Tracey Snelling really wants you to peer into the window of her bedroom — but it’s not really her bedroom, there isn’t even a real bed. But no matter, the actions that take place in the windows of her miniature buildings are juicier than the real thing, without any of the consequences of getting caught in the act of peeping.
In her dioramas, Snelling sets up a landscape of buildings, reminiscent of a familiar neighborhoods — a bordertown in Mexico or a sleepy, small American town — and creates open-ended mini narratives through sounds and video monitors embedded in the windows and doors. Her interest is to pull the viewers into experiencing life that they wouldn’t necessarily have access to in another space. The hope is that through this experience there is understanding.
This hope for a more peaceful co-existence with ones neighbors is the focus of We Are One, her diorma for the “Small is Beautiful” exhibition. Just recently back home from an exhibition in Zurich and about to leave for NYC for the “Small is Beautiful” exhibition, we caught up with Snelling for a brief talk about the inspiration for We Are One.
You sent us inspiration images for your piece We Are One and they range from the White House, Taj Mahal, to a hospital in Congo, Persian rugs, Christmas lights. Where did the idea for the piece come from?
I wanted to say something about the world without being really heavy-handed. I wanted to combine different buildings from around the world and mix it all together. So there’s the White House draped in miniature Persian and Islamic rugs, the Taj Mahal covered with the American sci-fi This Island Earth movie poster, there are some objects like a crystal ball, Christian religious artifacts. The word “together” is written in graffiti in several different languages.
One is invited to a place where cultures and religions mix and meld in a somewhat harmonious way.
You often embed LCD screens into the windows and doors of your sculptures and act out scenes on the screens. What can we expect in We Are One?
There are several videos, containing boxing cartoons, interracial couples, and video clips from Bollywood and dancing from around the world.
This project seems a departure from your other works where the diorama sets a mood and a landscape but doesn’t have a specific message.
Usually, when I’m working, I try to purely be an observer. Although my opinions go into a piece, the point is not to get a point across. Whereas We Are One was definitely a different way of working.
You were born in Oakland and have lived in many small towns throughout California before settling back to Oakland. Why are you attracted to small towns?
More so I’m attracted to older places, I’m not attracted to the new towns, clean towns, with the new skyscrapers. When there’s more wear and tear, the story shows up more and the buildings become more interesting.
My sister and I would play for hours with our dollhouse so as a child I was really fascinated with it. I think most children are.
I came back to miniatures when I was working on a collage of a brownstone. The front of the building was filled with windows and you could see into all the individual rooms. That piece really gave me the idea to make a 3-dimensional sculpture where you can really explore each room.
I guess I like working in miniature because you can capture whole world in a small space. Making something so small allows the viewer to kind of oversee the whole thing and get a different view than they would normally have walking through the space. It allows people become more of a voyeur. All those small windows allow people to look into these many spaces that they normally wouldn’t be able to.
Voyeurism is a recurring motif throughout your work.
If you’re walking through the city [in the real world] and people have their shades up, you can’t really walk up and look into the window. Most people wouldn’t think to peek into a strip joint. In my work, you’re asked to look.
This piece feels more optimistic than previous works of art.
Yes, it’s more of an idea of hope that I have that people will look more at each other and appreciate the differences, rather than wanting them to all be the same. It starts with your neighbors. If you can’t get along with your neighbors, how can you get along with a country next to you? It a human condition…it’s easy to get sucked into that wanting everyone to the same. People have to continuously pull themselves out of this.
Theme has teamed up with Scion to curate an exhibition of miniature dioramas by artists Jeremy Mora, Lori Nix, Tracey Snelling, Dan Funderburgh and Ji Lee. Asked to interpret the theme “Small is Beautiful” the five artists constructed mini cities, colored and inspired by their own experiences of urban life, touching on topics of decay, regeneration, voyeurism, multiculturalism, chaos and order.