Curated in partnership with Richmond Public Art Program
Schilling’s House is one of many abandoned farmhouses punctuating the Canadian prairies, homes built by settler migrant farmers, who came in waves during the 1800s. Forming part of the complex history of colonization in Canada, the houses—now decaying—are slowly returning to the land.
Emily Neufeld’s practice focuses on place, specifically examining human traces within the domestic environment. Growing up on the Canadian prairies, a descendant of Mennonites, her interest lies in the relationships between the environment and the people who inhabit it, and the influence each has on the other. Over the last two years Neufeld has visited and photographed a dozen of these empty houses, where the work takes on a performative aspect. Once in the structures, she considers the history of the inhabitants, the building with its contents, and performs interventions—creating sculptures from the various materials found within the homes and yards. These are photographed and left with the house when she leaves, to follow the same fate as the house. Neufeld likens the interventions to “funerary rites,” a final acknowledgement of the synthesis between people and the place they occupied.
In the Schilling house, located in southeastern Alberta, Neufeld removed the lower corner of the structure and brought prairie grasses back inside, across part of the first floor. Neufeld summarizes the experience and intervention— “the house remains standing, though more precariously than before, while the prairie waits patiently to reclaim this recently ceded bit of territory.”