The Dolls House

Since October 2016 I have been guest curating a number of exhibitions at The Dolls House, a miniature gallery in Melbourne’s inner north located in a shop window. The Dolls House is a great space for small-scale works, playful encounters and experimental approaches, and I have taken this opportunity to work closely with emerging artists to present solo exhibitions of new works.

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Nothing to See Here – Julie Burleigh (October 2016)

Nothing to See Here is a solo exhibition by Melbourne ceramic artist Julie Burleigh, curated by Sophia Cai. The exhibition addresses the domestic environment and how it reflects and extends feelings of chaos and disorder, peace and stability. Burleigh works with both representational and abstract forms, and the scale of her works lend themselves to the Dolls House gallery.

Previous works by Burleigh have seen her create freestanding dioramas that are concentrated scenes, stills or frames. These dioramas are always filled with objects but devoid of inhabitants, who appear to have just stepped out of the scene. The rooms and their objects are portraits of their owners, and invite speculation on how our personal possessions tell our stories.

Nothing to See Here comprises four related scenes, divided amongst the four distinct ‘rooms’ of the Dolls House. The two abstract rooms are a pure unmediated expression of the artist’s states of mind, which is subsequently given a more readily accessible form in the more representational rooms.

Burleigh is a lover of comics and this body of work references the dense messy interiors of Julie Doucet’s Dirty Plotte and My New York Diary, Frank Miller’s and Geof Darrow’s Hard Boiled, and the intense personal ramblings of Dan Clowes. Her practice is also influenced by an interest in science fiction and the attendant theme of ‘world making’ or ‘other worlds.’

PRESS: handmade life

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Paths for Navigation: Double Light – Emma Hamilton (November 2016)

Maps, borders, and lines of latitude and longitude are human constructions created to give us a sense of understanding, ownership and control over the landscape. However, when we enter the landscape these lines of demarcation and navigation lose their meaning.

‘Double light’ by artist Emma Hamilton seeks to materialise this notion of visual navigation based on lived experience in the landscape. In visual navigation we find our way through the relative position of landmarks, relying on the overlap of mountains, islands and houses in our lines of sight to locate our position.

For her solo exhibition at the Dolls House, Hamilton has created a double exposure photograph in the island landscape of Fleinvær Norway, the location where she was first introduced to the idea of navigating through sight lines. Here we are at once located and dislocated: placed into an unfamiliar landscape with two horizon lines to guide us.

This work continues Hamilton’s ongoing investigations into photography’s ability to make space, crossing the boundaries between object and image. She is interested in working at the intersection of sculpture and photography, by bringing photography into sculptural space as well as placing sculptural objects into the space of the photograph. Her work probes the disparities between the observed and the recorded: the camera’s view comparative to our experiential, visual observations.

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Gallery of Arts and Cats – Cat Rabbit (December 2016)

Gallery of Arts & Cats is a new and tiny solo exhibition by Melbourne textile artist Cat Rabbit, curated by Sophia Cai. Central to Cat Rabbit’s work is the idea of creating worlds and the characters that might live within them. Gallery of Arts & Cats engages with the miniature dimensions of the dollhouse to create a tiny world. The playful dioramas feature different gallery scenes, each presenting small versions of Cat’s new forays into textile experimentation and her popular felt characters.

In order to grow and change any artist must go through phases of experimentation and learning. These new directions can be met with equal amounts of excitement and uncertainty. Fear of public reception and the inability to shake off old expectations can be preventative to embracing new directions. In these gallery scenes, maquettes of new work are displayed for Cat Rabbit’s characters – and the viewer – to assess and critique in a tiny gallery setting.

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Dreaming of Norway – Stephanie Leigh (March/April 2017)

Dreaming of Norway is an exhibition of intimate photographs by Stephanie Leigh that portray two different beds shared with her once lover in Norway. These photographs explore ideas of love, loss, affliction and desolation. Together, the two works indicate a void space and emptiness in relation to people, or lack thereof. Their depiction highlights the manner by which they have in themselves become a ‘non-item’, useless in their intended function and suffering from loss.

Stephanie Leigh is a Melbourne based artist. Working with painting, sculpture and installation, Leigh’s work draws on tropes of the historical and modernist canon such as the reclining pose, ideas about beauty, the naked fetish and cultural and political oppression to renegotiate female objectification. For her exhibition at The Dolls House, Leigh is focusing on the personal intimacies of relationships, heartbreak and loss.

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Window Shopping – Tessy King (May/June 2017)

Tessy King is a Melbourne based artist working predominantly with ceramics and installation. Tessy explores the display process as a method within her practice and uses the ceramic vessel as the central object. These vessels are exaggerated and deconstructed, referencing antiquity, garden ornaments and domestic ware while bringing into question notions of value and meaning around the prosaic. Tessy builds structures for viewing these objects out of additional materials which play with the idea of display and its role in the way viewers understand objects.

The idea of the window display is central to this exhibition at the Dolls House Gallery. Sloppy ceramic vessels of varying sizes are displayed with props that notion to the process of ‘window dressing’ and shop front curation. By exposing this commonplace and accepted form of enticement the work will gently examine the place between ‘selling’ and ‘displaying’ works of art.

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Grouping Home – Dawn Vachon (July/August 2017)

Dawn Vachon’s ceramics practice is the result of several half-sentences and truncated thoughts, arranged together in an attempt to organise the wrinkles and the clamour into something vaguely melodious. She continually experiments with alternate ways of using common ceramic materials, whether that be glaze for mass, melting clay or otherwise. This leads to an evolving assemblage of sculptural pieces that invert traditional canons of the ceramic medium such as the relationship between inside and outside.

For her exhibition at the Dolls House Gallery, Vachon situates objects in miniature faux domestic setting.  This arrangement causes the pieces therein and the spaces between them to read as familial relationships. This work prompts the viewer to re-imagine the ambiguous cluster of objects as potential divergent dwellers.

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A Room of One’s Own – Ruby Hoppen (September/October 2017)

When presented with a dollhouse, it is only human to want to play out imagined experiences and stories. If we are willing to take a bite of the apple, we can be flung far from reality into an imagined work. This exhibition by Ruby Hoppen does what is most obvious and tempting – it plays house.

A Room of One’s Own gives us an opportunity to apply value and thought to handmade textiles. Changing the scale of objects to make them art is not a new concept, however perhaps it is still difficult to contextualise an object of domesticity as art. The beautiful thing about the dollhouse being a gallery space is that no matter how literally an artist takes the task of filling it up, the art is in direct relation to the architectural space (a toy) which is subverts the idea of the traditional “white cube” gallery.

The rooms in the dollhouse serve as an allegory for the four chambers of a heart. Each room is connected yet compartmentalised, allowing for the flow of imagination and play. The handmade or found object furniture, rugs and quilts in miniature trigger an ingrained desire to project a domestic narrative onto the scene. An invitation to play.