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The Doll House Eugene artists created for Burning Man features interactive dolls that move on their own from side to side. (Emily Matlock/Emerald)

Imagine a dollhouse. Not a pink, Barbie-themed mansion, but an antique, Victorian-style one. Now imagine being able to walk through that dollhouse while creepy dolls turn their heads toward you as distorted music plays in the background.

That’s exactly what the women of House of Strange Rituals art collective intend to create for Burning Man 2019.

House of Strange Rituals, a female-run art collective based in Eugene, was the only Oregon collective awarded the Black Rock City Honoraria Grant by Burning Man to create an art piece for this year’s event.The grant will partially fund their life-sized Dollhouse installation during the week-long eclectic gathering in the desert of Nevada. Their piece was one of 73 installations selected to receive the grant, according to The Burning Man journal.

Tiana Husted and Amanda Langley decided over the summer that they wanted to bring their artwork to Burning Man. Husted and Caitlin O’Rourke attended Burning Man last summer, brainstorming ways they could bring their art to Black Rock City. O’Rourke pitched the idea, and from there, the women assembled a team of artists to bring the Dollhouse to life and form the House of Strange Rituals art collective.

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From left to right, Lindsay Swing, Caitlin O'Rourke, Tiana Husted and Amanda Langley in Swing's studio. (Emily Matlock/Emerald)

“As soon as we got back from the desert in early September, we pretty much had to immediately get to work. It’s been a wild ride,” Husted said.

The house will be an “augmented tiny house,” said Husted, who is the co-leader of interactivity and sound for the project, along with Langley. Husted recently graduated from the University of Oregon, and Langley is a graduate student in the intermedia music technology program at UO.

Standing at two stories tall, the house will be 20 feet long by 10 feet wide. Like a real dollhouse, the backside will be open, shielded from the desert by plexiglass etched with designs by Lindsay Swing, another member of the collective. Carlye Cannon is the lead builder who designed the house.

The Victorian-era design features a ballroom, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen, each with different interactive, supernatural elements, in addition to decor. The inspiration for the installation is a “seance gone wrong,” said O’Rourke, where spirits haunt the dolls.  

Swing is the co-leader of the art and decor team with O’Rourke. Swing graduated from UO as a general science major and said she is intrigued by oddities. “I like creating little natural history worlds like you would see in museums,” she said. In addition to some of her oddities displayed throughout the house, Swing’s hand-etched windows will light up when touched, thanks to a conductive ink, she said.

In the ballroom, a Ouija board will reflect the emotions of guests in the house with LED lights that respond to motion and touch. When guests pick up one of the dolls, music in the room will change from a soft, peaceful tune to a distorted and eerie version. These interactive elements, and the etched, touch-responsive windows, make up just a sample of interactive pieces that will be on display in the Dollhouse.

The ephemeral city of Black Rock City, Nevada, where Burning Man takes place is constructed by “Burners” and reaches a population upwards of 80,000 people, then is all deconstructed at the end of the week. Burning Man takes place from Aug. 25 to Sept. 2, leaving House of Strange Rituals about five months to build, decorate, and finalize the Dollhouse before transporting it to the desert.

In the next five months, the artists will host a number of parties, auctions and events to raise funds for their project to make up for what the grant doesn’t cover. Their first event will be a party held in the Old Whiteaker Firehouse on April 6. The women say they have seen a lot of support from their artist friends already and hope the community will be excited to participate.

“I definitely feel like there’s a strong tie to the arts and a want to support the arts in this community, whether it’s through buying a piece or just showing up to an event,” Swing said about the arts community in Eugene. “Having that support just makes you feel like it’s not a useless endeavor.”

The women of House of Strange Rituals said they hope that their project and their diverse artistic backgrounds will help connect some of the different art scenes throughout Eugene and represent the Eugene arts community on a world stage at Burning Man.

“I want to try to bridge the gap between a lot of the arts communities, and I think that our group in particular is really kind of prime for that,” Swing said. “We all do arts in very different ways and reach out to very different communities because of that.”


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