Miniature, picturesque murder scenes make up Sweet Dreams at the Station 16 Gallery
Arms and legs outstretched, he felt the wind whipping through his hair and the blood rushing to his head. If he looked down the cliff edge, he would see a man splayed out, bloodied and dirty. Though he would give anything to be released, if the man holding him loosened his grip, he would surely fall from a fatal height.
Roughly six inches.
This scene is from Abigail Goldman’s miniature tableau Hold Tight, part of her highly original series Dieorama. The affectionately-titled solo show, Sweet Dreams, is Goldman’s newest installment to the series, showing at the Station 16 Gallery until Nov. 18.
Dieorama is a series of small-scale dioramas depicting murder scenes, often taking place in middle-class townhouses, open-concept office spaces or picturesque fields. The violence is cold-blooded and the figures are graphic and, of course, small.
Goldman creates her nightmare dioramas out of styrofoam, model train sets and dirt from Las Vegas—as she described to Atlas Obscura, “something about that fine, sun-baked dirt is the best.”
Goldman called Sweet Dreams “a push-pull relationship between the grotesque and the humorous. Ideally, this common thread runs through the show like a bit of delicate tension: Should I laugh or should I cringe?”
As gruesome as the dioramas are, they are also very funny. A grandmother wields a shotgun on postcard-perfect rolling hills, a man showers with a bloodied scrubber, and a woman eats a man’s head at a table set for two.
Goldman’s scenes are fictional, but her subject matter is well researched. Formerly a crime reporter for the Las Vegas Sun, Goldman now works as an investigator for the Federal Public Defender in the District of Nevada where she spends her time uncovering stories for criminal defence cases.
Goldman manages to find and beautifully exploit a delicate balance of dark subject matter and ironic humour with over-the-top scenarios and incredible attention to detail. The result is an unexpectedly compelling method of storytelling.
“My primary consideration is story—what can I do to pull someone in and make them wonder what happened here,” Goldman said. “[I’m] hoping to find a narrative that leaves the viewer with something, whether that means feeling disturbed or amused.”
The small scale of Goldman’s work is critical to its impact. Blood-drenched garden shears, dogs eating their owners and cauldrons full of of limbs are especially poignant on a scale usually reserved for model trains and science fairs.
“The dichotomy is preposterous,” the artist remarked.
The tiny scenes resonated largely with audiences. Viewers at Station 16 Gallery leaned in and strained their eyes to fully absorb the obsessive detail in landscape, movement and gore.
The success of Goldman’s work is due not only to her whimsical storytelling and impressive dexterity, but to something much deeper. As Goldman explained to Juxtapoz Magazine, people hold back a lot of anger to be polite, and so the dioramas may scratch an unexpected itch.
“By condensing rage, miniaturizing it, making violence preposterous and humorous—maybe there’s some relief,” Goldman told Juxtapoz. Perhaps stress and anger are easier to handle when we can observe our most violent thoughts made comical by these tiny displays. In this case, however, we might have to squint.
Dieorama is a joyous example of commitment to craft, animated storytelling and garish humour.
Don’t sleep on this one. Sweet Dreams is not to be missed.
Sweet Dreams will be on display at Station 16 Gallery until Nov. 18. The gallery is located at 3523 St-Laurent Blvd, and open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and until 5 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is free.
Feature photo by Luca Caruso-Moro