Over time, the structure became less stable and the foundation began to crumble. So on March 21st, Benning set the house on fire.
SCENE wanted to learn more about the project, from its inception to its demise:
How did you first come across the farmhouse?
I found the house while I was an Artist in Residence for the community of Redvers, Saskatchewan. I was on my way to Brandon, travelling down Highway 2. The house was located approximately three kilometers east of the town of Sinclair, MB.
How did you come up with the idea of turning it into a dollhouse?
When you drive down that highway, this little house sort of stood out from the prairie. It was a small house and it had a charm to it--old cedar shake siding, a quaint dormer on the second storey and large picture windows in the kitchen and living room.
So I pulled over to look through the windows. The house had the layout of a dollhouse. Its stature and presence somewhat informed me that it should live again. I was, perhaps still am, preoccupied with a notion of nostalgia and the idea that one longs for a simpler place in time.
With The Dollhouse I wanted to show both the romantic nostalgia of that ideal and simultaneously show the reality. So I left the exterior of the house to appear as it was after 40 plus years of abandonment, with the interior looking as though the house was just left as it was.
The idea was to show this romantic ideal of what a lovely life it was in that lovely little house, but then to bring the viewer into the real--it wasn't that lovely, the house became abandoned, no one lived in it ever again.
There are so many skeletons in the prairies. We drive past them, on occasion we may see them, notice the grand barn or the not so grand shack. These places once held life and fear and love and moments.
How did you decorate it? Where did you find the furnishings?
I found most of the furnishings in the surrounding area. The couch, chair and fridge were donated to me by a good friend, as was the stove. The smaller items I found at MCCs (charity thrift shops) in Manitoba.
Redvers had a town-wide garage sale one of the summers that I was there and I found some great items then. I was very fortunate to be working in an area where I received a lot of support.
What did you want to say about the prairies with this project?
This is a surprisingly tough question for me, and I don't feel I can answer it adequately. I grew up with great storytellers: my father, mother, and grandmother, who talked about what it was to come to Canada and dig a hole in the side of a hill and try to survive the winter.
The prairies have always and continue to be a vast source of inspiration to my practice. Part of this project was to pay some homage to where I have come from. I wanted to make something large and grand but derelict to remind of us of humble beginnings.
This project is/was about the difficulty and sadness of leaving home due to economics. It's about remembering home--a home when you were a child and there were moments of complete stability, as though nothing would ever change, like the walls of a dollhouse--then becoming an adult and realizing that one's world will always change. And there is always something left behind--some trace, a structure, a toy, a tea kettle...
I wanted the house to be cheery though, because when the sun shines on the prairie there is no better place. And that is how we want to remember past spaces in time. Right?
What were the circumstances that led to you burning it down?
It was always my intention that I would destroy The Dollhouse. I did not want to see it fall down or get vandalized. No one vandalizes a memory unless it was a bad one.
We decided to tear down the house this winter because it was starting to lose its structural strength. When I began the project the foundation was showing its age...add six more years of winter and record-breaking weather.
How did you feel, actually setting it up in flames?
I had moments while documenting the place, but in all honesty, my feelings towards the project are not necessarily relevant anymore.
Burning the house down and abolishing its existence to leave it only to memory and photographs is how this project and this story should end.