After losing Tina, her childhood best friend, to COVID, artist Laura Taylor wanted to find a way to confront the grief that came with losing someone who had been a part of her life for so long. Taylor started ordering toys and games identical to the ones the two had played with as kids. These objects would become the materials that now make up “Half-Built House,” a COVID memorial on display this month in GalleryDAAS.

Rather than lining the walls of the gallery, “Half-Built House” stands in the middle of the room, an incomplete structure made of plywood and tar paper. Enter through the front door and you’ll find what Taylor calls a “container of grief.” The walls and floor are lined with different arrangements of old toys, games and letters, including a collage using cards from the game “Sorry” and a jumbled pile of “Monopoly” money and letters the two sent each other as kids. A projector casts a looping video of Troll dolls being floated down a stream, something that Taylor says she and Tina used to do every spring.

Creating a memorial for her friend was an emotional task for Taylor, and she often found it difficult to start the work. She also found that working with toys presented a different process than her usual medium of painting.

“It took me a long time to build it and to make all the sculptures mainly because every time I worked on it, I had to confront the grief of my friends having died … normally I fall into pretty tortured behavior (when painting). But with this, I didn't even let myself do that because I was like, ‘The whole point of this is about playing. It's about joy. It's about Tina, it's not about me.’”

“Half-Built House” is a part of a project called Afterthought, a documentary about different COVID memorials currently being produced by Charlotte Jurgens. Jurgens filmed Taylor for several months as she developed “Half-Built House,” capturing different moments in her artistic process.

The first piece that Taylor created used an Easy Bake Oven, one of her favorite toys as a child. Jurgens filmed her as she sliced the toy up with a dremel, and then as she thought of ways to put it back together again. She finally decided to turn it into a house, complete with a Troll doll resident.

“(Jurgens) was filming me. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I could do this or I could do that.’ And then suddenly it became a house. And that felt so right.”

Several of the other pieces within the house resemble houses themselves, a thematic choice that Taylor says has several layers.

“Tina and I both came from pretty dysfunctional families and kind of parented each other,” she said. “The idea of making a house for us felt so symbolic.”

Building a house was also an empowering act for Taylor, especially when it came to creating the main structure.

“We grew up in the 60s and you know, there was no way little girls would ever be allowed to actually make a house,” Taylor said. “It felt so empowering to say, ‘I'm gonna make a house and just learn how to do it.’”

Taylor hopes that viewers can see the exhibit as both a way to connect with a lost childhood and as the process of moving through grief.

“(The black exterior) goes with grief and mourning and then you walk into (the house) and within it is just playfulness and beauty and creativity and how you can turn one thing into another, like you could turn grief into a peaceful feeling, or joyful (feeling) … transcend the grief.”

“Half-Built House” is on display in GalleryDAAS until October 27.