Executed in intricate detail, dioramas present us with three-dimensional microcosms that pique our curiosities, by displaying the strange beauty that comes from capturing our world in miniature. The artist Abigail Goldman has took the seemingly innocent art of diorama to a whole new level, while holding up a mirror to viewers to reveal their own affinity for the macabre.
At first sight, Abigail’s tiny worlds appear to be mundane Americana scenes, populated by figures less than an inch high. However, upon closer inspection, the disturbing nature of these constructed worlds reveals itself. Tapping into our dark appetites, as well as the culture of anger and outrage, Abigail’s miniscule environments are center stage for grisly murder scenes and various acts of mayhem and gore.
Two tiny lumberjack figures sawing a prone woman’s body in half, a woman bisecting a body with a lawnmower or a full-on killer clown rampage are just some of the narratives of Abigail’s dieoramas, as she likes to call them. Reducing the brutality to a miniature scale, her works are at once dark and humorous, creating an uncomfortable tension within the viewer.
PRØHBTD spoke with Abigail about her fascination with crime, society’s growing appetite for violence, anger that is hidden under the surface, her working process and much more.
You have worked as a crime reporter at the Las Vegas Sun and as an Investigator for the Federal Public Defender of Nevada. When did your fascination with crime and forensics begin? How has this background influenced your art practice?
I work now as an investigator for a public defender in Washington state, and I think the bleak realities of the criminal justice system do influence my work. Spend enough time watching people ground through the mill of incarceration and suddenly you find yourself cynical and laughing only at the sickest of jokes. It’s a defense mechanism. That said, I’ve been drawn to crime and bad behavior for as long as I can remember, and I think it all comes from a fundamental bad trait I have: I’m a snoop. I like nosing around and digging into people. People at their worst—committing crimes, creating chaos—offer us a glimpse behind the human curtain. There’s a polite world, and then there’s what’s happening below that surface. That mindset is what my work is all about, I suppose.
What attracted you to the medium of diorama?
It’s satisfying to build and work in three dimensions. It’s also rewarding to work small—the figures in my dieoramas are under an inch tall—so I strive to make things that are cute and grim all at once.
You have turned the usual traits of this medium on its head by detailing gruesome crimes. How do your dieoramas speak to society’s growing appetite for violence and affinities for the macabre?
I think people are drawn to a little jolt of horror, the same way people dart their eyes over the scene of a car accident. There’s something magnetic about the macabre. Maybe it’s being mortal and confronting death, or perhaps it’s just an animal impulse. Whatever the case, our appetite for violence is reflected everywhere. On TV you have a buffet of true crime coverage. In the newspaper business, there was a phrase “if it bleeds, it leads,” and I don’t think this is a purely modern phenomenon. In 1800s England, a hangman could make side income selling small sections of a used noose because people thought they were good luck. I think as long as we’ve existed, we’ve been interested in death.
The scenes you construct have a charming Americana quality to them and are often set behind suburban white picket fences on perfectly mown lawns. How does this setting relate to the themes you explore?
I like the juxtaposition of picket fences and rolling lawns with pooling blood and beheadings. I’m trying to grab people with the contrast. I grew up in the California suburbs, so it’s a familiar setting to me, and one that I know is often not as wholesome as it appears.
The violence in your work is noticeable only upon closer inspection of these miniatures. Do you think there’s plenty of anger around us that is actually hidden under the surface?
I think this country is in a moment of peak anger. There’s a rage that is palpable and terrifying. Nationally, we read daily about some new atrocity. Personally, I think the stress and the despondency builds up, and suddenly you find yourself screaming at someone who cut you off, or half crying when the grocery store doesn’t have your chosen cereal. It’s everywhere, and it sneaks up on you.
Your dieoramas are at once gore and humorous. What do you think this dueling dynamic evokes in the viewer?
My goal is to simultaneously reel someone in and push them away. Hopefully a person looking at a dieorama is repelled and amused all at once. It’s great to watch people see them for the first time—usually a person will lean in really close and then snap back just as fast once they take in the gore.
These three-dimensional microcosms are constructed meticulously with a remarkable attention to detail. Could you tell us something about your working process?
I can tell you it’s a big mess. There’s lots of glue and small parts. Sometimes a leg or head that I’m cutting off will go flying across the room never to be seen again. I’ve lined the walls of my workspace with plastic sheeting, just to cut down on splatter. There’s nothing better for me than getting sucked into the process, when the world sort of falls away and all that’s left is me hunched over my desk, building.
In January, the public will have a chance to see your work at the LA Art Show. Could you tell us something about the body of work that will be on view?
I’ve made a series of dieoramas encapsulated in acrylic domes. They’re sort of like small bubbles that live on the wall anywhere from 4.5” to 6” across. Red Truck Gallery out of New Orleans is showing them at Littletopia, which is part of the LA Art Show, January 23 to 27, and anyone who can’t make it to the LA show can always contact the gallery for a collector’s preview. I hope anyone who goes will find me on Instagram and let me know what they think!
What’s next for you and your tiny worlds?
I’m working on dieoramas for my solo show with Hashimoto Contemporary in New York City in December 2019. It’s a show that’s been in the works for a long time with a brilliant gallery, and I’m looking forward to being there to meet people and show them my work in person.
Images courtesy of Shaun Roberts/Spoke Art.