People never tire of imagining the apocalypse. Whether in disaster films or speculative books, there is something darkly alluring about the idea of a world without people. Now, two artists have taken up the apocalyptic mantle in a new medium: the humble diorama. In a series titled “The City,” Lori Nix and Kathleen Gerber modeled an abandoned urban landscape that nature has begun to reclaim. The result may be bleak, but it’s also inarguably compelling.
The scenes are highly reminiscent of the popular yet controversial photographic genre known as “ruin porn.” This trend has an older provenance than some might imagine. In the 18th century, members of the burgeoning Romantic movement in the arts were fascinated by medieval ruins, which for them were artifacts of a more vibrant era, one that had not yet been disenchanted by modernity.
Somewhat later, Gothic writers drew on ruins as symbols of death’s inevitability. Nix + Gerber draw on this latter tradition, reminding us with their work that our civilization, too, will some day pass away.
Realistic as the dioramas are, they do not reflect real places. “I’m really not much of a traveler, except in my head. I am by nature a homebody,” explained Nix. “Rather than go out into the world in search of these scenes, I choose to stay in my apartment and build my own worlds.” The fact that the dioramas in “The City” represent imagined spaces rather than real ones allows them to stand in for many places at once.
The process of constructing a diorama takes anywhere from seven to 15 months. Nix and Gerber divide the labor, with Nix planning the overall scheme and Gerber fleshing out the details, creating minutely detailed sculptures of chairs, clothes and other forms of urban detritus. In the end, Nix photographs the finished work. Since 1999, the pair have completed 30 scenes.
Any project that lasts more than a decade is bound to have some twists and turns. While the original focus of the series was interior spaces, Nix + Gerber have recently begun to explore outdoor scenes. Each of the dioramas depict architecture in conflict with the natural world.
Like many other artworks that take up the apocalypse as a theme, there is an allegorical meaning to “The City.” “I want to encourage people to really think more about the world around them and the difficulties we as a species are facing,” said Nix.
All photos courtesy of Nix + Gerber