Heather Benning, firestarter.

I found out about Heather Benning's Doll House project only after she set fire to it. I stumbled across the CBC story quite by accident but I am glad I did. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to see the project in real life though there are a number of You Tube videos documenting it. The initial project converted an old farm house into a life sized version of a doll house. The house was open to view through plexiglass on one side and filled with ephemera from the 1960s. If you happened across it in the middle of the prairie it might appear as if the occupants had perhaps fled from it. The house stayed exactly as Benning (re)created it for nearly six years.

I am unsure why it was burned down instead of torn down though I do really like the idea of fire erasing it from the landscape. It seems to me to be a more authentic and natural form of erasure than tearing it down or letting it be destroyed by vandals. It is interesting too that fire isn't necessarily something one associates with a doll house so to set fire to a representation of childhood seems to also imply something a bit dark. I like that.  

If you have been following this blog for a while then you know how much I love narative projects. Whether the narrative is implicit or implied I love being able to imagine countless scenarios for a particular piece of work. I suppose this work allows me to imagine two separate bnarratives; the house as a museum on the prairie and the motivation and spectacle of a house fire.

I love imagining the people who may have lived there; What did they do? What celebrations and tragedies did they experience during their time in the house? Where did they come from? Where did they go? What sorts of secrets are hidden in the walls?

The Dollhouse is like a three dimensional memory. It makes me think of a half remembered dream you could re-visit over and over but access to specific and tactile information is denied by the plexiglass – much like one feels days after an intense dream. The Dollhouse project was also really interesting for me because I grew up on the prairies. My grandparents house was a lot like a museum; there were many artifacts kept alive within the walls of that prairie house. Pioneer spirits seemed to be content to lie quietly inside closets and in boxes tucked away under beds and and in basements.

Heather Benning captured perfectly the prairie life and preserved it for passersby and pilgrims who traveled out of the city to recollect a piece of Canada's past. Her new work continues to explore memory, landscape and the idea of home. You can see more of her work on her website

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