The Dollhouse Gallery
The miniaturization of buildings identifies the locus of memory and reverie: the visitor has strayed unwittingly into someone else’s life story. Memory shrinks the past and sweetens it, too, until history becomes something small and precious and private.
–Karal Ann Marling
David Schafer, who is at his best when creating site-specific, text-based work, has transformed the Dollhouse Gallery into an investigation of the psychological interplay between the dollhouse and its owner. Schafer’s long-term interest in how a public and private space come into existence sets the tone for his investigation into this unique relationship between language, space, experience, and perception. Acting as the psychologist hunting for clues into the psyche of a patient, Schafer conducted and interview with Jennifer Katell, the director of the gallery, about her relationship to the dollhouse which was once her childhood toy and muse and is now her latest artistic endeavor. The interview was conceived as a form of excavation into the private domain of Katell’s life story. The questions Schafer chose to ask were meant to delve into Katell’s memories and current feelings regarding the dollhouse. Transcribed into a stream-of-consciousness text, the responses to the questions are the basis of Schafer’s installation.
The title, “Enterview,”
which offers a play on the word interview, accentuates the tension between being allowed to enter the personal history of the dollhouse while note physically able to enter the miniature space, and therefore having to view it from the outside. This model of experiencing the piece creates a metaphor for the ways in which truth and meaning both reveal themselves and remain hidden in one’s memory. The title also suggests the idea of a privileged view into an otherwise closed or forgotten world.
A cloth is draped over the entire structure of the dollhouse concealing what lies beneath. Presented with a cloaked subject, the viewer understands that there is something unseen, hidden from view. The drapery recalls the subject of a René Magritte painting in which a veiled face or heavy curtains often imply a covert subject or secret meaning. Magritte once said, “Visible things always hide other visible things.”
Here, as in a Magritte painting, the viewer is compelled to wonder not only what is being hidden, but what is being revealed. The clues must be found behind the curtain or, in this case, in the only visible portion of the dollhouse where a window in the cloth looks inside a room. This room, according to the interview, functioned for Katell as her pretend bedroom. The walls of the room are covered with the text from the interview. The inscription gradually reveals that the dollhouse represents a relationship between Katell, her childhood, and her Mother. The text, by invoking real childhood recollections from a not-so-distant time and place, reveals that, in a sense, Katell is still living out of or in the dollhouse.
Formally, the draped dollhouse, dressed-up in blue-and-white stripes is an aesthetic, decorative object to be observed in a similar way that Katell claims to have treated the house as a child; decorating and redecorating it. It’s function as a cloak or tent, however, recalls a childhood fort made to hide secret doings—“no adults allowed.”
The tent places emphasis on the mysteries of childhood memories and how they play a part in our lives as adults, strengthening the links between the young girl who played with the dollhouse, and the adult for whom the dollhouse has a seemingly separate meaning and function. The space, once staged for child’s play, is now the site of artistic creativity. Schafer’s installation examines how these two functions differ and how they are alike.
Constructing a physical metaphor for this personal relationship, between the self and the child-self; the real and the pretend, Schafer sets up a dialectic between the bedroom of the dollhouse and the bedroom of Katell’s apartment. The questions from this interview are framed and hang in her real bedroom to reiterate the notion of adult as now and the child as then. Taking cues from the interview, Schafer continues to reinforce this complex relationship and blurs the lines between then and now, time and space. Inspired by Katell’s mention of the former electric lamps and lighting in the dollhouse, Schafer brings into the miniature room a normal-size light as an act of adult restoration or intrusion into the past. Above the dollhouse is an existing chandelier. A wire is attached to the light socket of the chandelier and extends the bulb into the room of the dollhouse illuminating the room and text. Another wire with a bulb runs down the hall and into Katell’s bedroom approximately 50 feet away to shed light on the framed interview questions.
Schafer’s installation offers an oral history of the site and imbues that history with a meaning that is relevant to its present state and function. Schafer has uncovered a hidden narrative which lurks behind the façade of the dollhouse. In doing so, he has given a voice to the site which comes alive like a ghost haunting the rooms of the miniature house. With a personal account as his only source into the past, the piece takes on a voyeuristic nature. The viewers find themselves peering into the tiny bedroom in search of answers then entering a woman’s real bedroom to find a set of questions. The restoration of the house is left incomplete and the mystery of childhood memories hangs in the air.
–Mary Kay Lombino