April 22, 2022
A sight familiar to those who travel along the old roads and by-ways of the North American countryside, an abandoned farmhouse is a touching reminder of changes in the landscape and the people who live there. Based in rural Saskatchewan, artist Heather Benning has spent the last several years making work that explores themes related to the impact of large-scale, industrialized agriculture on local communities, family farms, and a sense of home. In 2007, this took the shape of “The Dollhouse,” a monumental artwork constructed within a dilapidated homestead near the tiny town of Sinclair, Manitoba, that had been empty since the 1960s.
Benning removed the north wall of the building and replaced it with large sheets of plexiglass so that viewers could peer inside just like a child’s dollhouse, but it could only be viewed from the exterior—there was no way to venture inside. Vintage furniture and objects were placed throughout vividly painted rooms that could be illuminated at night. Like a stage set eerily devoid of people, she wanted to explore ideas around presence and absence. “By sealing the house and keeping the audience at a remove, viewers were forced to take note of what generates a sense of home. I think ‘The Dollhouse’ aims to speak to our profound desire for re-connection with place,” she shares with Colossal.
The house stood until 2013 when, as part of the original idea for the project, it was burned to the ground. In a short film made in collaboration with filmmaker Chad Galloway, the camera documents the fire as it engulfs the house completely, prompting the viewer to consider the unique grief of losing a home. The artist adds, “This is maybe particularly poignant at a time when we’re increasingly losing our home-places to unfettered industry and climate change.”
Prints of “The Dollhouse” are available for purchase from the Benning’s website, and the film is available to view alongside recent work that continues to explore similar themes. You can also follow her work on Instagram.
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