A lovely house with a perfectly manicured lawn and white picket fence may not always be what it seems. Indeed, many horror flicks are staged in such an idyllic setting. What terrors and tragedies lurk behind those beautiful silk curtains?
That's explored in Tommy DiVita's series, Home Sweet Home . The 24-year-old Encinitas artist builds 2-foot-tall dollhouses that tell stories about mental disorders and afflictions that have plagued him or someone close to him. For a tour of his studio at Space 4 Art this past weekend, DiVita set five dollhouses on Astroturfed pedestals, each telling the story of a different condition. They're equal parts fascinating and disturbing.
Inside them, he created scenes using what he calls "disorder dolls"—Barbie- and Ken-like figurines he made by hand out of Sculpey, a brand of polymer clay.
The house on eating disorders, for example, was covered in toy candy and food. Inside stood a skeletal figurine in an empty kitchen staring into a mirror. Another dollhouse was draped in long hair and featured a multitude of doll arms holding ripped-up hair as a reference to trichotillomania , the condition that causes an urge to pull out one's own hair.
"I wanted to make the viewer see that, with the people and the dolls, it's their home and their life and everything around them that is a part of their affliction and part of their insecurity," explains DiVita, who found making the dollhouses a therapeutic experience.
For the series, DiVita not only drew upon his experience with some of these conditions but also his family history. His grandmother was a model and fashion designer who worked at Mattell.
"She hoarded all these dolls, so I had a lot of access to them," he says.
DiVita doesn't want his series to be interpreted as criticism of Barbie dolls. He thinks the ideals Barbie reflected were already ingrained long before the tiny-wasted, blonde model / veterinarian / dream-home owner was created. Still, he accepts that there's an inevitable reference to Barbie in his work.
DiVita hopes viewers of the series—he's continuing to work on it, and folks can see it by appointment or during his studio's open hours—are able to reflect on their own issues and maybe seek help.
"I want people to recognize that aspect of themselves in these houses," he says. "I think I've done a pretty good job based on the response I've gotten from people that have looked at them."