Hood Quarterly, autumn 2012
Juliette Bianco, Assistant Director
Denver-based multimedia artist Stacey Steers conceived her Night Hunter House around her sixteen-minute handmade film, shot in 35mm color, titled Night Hunter (2011). The film, incorporated into the house itself, is composed of more than four thousand collages, an intensely laborious process that Steers completed over a four-year period. The music and sound from the film, which are also part of this work, are by Larry Polansky, Jacob H. Strauss 1922 Professor in Music at Dartmouth College. The film seamlessly incorporates images of silent film star Lillian Gish (1893–1993) taken from her films Broken Blossoms, Way Down East (part of which was filmed in White River Junction, Vermont), and True Heart Susie, among others. Night Hunter House literally places Gish in a nightmare world filled with snakes, giant moths, pulsating eggs, and a deep, dark forest, into which she disappears at the end of the film in a moment reminiscent of classic fairy tales, although her fate is far from clear.
This three-foot-tall black Victorian dollhouse was built by Steers with design and construction help from architect Mark Sofield and Michael Schliske of Steamboat Woodworks. It is outfitted with ten rooms that recreate those within which the scenes from the film take place, and each room contains a small HDTV screen that loops the segment of the film connected to the space. The intricately furnished interiors are filled with furniture, light fixtures, antique lace, curtains, implements, bird eggs, and moth specimens. The base of the house depicts the forest at the end of the film. Viewers therefore are invited to experience the dream along with Gish by peering into each of the windows of the house and observing its contents as well as the film.
Night Hunter House evokes the surrealist landscapes and collages of Max Ernst and the otherworldly boxes of his contemporary Joseph Cornell. Steers also cites contemporary artist William Kentridge as a stylistic influence. In addition, the structure or image of the house is one that has been used by feminist artists to explore femininity and the roles of women in society. Steers reverses the idea of the house as a "safe haven" in this work. The "dangerous" forest that threatened Little Red Riding Hood—among other female archetypes—becomes the place of escape, although its pulsating darkness is no less threatening than the activity within the house.
A central theme of Night Hunter House is that of transition, both biological and metaphorical. Not only does Steers's filmmaking process of handmade collage embrace transition by its very nature, but the visitor's experience of the house, from the tidy foyer and living room below to the violently disrupted attic above, parallels the protagonist's transition within it. As she slowly realizes she is changing from human to bird, she encounters another uniquely female state of impermanence: gestation. Indeed, Steers draws our attention to the relationship between the house and the female body—one could argue that the house is a body—and peering into its windows thereby implies a certain intimacy on the part of the viewer. A new acquisition on view to the public for the first time, Night Hunter House exemplifies contemporary multi-media and collaborative art making. Because of the multifaceted themes that Steers explores, it has the potential to connect to the curriculum at Dartmouth College in a variety of disciplines, including art history, studio art, women's and gender studies, French and Italian, philosophy, music, history, theater, English, and film and media studies.
Stacey Steers's Night Hunter House was first on view at the Hood Museum of Art August 25–December 16, 2012.