 19th century work as subject matter, Callon meticulously crafted the rooms to perfection… then destroyed them by descending each one into some type of chaos:
Wuthering Heights No. 1
Wuthering Heights No. 2
It’s controlled chaos, of course.
each story is presented as a diptych: one image represents the passive, subservient woman, while the other represents ‘madness.’
The Awakening No. 1
The Awakening No. 2
The series of photographs illustrates the quiet order of a well-run, tightly controlled domestic space juxtaposed next to the arbitrary, primal fury of the uncontrolled.
The Lifted Veil No. 1
The Lifted Veil No. 2
You don’t have to be well-read in 19th century women’s literature to guess the subject matter of these books – just take a quick glance at Callon’s photographs and the themes are driven home (so to speak).
Jane Eyre No. 1
Jane Eyre No. 2
For more information on this and other projects, please visit the Julia Callon website.[update 01/27/2013: Julia Callon has some prints of her work available for purchase at: http://wondereur.com/story/julia-callon-2/#page-1 ]
Another Canadian house-artist I would like to profile was actually introduced to me by an American blogger friend – Sue from Housekaboodle. Sue did a post on a real-live dollhouse that was reconstructed on the Canadian prairie by Canadian artist Heather Benning:
That is actually a real-life old farmhouse that Benning found abandoned in 2005 when she was an artist-in-residence for the community of Redvers, Saskatchewan. The house is actually located in Sinclair, Manitoba.
Heather Benning spent several years transforming the house (she has a background in old-house restoration) and collecting furnishings that would essentially freeze it in time.
This is the interior condition of the house as she found it in 2005:
Abandoned and forlorn, there is such a sadness about these old castaway homes. It’s kind of near and dear to my heart as well because my maternal grandfather’s family left an abandoned (now long-gone) homestead on the prairies and moved to Ontario during the Great Depression.
Benning essentially tore one whole side of the house off so it would appear to be a life-sized dollhouse. She painted the rooms inside whimsical colors to resemble a child’s dollhouse…
By 2008, the project was completed:
Benning had recreated (and preserved behind plexi-glass) a prairie home the way it would have been before time got the better of it:
An outsider’s/bystander’s view into the Doll House:
There’s something so precious and nostalgic about this house sitting all alone on the Canadian prairie…
It speaks of loss and displacement, of simpler times and a way of life that has come to pass.
Many of Benning’s other projects also explore these themes. You can see more of her work at Heather Benning.ca
And one final mention in this post, goes to… me.
Yes, I will shamelessly promote one of my novels here, not because I’m actually shameless, but because I think it fits in very well with the concepts expressed by the Canadian artists profiled above. My 2007 novel Jackfish, The Vanshing Village channels much of the angst and desperation of displacement and loss of home, disruption of the domestic sphere, order to chaos – chaos to order; as do these works of art.
I set out to write my book as a personal expression of loss of home, country, and heritage. The page was my canvas and I tried to convey as much of the feelings of confinement, flight, loss, rage and nostalgia as I could into the story. If the images above intrigue you in any way and you would like to further explore the subject of “home“, check out my book Jackfish – based on a real-life (now abandoned) village in northern Ontario.