There’s something inherently unnerving about a dollhouse. While we can easily admire and delight in its minuscule detail, this admiration is frequently accompanied by a sense of unease. This simultaneous intermingling of delight-with-unease is a manifestation of the uncanny — a sensation of anxiety experienced when one encounters “something familiar, yet foreign.” The dollhouse, with its miniaturized approximation of reality, recalls the familiar domestic setting of the home. At the same time, it falls short of appearing truly real. It’s the tension that exists within this disconnect — the miniature’s approximation of scaled-down reality with its inevitable failure — that contributes to our experience of the uncanny.
It is perhaps due to the uncanny nature of dollhouses that a curious subgenre has arisen — the haunted dollhouse. These are so popular that many web sites for dollhouse enthusiasts are now featuring “haunted dollhouse kits” for purchase. These range from kitschy, Halloween-variety spookiness to gloriously Gothic miniatures. Artists have, of course, also delved into this spooky realm. The chromogenic prints of Winnipeg-based visual artist Sarah Anne Johnson astutely edit out the campy cobwebs and, through her effective use of lighting and cropping, get straight at the mysterious elements of her miniature interiors. While it’s uncertain if Johnson would classify her dollhouse in the House on Fire series as haunted, it does strongly evoke some of the unnerving elements of the uncanny. I’m an immense fan of this series.