Every December, the Tate Britain debuts its much-anticipated Christmas tree. Designed by a different contemporary artist each year, the famed museum’s trees are both yuletide decorations and works of modern art. This year, Iranian installation artist Shirazeh Houshiary has quite literally turned the tradition on its head with her upside-down evergreen. Suspended by its trunk, the tree hovers above the main entrance’s stunning spiral staircase.
Ready for some “miniature” stories? Using tiny model figures and food, Seattle-based artist Christopher Boffoli creates fantastic scenes that mimic everyday life! His collection, titled Disparity, is shown in galleries all across the United States.
Why did the artist start down this creative path? “The hand-painted figures that I work with are made for HO scale model train sets,” he tells us. “It is probably no coincidence that around age ten I had a large, elaborate model train layout that my father built for my brother and me. Everything about it was meticulously detailed. Especially with this train set, there was an infinite number of people, cars and buildings one could arrange on the landscape of a perfect little world.”I suppose there is in some part a god-like feeling to having command of an entire world which you can rearrange at any capricious whim. And no matter how messy the real world can become, everything always looks clean and perfect from above in the world of the model train layout.”
Update: We got in touch with the artist to ask him more questions, including why he chose to work with food. Read that short Q&A, below.
Why do most all of your scenes involve food?
I have always been interested in size disparity and a juxtaposition of scales between people and things. It seems to be a really common theme, dating from its use in the 18th Century by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels all the way through the television and films of the 1970’s (like Sid and Marty Kroft’s Dr. Shrinker) and 80’s (The Incredible Shrinking Woman/Honey I Shrunk the Kids/Innerspace) that I grew up on. But even from the earliest days of cinema, filmmakers were using camera tricks to exploit the dramatic opportunities of a size disparity between people and, say, horrifyingly large insects or something.
Like many young boys, I built scale models of cars, planes and boats when I was a kid. I was also an avid collector of Matchbox cars. You don’t often have a great measure of control as a child. Adults make all of your decisions for you. So perhaps it is especially empowering to be able to develop your imagination by controlling the destiny of your toys in this world that is smaller than you. And there is generally more to the concept of ‘play’ than just wasting time. Whether you’re a child on a playground or a lion cub on a savanna in Africa, in subtle ways spending time playing makes you smarter and better equipped to deal with life.
In terms of this series, food was a natural choice as a backdrop because it is the most common subject for most people, readily accessible to them. Not to mention, food can be beautiful with wonderful textures and colors.
What do you find to be the most enjoyable part of putting these scenes together?
Well it’s all enjoyable, from getting the idea, or seeing something that’s freshly in season at the farmer’s market – that would make a good – backdrop, to actually setting it up in my studio while I’m rocking out to music. Though the set-ups can be tricky. The figures aren’t really built to stand on their own. So getting them arranged without being obvious to the camera can take a surprising amount of time. But with all that said, it can be really cool to hear how people react to the images, especially when they’re paired with a clever/funny caption.
For those who want to try out something similar, what tips could you give?
You have to have patience. Like a lot of things, this kind of stuff looks really simple on camera but it requires time to get things set-up and lit. Then you have to try various angles and depth-of-field. It certainly helps to practice with food styling and lighting first. And above all, you have to slow down and look closely at what you’re doing. A lot of us might go to the grocery store and throw something in the cart. But you have to be really selective about picking fruits and vegetables that will look good to the camera. It goes along with the whole theme of the project, which is to take a closer look at things and to consider familiar things in a different context.
Thanks for the interview, Christopher. Love your clever and well-executed works!