by Patti Dawkins
Sylvia Ziemann’s exhibition Home (In)security at TRUCK Gallery easily lured me in, as I am a sucker for dim lighting and dollhouses. Despite the peaceful and charming façade all is not well in this neighbourhood. Five miniature house-like structures and a “peep box”, sit on plinths throughout the gallery space. Mounted on the walls are three partial houses, a corner bedroom and a doll. Upon closer examination each one reveals a number of unexpected and sinister qualities.
In one corner of the gallery grandma sleeps peacefully in her bed with a nightcap on her head and a lace-edged comforter to keep her warm, reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood. The difference here is that grandma has a wolf skin rug beneath her bed and a partially open suitcase on the floor revealing a Nazi uniform. The stickers on the suitcase read Canada and Hamburg. The view outside the red tinted window is of a bombed out city. The image of a sweet little old lady is shattered.
Further along the wall hangs a doll dressed in the garb of a child suicide bomber, with a black scarf wrapped around its head and neck and the now familiar bombs strapped across its chest and waist. It stares like a defiant teenager at the viewer. Domestic terrorism comes to mind. Three wall-mounted house facades appear normal on the outside with plants, a bike, mail, gardening implements, chairs, etc. Typical of any neighbourhood, two yards are tidy and one is unkempt. Peeking inside the illuminated windows reveals tiny videos of a variety of scenarios. One shows a person with a black balaclava standing in front of a closet nervously looking from side to side; another shows a woman knitting on the couch and then checking on prisoners tied up in her closet; the third shows a woman in the kitchen washing her hands, putting on an apron and then proceeding to make two Molotov cocktails.
A shed is perched on a plinth. We see some gardening tools and a door leading down to a bunker with brick lined walls, a mattress, cup and a plate.
The other four houses in the exhibition are of various shapes and sizes. Some have windows with tightly shut curtains forcing you to look through particular windows and some reveal the interior of the house in its entirety. All tell an unexpected story of violence, fear or sadness. The voyeuristic viewer is enchanted by the morning routine of what appears to be a business woman until she puts on her balaclava and picks up her assault rifle before she heads out the door. The television in a house with a child’s room filled with toys, books and an empty bassinet shows someone trudging through the snow and leaving a bundled baby on a doorstep. A pair of feet gingerly step down a flight of stairs in a house with a living room that appears to be recently vacated and a basement filled with plastic garbage bags.
The final piece in the exhibition is a peep show. A grey wooden box with headphones beckons for you to come closer and watch through a security peephole- a recorded image of U.S. President George Bush repeating the phrase “pouring more troops” is accompanied by hand clapping. The common theme is television violence, particularly that found during news broadcasts, and how it invades our homes, families and psyches. All family members and neighbours are brought under suspicion in this delightful body of work. Ziemann has meticulously created a subtly nightmarish scenario in each piece. The viewer will be rewarded with a rich and thoughtprovoking experience if he or she can spend the same time, patience, and attention to detail examining the exhibition as the artist did creating it. Only a mother would think to juxtapose home with the insidious qualities of the little illuminated box that sits innocently in most of our homes.