Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

Di Ellis: Sanctorium

by Carmen Roche

18 Aug 2010

In amongst the hustle of inner-city Melbourne sits a little dolls house within a little house. The work is Di Ellis' Sanctorium. The work consists of a hand-sewn fabric doll house with a series of embroidered hamsa hand amulets that adorn the corners of the structure. The amulets are attached by safety pins and appear around the periphery, acting as old fashioned security sensors and alarms to protect the house from unwelcome intruders.

The motif of the doll house provides an avenue for aspiring artists to comment on social and household values within the pretext of decorating an age-old household toy. Ellis has used the doll house motif to investigate the role of women in society and the home.

The continual change of the doll house reflects the seasonal change of toy shop windows. It reminds the viewer of when girls would press their hands and faces firmly to the glass in order to look at the intricate houses and delicate faces of porcelain dolls. This can be contrasted with the dreams of more modern girls with Barbies and Bratz dolls presented with plastic replicas of mansion villas with swimming pools and spa baths. But have the dreams really changed, or is it simply the packaging or covering which changes, whilst the ideals and values remain the same?

The work uses simple sewing techniques, all achieved by hand, and all techniques that are within reach of today's housewife. The symbol of the family home suggests how the modern woman can be both protected by, and trapped by, the house. This trap is both physical and mental, by the chores such as sewing and mending, and also through the continuation of the stereotype of the housewife.

The fabric covering is decorated with hand stitched quilting techniques reminiscent of feminist artists who have used domestic crafts to demonstrate a feminist agenda. This connection becomes more interesting when contrasted with the hamsa hand - a common symbol of protection in many religions and cultures. This further confirms the role of women as both a protector and preserver of the household.

Di's work has 24 hour access due to the shop window and the view it supplies. The space is transformed by the lighting at different times of day and night, whilst also being illuminated at all times by one light above.

An exhibition space that is open 24/7 provides both restrictions and opportunities. The space is influenced by the context of the viewer. People will pass this on the way to work, on the way to the shops and receive it like every other shop window display on their journey. The artist has therefore intentionally put this work within the context of everyday life - the outside world, rather than within the confines of a space or another home. In this way, this little house subtly becomes a metaphor for a much larger one.

Carmen Roche is a third year art theory student with an interest in emerging artists and the local art scene in Australia.