Imagine a world like ours, but small and frozen in time, containing miniature versions of everything: tiny houses, tiny trees, tiny green yards with lawn chairs and picnic tables. And yes, tiny people, less than an inch high.
This diminutive green realm of parks and backyards is the world that artist Abigail Goldman tinkers with almost every day.
Recently in her studio, she showed a partly finished diorama. It's a rectangular chunk of Styrofoam, covered in shredded green plastic, to make it look like a grassy yard. There's a weathered, two-story house, a gravel driveway, a tree, an old car -- all tiny. And she's got the kind of junk you'd see behind anyone's house. A garbage can, an old tire, a big barrel positioned as if to catch rainwater runoff from the roof.
But deep in the back yard, the viewer can see something that sets this scene apart from any typical model train-maker's vignette -- two tiny lumberjack figures, sawing a prone woman's body in half.
“You can see her hair is falling in front of her face," says Goldman. "Her hands are out. Legs splayed out in back, dumped onto a pile of logs and the sawing about to begin. And you know it raises the question for the viewer, 'well, what do they plan on doing with her next?' You know, whatever I can to raise a little bit of tension but also leave a lot of questions.”
Welcome to the world of Abigail Goldman’s Die-o-ramas. Almost every one of these little scenes has something creepy, violent or perplexing going on.
Some materials come from model train kits; others Goldman scrounges from outside her house, or buys from craft and hardware stores. And everything is constructed to seem quite realistic -- though 187 times smaller than real life.
"It’s just small enough to be cute and charming but you can also get fairly detailed in the size as well," explains Goldman.
Her largest work is a table-sized diorama included in her latest show. The smallest are about 4 inches by 4 inches. And Goldman likes the ones that are so perplexing and mysterious, they make you scratch your head and laugh about the possibilities. She shows one of her first, depicting a woman pushing a lawnmower across a patch of grass. behind the woman and the mower is a bisected body and a bloody trail. Goldman likes the questions that are raised by scenarios like this.
"Was this an accident?" she asks, laughing. "Are these feuding neighbors? What has befallen these two women? You know, or, she’s just a really bad gardener. Her husband’s out of town and she’s taken over the mowing. She’s just not so great and she ran over someone, and she left her glasses on the kitchen table. Could be an HOA dispute. This could be a million things."
Goldman say her hobby art-making is an extension of the things she's been drawn to all her life.
“As a child, I loved true crime. I wanted to be a detective," she says. "I always watched true crime shows. Incidentally, I had a happy, serene childhood by the San Francisco Bay, and lovely parents. I don’t think there’s anything Freudian here.”
Goldman's also worked as a crime reporter for the Las Vegas Sun, and now she works as an investigator for the federal public defender of Nevada.
"I think naturally people want to equate my professional work with my art," says Goldman. "But the truth is, it’s all the sort of the same pool of dark interests of mine. And actually as a condition of my work, I don’t do any pieces based on any of my cases.”
This is Abigail Goldman’s third show at the Trifecta Gallery. Marty Walsh runs the gallery, and has fun watching people discover the scenes for themselves.
Photos of the work have gone viral online, both shows sold out, and the work was shipped to buyers all over the world.
"Beijing, Sydney, the UK, Ireland," Walsh says of the places where she shipped Goldman's work. "In fact, the last exhibit we had we pre-sold so many of them, that there were only a few left for locals to buy.”
Patrick Duffy is an art collector in Las Vegas who bought two of Goldman’s pieces, and he says he doesn’t have anything else like them in his collection.
“I remember when I first saw them I was attracted to the verdant green. Green is a favorite color of mine so I was attracted to that," he says. "It’s the use of something so much a part of our lives as green. Very homogenous. I’m transported at least, into these scene of debauchery or massacre.”
The green and the gore, and the contrast between the two — that might be the secret superpower of Goldman’s work.
Think about the interest of people when they drive by a horrible accident," says Duffy. "What are they looking for? Are they looking for the blood? Are they looking for the gore? Of course they are."
So why do we laugh when we come upon one of these tiny, bloody, violent scenes?
"I really think for most people, you don’t have to peel down too many layers to find anxiety, fear and unbridled anger," theorizes Goldman. "I think when people see that monster lurking inside of them, modeled, and then put in a box and contained. I think that tension is what causes people to laugh.”
Sure some people are offended; some people have even said she has a twisted mind.
“That’s what art’s supposed to do," says Goldman. "I’m trying to evoke emotions and I’m trying to do something dynamic. And in the course of that little people are going to get killed.”
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