Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings, Bleak House, 2023 / Installation view
Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings: Bleak House
Oct 26, 2023 – Feb 11, 2024
Kunsthall Stavanger
Stavanger, Norway

Kunsthall Stavanger is proud to present Bleak House, the first exhibition in Norway by artist-duo Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings. Featuring an installation of 15 found dollhouses and a multi-channel sound piece, as well as a selection of original etchings and a video work, the exhibition highlights the relationship between architecture and the construction of identity, power dynamics and societal norms.

Quinlan and Hastings are London-based multidisciplinary artists working across painting, drawing, video, performance and installation. Their practice is grounded in researching how various communities have been represented at different moments in history as they look to art history and archives to interpret social and political issues facing us today. Amongst other things, they have studied queer environments, explored the impact of austerity, gentrification and policing on urban spaces, and investigated the more overlooked facets of western feminism, particularly its relationship to the political right. Through their work, the artists unpack the various forms of authority, power and disorder within our public spaces and question how social hierarchy, class and obedience are negotiated.

The exhibition at Kunsthall Stavanger focuses on the concept of the home from a queer feminist standpoint, and offers differing perspectives on the domestic sphere as a place of power and oppression. The artworks presented in Bleak House reveal how societal ideals are encoded in the environments we build, and reveal the structures that perpetuate these strictures. The exhibition takes its title from the eponymous novel by Charles Dickens in which a Victorian manor serves as the setting for a complex familial, legal, and relational drama, and the emotional quality of the literary work sets the tone for the installation.

Bleak House centers around the installation Inside, which consists of 15 found dollhouses, displayed on metal plinths like sculptures or museum relics. Over a century of British domestic architecture is reflected in the design of the dollhouses, with a focus on the Victorian era. Dollhouses emerged from Northern Europe in the 17th century as markers of social class. Rather than objects of imagination and play, they were originally intended for display and pedagogy. Dollhouses, or “miniature houses”, were often replicas of the owner’s own home and showcased their wealth while simultaneously instructing young girls on the upkeep of a household, including its servants. During the Industrial Revolution, mass-produced dollhouses entered the toy market, but the ideals of class, gender, and society in which the original dollhouses were rooted remained. Artist and anthropologist Louise Krasniewicz reframes dollhouses, stating that they are not just down-sized objects, but world-makers. In Miniature Manifesto, she writes that dollhouses are “not an escape from the real world but a way to engage, confront, question, critique, or consider it.”

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The exhibition at Kunsthall Stavanger reveals how societal ideals are embedded in our physical and political structures. Within the context of Stavanger, with its ongoing debates around economy, housing, historic preservation, new construction, and the increase of conservative politics, the artworks in Bleak House ask us to consider what family structures, societal goals, and political ideologies are mixed into the mortar of our surrounding architecture. The exhibition tells a history of norms and fantasies about family life, gender, power, and sexuality, and points towards joyful ways we can individually and collectively imagine an alternative future.

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