A BFA Exhibition By Amy Barrett
“Everyone who grows up in a household where there is a lack of material resources knows what it feels like to want things you cannot have, to want what money can buy when there is no money to spare.” – bell hooks
“Class as an everyday social phenomenon came to consist of highly developed codes of dress, manners, etiquette, furnishings, organizing practices of exclusion and inclusion and the ordering and control of the settings in which intra-personal encounters occurred. In this type of class organization, being an outsider is a distinct way in which class is experienced.” – Dorothy Smith
Dream House is the story of a young girl’s fantasy in which she is socialized to dream and think about the house. Preschool storybooks are one of the first ways a girl begins to desire: the prince charming, the castle, and the beautiful gowns. The spectacle of popular media becomes the next teacher of these values and shapes children for a lifetime of desire and consumption. The lifestyle that advertisements and television programs depict, emphasize ideals of the perfect house and perfect life. Images of beautiful, domesticated, women in their pristine houses became a fascination for me. I acted out these fantasies with my first dollhouse. The dollhouse had four rooms and furniture that resembled that of my own working-class family. But when I starting playing, I imagined the rooms being other than my own. They were filled with furnishings that I could only dream of. I pretended they were the insides of the houses that I had seen driving by. I was always on the outside, a voyeur of these worlds, which I watched through the car window. In these glimpses, class-consciousness slowly became part of how I understood myself.
Through the use of the personal childhood narrative I investigate why these desires exist in our society. I have chosen to represent these ideas though the illustrated storybook in Dream House: A Storybook. I find the hierarchies of art to be in line with the hierarchies of class. Children’s illustrators are considered low on this scale, compared to the artists who paint on canvas to be displayed in a gallery. Like class, everything has its place. I chose to mix these up to reinforce the questions I have about class and desire. Although most childhood narratives have a resolution or happily ever after, mine has no obvious rising action, climax, or definitive ending.
My large painting is a street constructed of actual Saskatoon Dream Houses. The sculptural Dream Doll House is the reality for the fantasy that I lived as a child. Yet this reality is placed in the present with the inclusion of images of current real estate. The house is and could be anyone’s dream house. The dreamy photographic images of various Saskatoon Dream Houses are projected onto the exterior of the dollhouse to represent that this desire is persistent and always evolving.
Like me, people everywhere scour the real estate listings dreaming of the life they might have. With the explosion of media representations of home renovations, with store and magazines promoting the Dream House, people are living with a never-ending desire to create the happily-ever-after. Life seems to be frozen in these fantasies, like an image in a book.
My installation is ultimately a ficto-narrative as I have reinvented my childhood perspective. False memory comes into play, as the act of remembering is also a reconstruction. This voyeuristic gaze still exists, as I am still playing a part of the simulated fantasy that I had created in childhood. My installation provides no solution to the media-induced coma of shiny, pretty, things. Instead, it perhaps reinforces them and plays its own part in seducing the viewer. We might only wake up if we realize that our reality, or what we deem to be reality, is merely constructed.
Bell Hooks, Where We Stand: Class Matters. New York, Routledge: 2000, 50.
Dorothy Smith, “Women, Class and Family”. in The Socialist Register, London, Merlin Press, 1983, 19.