Life-Sized Dollhouse by Heather Benning

By Jacob Kleinman July 10, 2012 12:54 PM EDT

(Photo: c/o Heather Benning / Sharlene Rankin)

Somewhere in the Canadian prairies of Saskatchewan stands a life-sized dollhouse. This abandoned home, converted into an installation by Canadian artist Heather Benning, features everything that a normal house might contain. Except for the lack of plumbing, heating, and electricity and one side of the building has been replaced with plexiglass.

Benning talked to iDesign about the process of creating the piece, which she calls "The Dollhouse," and also about her personal and historical inspirations. 

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Jacob Kleinman: What was your inspiration when creating this piece?

Heather Benning: Since early childhood I had a fascination and heightened sense of curiosity with loss and abandonment. Old abandoned houses fill me with a sense of wonder for what was and what has been left: the echoes of children playing, the quiet evening family moments, the restive Sundays, the busy movement of farm activity in the yard, etc.

The inspiration for The Dollhouse stems from the local and family history of the prairies, particularly centered around the change in farming, from single family farming to agribusiness. In 1936, Saskatchewan had 140,000 farms, which was 62 percent of the total. Between 1936 and 1952, 40,000 farms were left and the average farm size increased by 50 percent. In 2009, there remains 44,329 farms. Thus, the prairies are littered with these empty yards, skeletons of the past. All of these buildings now rotting into the ground had purpose, they had hopes, dreams

JK: What is the goal of The Dollhouse?

HB: The goal for creating The Dollhouse was for people to remember the past existence of the inhabitants of the house, how it was in 1968 prior to its abandonment. The interior was finished to look as though the family could return at any moment. The exterior of the house was left to look as is. I wanted to create a duality so that the viewer can see into the past and conversely be aware of its present state.

JK: What was the most difficult part of the process?

HB: The most difficult part was recycling the shingles from the north side of the house (where the wall was removed) and using those shingles to re-shingle the south-facing roof, and patch the north-facing roof. You could literally see daylight through the roof. Replacing the interior ceilings and removing the rubble was also quite a task. In general everything was difficult until I started to paint the house.

JK: How does The Dollhouse represent your general style and vision as an artist?

HB: I want my work to be understood and appreciated by a greater public. It is also important for me to capture a resolution. In this instance, the emptiness, the haunting loneliness and the fact that life is now gone from this space.

I use a variety of materials. Now, I find myself doing a lot more casting. Working with plastics. Though my materials change from using existing structures to creating completely new structures, I have a tendency to work along a similar theme, to recapture what it lost if only as a reminder. Projects like Field Doll, The Marysburg Project, Yard Site, Safety Gone and What a Difference a Day Makes are good examples of this idea.

JK: How has the piece been received?

HB: The Dollhouse first opened 5 years ago, and it was well received by both local and national press. Since the opening, there has been a steady stream of interest in the project both national and international. There has been very little negative response to it.

See more photos of The Dollhouse here.

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