The World’s Tiniest Brothel

Leanne Eisen is a Toronto-based artist who creates dollhouse scenes that depict the human condition. One of her most intriguing photo-based series is “Play,” for which Eisen built miniature replicas of brothel interiors. While most dollhouses contain scenes of perfect domesticity, Eisen’s rooms allow viewers a downsized peek inside the mostly hidden world of prostitution. I asked the artist about her mini-sex work project; her response is after the jump. “Things like strip-club stages, condoms, porn magazines and sex toys are not available at 1/12th scale — who knew? So, I made, found or modified miniatures in order to construct the scenes in this series. I use bass wood, paper, fabric, sculpey clay, metal foil, etc. to model the rooms. I shoot the models on my kitchen table using a 4×5 view camera. I use a combination of tungsten studio lights and a technique using long (at times up to 20 minutes!) time exposures where I paint with light using different coloured flashlights as brushes.

I modeled most of the dollhouse rooms after small Nevada style brothels at the cusp of legalization. To this date, I have still not set foot inside a real, full-scale brothel, so in order to create this series I researched films, documentaries, books, photographs — anything I could get my hands on for guidance. The book ‘Brothels of Nevada,’ by Timothy Hursley was very helpful in this task, and I have even quoted his images in two of mine; the text in the images (the lists of rules and memos) are direct quotations. 

I thought it would be interesting to include the strip club scene in order to hint about areas where this industry remains unregulated and more covert. I am also interested in asking questions about the lines that define various occupations within the sex industry, where the barriers that divide them lie, and how well defined they are. I hoped to make the images as realistic looking as possible in order to convey a sense of spatial ambiguity. I tried to take an approach which was at once whimsical and at times critical in order to extend this ambiguity to the subject matter. Hopefully, this approach has made the series more approachable and more engaging.

I am also very interested in residential spaces; the artifacts that we accumulate and leave behind, and how they tell our stories in our absence. I also find the idea of a space that is seemingly a workplace as well as a residence intriguing. In these photos, the viewer takes the role of voyeur, and can take the time to analyze the setting at a perhaps more manageable, less intimidating scale.

Due to some recent attention that this 2006 series has gained recently, I’ve taken another look at the work and have decided to extend it (the blue bedroom is the newest addition). I am currently constructing a seven-room ranch house, potentially adding seven images to the series, maybe even a 3D installation element. Wish me luck!”

To see more of Eisen’s work, visit her website.

Image used with permission of the artist.