The Disobedient Dollhouse
Print-based installation (lithography), 2009-10.
The dollhouse is a toy fondly remembered from my childhood. Countless hours were spent fastidiously arranging the miniature furniture in its rooms. These rooms provided the setting for the domestic scenes myself and my playmates would enact with our dolls — scenes that mimicked the day-to-day household routines of our mothers. This form of play amongst young girls was not only an imitation of the maternal role as we observed it, but, presumably, constituted a type of practice for our future lives as women. Now, as an adult, feminist, artist and mother, I revisit the dollhouse. The idealized view of domesticity that informed my childhood dollhouse is reconfigured by my adult self as a place much more complex, even contradictory, in nature. In stark contrast to the innocuous role-playing of childhood — when one could ‘play Mommy’ — as an actual parent, the actions I take have real life consequences. This simple fact can, at times, be the cause of anxiety. Additionally, while the household provides a peaceful refuge from the hectic pace of the outside world, the daily negotiations between career aspirations and familial responsibilities simultaneously render the house a site of friction and conflict. An exploration of the conflicts that arise from these competing interests was, in part, the impetus behind my installation project entitled The Disobedient Dollhouse.
Contemporary dollhouses are decidedly not contemporary in their motifs, with the historic splendor of wealthy Victorian homes being the most frequently represented style amongst current dollhouse enthusiasts. In The Disobedient Dollhouse, I recreated the highly-detailed interiors of a Victorian-style dollhouse, self-consciously aware of the storybook view of domesticity they often conjure. While a trace of nostalgia is detectible in my project, a tension also exists in the work that simultaneously disrupts the easy consumption of these same nostalgic images. A tactic of subversion has been employed as a means of rebellion against the construction a sentimentalized view of domesticity. For instance, although the conventional Victorian domestic scene of a woman playing piano has been dutifully rendered, the woman depicted is a hybrid creature with the head of a bird. A chair located in the same room as the bird-headed woman mysteriously sprouts twisted floral vines that snake up the back wall. Gigantic insects infiltrate the room and swarm across the ornate damask wallpaper like a strange, inexplicable virus. These hybrid monsters, giant insects and fantastic vegetal growths disturb the inherent sentimentality of nostalgia and propose a dark, secret world that churns just beneath the veneer of domestic perfection.
Most of the elements within my dollhouse are hand-drawn and printed lithographs which have been cut out, folded and glued. The wallpaper was created digitally and printed on matte inkjet paper. For more images from this project, visit my online portfolio.