The Worker’s Dollhouse I

Although dollhouses and their close relatives model railroads appear to be objects of play, they are in fact about work. Dollhouses are expressions of bourgeois value. They are conservative and nostalgic; sites for the rehearsal of conventions of domesticity, gender roles, and social relations.

The dollhouse comes to prominence in Europe at the same time that the private dwelling becomes understood as opposed to the workplace. Benjamin writes that against the uncomfortable realities of the workplace, the individual ‘needs the domestic interior to sustain him in his illusions’. The house becomes a servant space for the capitalist system, a void compelling consumption. Work is a distasteful necessity. In nineteenth-century Europe, individual identity comes from consumption and leisure. This is the world that the dollhouse models and supports.

Edwin Lutyens, <em><a=href "">Queen Mary's Dollhouse</a></em>, 1924

Edwin Lutyens, Queen Mary's Dollhouse, 1924

The studio I am currently running seeks to reinvent the dollhouse as a critical device for thinking about work, particularly the work of making things. What does it mean to exist primarily as a maker, not a consumer? In this studio the dollhouse is to become an active implement not a narcotic, a trivial decoration, or the training wheels of bourgeouis housewifery.

The project is proceeding through a series of Prototypes and developed surface drawings. Below are a few images of Prototype 2. I’ll discuss some of these separately when I get a chance.

Bookbinder's Dollhouse, Anna Harder

Bookbinder's Dollhouse, Anna Harder

Collapsible Dollhouse, Nicole Taylor

Collapsible Dollhouse, Nicole Taylor

Wearable Landscape, Alison Taua

Wearable Landscape, Alison Taua

Dollhouse for Illicit Manufacture, Johanna Calis

Dollhouse for Illicit Manufacture, Johanna Calis


2 thoughts on “The Worker’s Dollhouse I

  1. I have, thanks Ellen – we looked at the passage on miniatures and dollhouses early in the project. I’m not sure the students fully grasped the issues of labour she raises, but a few of them liked ‘the promise of an infinite interiority’.


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