Goldman creates intricate die-o-ramas rendered in 1:87 scale. The diminutive size of the works is in contrast to the tableaus of gore and mayhem rendered within. Often both humorous and grotesque, the detailed pieces are a wholly engaging product of Goldman’s life-long fascination with crime and the dark side of the human psyche.
Our interview with Abigail Goldman discusses rage and violence in America, how she jump-starts her motivation to work in the studio after a long day, and a bit of macabre history.
Can you share a little about your background and how you first heard of Thinkspace?
I was born in San Francisco and grew up in the Bay Area. Today, I live in Washington state, so far north that it’s practically Canada. I work as an investigator for the Federal Public Defender. I have two small kids who are still too young to grasp the messy projects I’m always working on are gory little murders. It will be an interesting detail for their therapists someday.
I’ve known about Thinkspace for so long that I’m not sure where I first learned of the gallery! But if I had to guess, it was either an art-savvy friend that clued me in or the all-knowing power of Instagram’s algorithm.
What is the inspiration and themes you were exploring in this latest body of work? Can you share your process for capturing the ideas that lead to these pieces?
I’m preoccupied with the idea that many of us are privately seething under the surface, and that American culture has become an escalating feedback loop of rage and violence. It’s a frequency running in the background, so omnipresent that violence has essentially become banal. It’s the theme behind this show, and really all my work. I feel successful if I’ve made something both troubling and amusing. For some, maybe there’s a kind of catharsis in it, or a mirror into our collective psyche. Or maybe it’s just plain black humor (which I’d argue occurs as an outlet for that same rage and violence).
The process for capturing the idea usually starts with me building an empty room or building. Then I slowly fill details to approximate reality while the idea churns in the back of my mind. Typically, by the time I have an unpopulated scene complete, I’ve got the human drama ready to model in my mind.
What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition? How did it help you grow as an artist?
Ooof – they are all challenging. But if I had to pick, I’d say larger works tend to be the trickiest, just because there’s more that can go wrong. Dieoramas with interior lighting elements are technically difficult, as are dieoramas that show a scene with multiple rooms. I am always striving to increase the complexity and detail, and working in my ultra-small scale, it gets painstaking. But I’m always learning – better supplies, better ways to approximate real life in 1:87 scale, better technique.
Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?
Because I have a day job and two kids to keep alive, I now primarily work in the late evening – I call it the night shift. This is also precisely the time you want to lie motionless on their couch and disassociate with doom-scrolling. So, I find that if I start with some mundane, non-creative chore, like cleaning paint brushes or organizing supplies, I can build the momentum I need to tackle bigger projects. The ideas kind of churn in the background. And once I get started, then I invariably stay up too late working in the end.
What is your favorite and least favorite part of the creative process?
My favorite part is seeing the narrative of a dieorama come together – all the details that add up in each scene to tell a story or convey a mood. It feels almost cinematic, like pausing a movie at your favorite frame. It’s also extremely fun to meet people at shows and enjoy the instant bond that comes with sharing questionable interests.
My least favorite part: Photography. Hands down. Effectively capturing extremely tiny things just isn’t easy. Then you add in the glare from reflective plexiglass? Nightmare. I’m on the hunt for a professional photographer, but it’s been a challenge in the small town where I live.
Did you watch the Angelyne mini-series? What inspired you to create a piece honoring this Los Angeles icon?
I did not watch the Angelyne series. In fact, it wasn’t until I was searching around for some photos of her billboards that I even learned her story had been made into a show. I had an existing association with her as this very local, very Los Angeles icon. Initially, I was contemplating making a dieorama with the Hollywood sign, but then I realized Angelyne was a better symbol – more of a wink or inside joke.
What would be your anecdote to violence and rage in America?
There’s a lot that needs to be done: Education. Intelligent news coverage. Gun control. Taking measures to halt the spread of disinformation online. Increasing wages. Universal health care. Decreasing the cost of college and student debt. More parental leave and affordable childcare. Employers who embrace telecommuting or the 4-day work week. Ending food deserts, corporate tax loopholes, gerrymandering, cash bail, corporate money in politics, three strikes laws and mass incarceration. Cutting military spending, funding early education and taxing billionaires into oblivion. I could go on, but I won’t hold my breath.
The dioramas transmute violence through absurdity. Why do you think there is a human desire to look (and laugh at) gruesome violence? Do you ever think about where the line is of where it goes from healthy dissociation to unhealthy detachment?
People like to brush up against death. Or be confronted with the blow of mortality now and again. In 19th century Europe, executioners made a side profit by selling cuts of their used hangman rope to people in the audience. Today, we have entire TV networks dedicated to crime coverage – coverage I contributed to as a former newspaper reporter. Acts of gruesome violence are a direct route to the animal in us, and when the veil gets pulled back, it’s hard to look away. There is absolutely an unhealthy detachment, and it’s metastasizing. We’re no longer completely safe sitting in a movie theater, or sending a kid to school. That’s the background rage again, humming and getting louder.
If you could have any skill or topic downloaded into your brain, what would you want to be able to do/ be an expert at?
Languages. Even one additional language would feel like a miracle to me. I’ve tried, but to my great shame, never really surpassed the communication skills of a demanding toddler.