Denver-based filmmaker and installation artist Stacey Steers spent four years assembling and outfitting the dollhouse of horrors that Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art recently acquired — just in time for Halloween.
“Night Hunter House” is a tiny abode decked out with a miniature high-definition TV in each of its 10 furnished rooms. On a continuous loop, the TVs play parts of a 16-minute film in which Steers has superimposed painstakingly handmade collages on scenes from silent movies starring Lillian Gish (1893-1993).
With her pert curls and pursed lips, Gish looks like a living doll in this mash-up of moments from a few of her films, including Way Down East, which was filmed in part in White River Junction. Steers has selected images in which Gish looks alternately surprised, puzzled and aghast — with good reason.
Throughout the film, hissing snakes and eagle-sized moths menace her in settings filled with enormous, pulsating eggs. Blood floods from dresser drawers as Gish slowly morphs, Kafka-style, into a winged creature. At the end, she flees into a dark forest.
Steers drew all 4000 images and spliced them into the Gish sequences as animations. Dartmouth music professor Larry Polansky scored a soundtrack of screechy strings and plinking keyboard chords to accompany the cinematic mélange.
Viewers of “Night Hunter House” who peer into Steers’ little windows are cast in the role of Peeping Toms. The 3-foot-tall, black-painted dollhouse is perched on a pedestal of roughly the same height, so most visitors have to crouch and crane to see into some of the rooms, making the voyeuristic angle more acute.
Steers’ movie has a Freudian sexual dimension, too: When a snake bumps up against Gish from behind, she appears frightened. But at another point she seems quite happy to be shoveling worms into her mouth. The star is also shown squatting atop a throbbing egg.
A wall panel introducing the show situates Steers in the context of feminist artists who have used the image or physical structure of a house to explore women’s roles in society. Here, however, “Steers reverses the idea of the house as a ‘safe haven,’” writes Juliette Bianco, the Hood’s assistant director, in the commentary.
Bianco also sees antecedents to “Night Hunter House” in the surrealist collages of Max Ernst and the eclectic combinations of objects arrayed in Joseph Cornell’s boxes. Some viewers might be reminded of Maurice Sendak’s drawings for In the Night Kitchen, though Steers’ freaky fable is much more mordant.
Sneak a peek for yourself before the exhibit closes in mid-December.