“Mea Culpa” features a series of dioramas that contain tiny worlds, each similar to our own and inhabited by figures less than an inch high. White picket fences, manicured lawns and mundane suburban settings are all found throughout Abigail Goldman’s work. However upon closer inspection, these minuscule environments are also center stage for various acts of debauchery and gore. The show is comprised of both free-standing and wall-mounted sculptures, each serving as a small window into a different reality. One sculpture depicts two women enjoying a picnic on a grassy 8- inch square island, where fragments of their “guests” can be seen sprawled across the checkered blanket. Another shows a man scrubbing his back with a loofa in the shower, facing away from the bloody figure behind him on the tiled bathroom floor. These perplexing moments create an uncomfortable tension, which in turn forms endless questions of motive and implication.
Appearing both charming and disturbing in nature, Goldman’s “die-o-ramas” offer a conflicting experience for viewers. The artist constructs each fictitious scene using a variety of materials, such as synthetic grass, styrofoam, and model train set figures. Every component is formed with thoughtful consideration, from the smooth pavement of a driveway to the weathered shingles of a rooftop. This attention to detail draws in the viewer’s eye, only to greet them with unexpected violence. The cheery size and disposition of each sculpture clashes with the unapologetic crimes taking place, often creating a more humorous reaction. Goldman’s duality between the picturesque and the grim pokes fun at society’s fascination with violence and the abject. In the artist’s own words, “Sometimes there’s just a razor’s edge between funny and ghastly.”
Goldman’s fascination in crime and forensics began at an early age, eventually leading to a job as a crime reporter at the Las Vegas Sun and later as an Investigator for the Federal Public Defender of Nevada. Her time spent analyzing the details of old crimes influences her current interest in miniature narratives. The artist elaborates, “Today, there’s an anger buzzing just under the surface – polite exchanges through clenched teeth, charged conversations around the water cooler at work, someone cuts you off on the highway and you see red. It’s a frenzy out there. By condensing rage, miniaturizing it, making violence preposterous and humorous -- maybe there’s some relief.”
Tell us a little about yourself and where you're based.
Abigail Goldman: I live Bellingham, Washington. Before moving north last year, I spent a sweltering decade in Las Vegas. I was born in San Francisco and grew up in Marin.
How did the first dieorama come to fruition?
The first dieorama was a man sitting on a park bench next to a severed head. It was a gift for a friend. I was cat sitting for her, and I thought it would be a nice item to leave on her kitchen table without comment. Cat sitting can do that to a person.
You spent time as a newspaper reporter and an investigator for the Federal Public Defender in Las Vegas, did this have an impact on the evolution of your series?
I was drawn to reporting and investigating because of my lifelong interest in crime and bad behavior. Observing and working in the legal system gave me sideline access to the fascinating, fluid dynamics of crime – and crime can tap into everything: misery, love, malice, sex, grief, humor, humanity and inhumanity, life and death. I try to imbue all my work with that mortal mix, in miniature.
What is your creative process like? How are your miniature figures constructed?
I spend a long time contemplating ideas for scenes. Once I’ve settled on a concept, the mess begins: Styrofoam is sawed, glue spills, razor blades come out, paint is mixed and mucked up to become gore. I’ll be hunched over a tiny part, adding a tinier detail, and hours vanish. There’s a wonderful, hypnotic fog that descends when I’m humming with work.
The figures are actually model railroad figures – I just maim them.
Are your sculptures inspired by real events or more fictitious scenarios?
All fictitious. Though I’ve certainly been asked to recreate real events. And wished-for events. A school teacher once requested a bright yellow school bus full of kids crashed into a ravine. And jilted lovers always want miniature, violent revenge. Plenty of charming, lovely people walk around with rage just under the surface.
Tell us a little about “Mea Culpa”, what can we expect from this show?
Little islands of green and gore. I work in a scale of 1:87 — that breaks down to 3.5 mm representing one foot. So, the figures in the work are less than an inch tall. People are always surprised to see dieoramas in person for the first time – it’s hard to convey just how tiny they are.
Many of your works dance between horror and humor. What reaction are you looking to get from viewers?
Lots of humor comes from hurt. Sometimes there’s a just razor’s edge between funny and ghastly. I hope to pull viewers in, make them reel back, then pull them in again. The work is small, but violent. It’s cute, but grim. Sweet, and sick. My hope is that this dueling dynamic gives people a little gut punch, a little tickle.
Does your work comment at all on society’s fascination in violence and the abject?
I hope so. Humans have always been intrigued by crime and violence – whether that’s because it jolts our mortality, or it illuminates our darkest selves. We crane our necks to see car accidents; we have entire TV networks devoted to true crime coverage. This kind of salacious voyeurism isn’t new. Not long ago, people gathered to watch guillotines drop, heads were placed on stakes in public squares, and hangmen supplemented their income selling bits of used rope.
Today, there’s an anger buzzing just under the surface – polite exchanges through clenched teeth, charged conversations around the water cooler at work, someone cuts you off on the highway and you see red. It’s a frenzy out there. By condensing rage, miniaturizing it, making violence preposterous and humorous — maybe there’s some relief.
Do you have any long-term goals or aspirations for your work? What’s next for your tiny worlds?
I want to work bigger while staying small – entire streets, suburban housing tracts, bright little neighborhoods with dark little secrets. I’m also working on interior scenes: bathrooms, living rooms and bedrooms, where plenty of no good can happen.
For more information, visit hashimotocontemporary.com