I first saw Lori Nix’s photographs online—scenes of post-apocalyptic interior environments abandoned and in the slow process of being reclaimed by nature—and I was amazed. After learning that Nix photographed miniature dioramas that she builds by hand, mostly from scratch, there followed a moment of disbelief. Each scene is so lavishly detailed down to wood grain and stained walls that I thought she simply set-dressed existing locations rather than create the world exactly as she wished it to be. After disbelief came relief; I was glad these locations didn’t exist, that they weren’t actually the result of some current natural or manmade disaster. This relief is a gift often administered by great art.
Nix’s work doesn’t just provoke or inspire by virtue of the talent expressed in each scene, it actually has the ability to frighten you and then kiss your cheek with its illusion. “Laundromat at Night” disintegrates under fluorescent lighting—which itself has somehow survived; the apocalypse will be well lit—and is patronized only by glowing-eyed rats. “Control Room” is our suppressed dread of being failed by corporations, governments, ourselves; “Library” is the withering and loss of knowledge; “Church” is the dissolution of religion and the repurposing of its houses; “Mall” is the end of money. Some fates are worse than others, but they all share a vividness that reads as real, which is why I was so disappointed when I saw the photographs in person.
The detail died for me in large-format prints. It could be that my first impression—seeing the work on my computer screen—was so incredible that the tangible didn’t compare; or, that as you look more closely at lavish detail, it becomes easier to see the dressed set. Then again, maybe I just think about the end often enough that I’m starting to see it where it’s not. And I’m not alone there. I’m relieved to still own that first impression, however. Lori Nix’s ideas easily surpass my disappointment.
And Nix is not alone either. Some great minds are making miniatures and doing equally fascinating things with them. Nix’s fellow New Yorker Thomas Doyle and Chicagoan Ross Martens also have distinct ways of placing the world under glass and examining certain ideas, playful or disturbing. These tiny visions can lead to greater understanding of the bigger picture. (Damien James)
Through March 5 at Catherine Edelman Gallery, 300 West Superior.