The dollhouse. A memento of early childhood memories and the poster image of a dream house to aspire to. Under its miniature roof one invariably comes across a living room snugly arranged around a fireplace or a table meticulously set for dinner. Altogether inviting but destined to remain unoccupied, what exact purpose do dollhouses serve?
Dawn Reese, a miniature artist and dollhouse builder from Ohio, USA, may just have the answer. In the charming short film ‘WHO LIVES THERE’, she makes us ponder upon the nature of a dollhouse, what it stands for and most importantly, what it says about its owner. The short is Episode #14 of ‘THE AMERIKANS’, a multi-episode web series presented by Art+Practice featuring unique cinematic portraits of people from Northeast Ohio that go beyond the ordinary exterior of the featured subjects' lives to explore the imaginative power that real Americans possess and express in their lives. Using a variety of film techniques and styles, each documentary is the product of a collaborative relationship, where the subjects work closely alongside the producers of the short films in representing their internal worlds.
Filmed on location in Wellington, Ohio, (Dawn Reese has since moved her shop to The Grand Pacific Junction historical district in Olmsted Falls, Ohio) the short delicately delves into Reese’s mind, sharing her unique vision of the world of miniatures and her deep-rooted fascination with these curious objects. As the owner of ‘Dolls and Minis’, a full service dollhouse and miniature store with an inventory of over 20,000 miniatures, Dawn Reese has been painstakingly telling other people’s stories through the unusual medium of bespoke dollhouse creation for adults. Reese herself claims that:
But strangely enough, these are not toys, even though they might appear to be. In the film we get to envision the dollhouse through her eyes and finally see it for what it truly is: not merely a replica of the real world, but an idealized version of it - customized to one’s liking. It is the reflection of one’s desires, the pristine setting where aspirations are projected and childhood memories are played out. It is intimate, private and safe; a diminutive haven of serenity and a sanctuary for the soul, where everything is perfect and in place, a place where dreams and aspirations find a resting space. The physical manifestation of an imaginary world where we have control, undoubtedly a strange power to have over the world. And it is oddly liberating.
For Dawn Reese , creating a dollhouse is to be part of someone else’s projected fantasy. ''It’s like looking through a window into someone else's world'', she recounts. The film captures this voyeuristic feeling as the camera lens takes in varied surprisingly lifelike spaces and elaborately staged scenes. Intricate storylines spring to life in our minds inside the dollhouses’ small walls as we fleetingly catch glimpses of small scaled domestic life accompanied by an original score by Alexander Overington and Isaac Jones’ precisely edited sound effects. Working as the art director on this film, Reese also provided the narration and all the materials and settings herself, bringing her dollhouses to life in her own unique way.
As delicate and whimsical as it is enlightening, ‘WHO LIVES THERE’ is a journey through the wondrous world of miniatures, where objects have a life of their own sparked by our fantasies and innermost desires, a world where one might play in small scale, but effectively creates something big.