Children love creating miniature worlds. From putzing about with dollhouses to long days at Legoland, these tiny creations allowed us to be kings of our own castle. Like Peter Pan, creative duo Aleia Murawski and Sam Copeland hold onto an essential aspect of childhood — play. The miniatures the duo creates are so intricate in detail that if it wasn’t for the mammoth snails that occupy them, you’d believe they were real.
“There is a pleasure in being able to see into a space that’s not your own”, Aleia tells us. “Miniatures allow us to look closely and survey a private space in detail. They re-present something back to us in a non-confrontational way”.
Aleia and Sam take us right into the dark heart of middle-class suburban America. Inspired by TV dramas and movies, their sets feature white picket fences, flat screen televisions, bubble baths and teeny tiny burnt out cigarettes. “I love making rooms that feel nostalgic, romantic or banal”, Aleia explains, “but also have something foreboding or off-putting about them”.
The set’s fakeness gives it an unsettling quality. The scene appears so real, yet with the harsh lighting and absence of human life, it is the materiality of the scene that is highlighted. We are just left with the commercial aspect of life.
Each interior tells a story, with a googly-eyed snail as the actor. When you see a snail at its office desk, amongst Jack Daniels, coffee, red lipstick and cigarettes, you can almost imagine the exact character it could be, a diabolical editor, Miranda Priestly type figure.
There is something intensely satisfying about watching a creature trail slime over the roof of a miniature car, or sit, tentacle eyes swaying, on the top of a skateboard. “I like to think of snails as tiny puppies with shells”, Aleia comments. “I love seeing how they will interact with a set. We put cucumber juice on certain objects, but we cannot wield a snail to do something. We make a scene and hope they are interested in what is around them.”
Aleia makes these miniature sets with the artist Sam Copeland, collecting random scraps that they find on walks or from driving around. “It takes us hours to figure out the lighting and composition”, she explains. “By the time we start to shoot, I’ll either knock the table, and everything will fall over, or a light will die out. It’s hard to spend house being delicate”.
The duo’s work is playful; we are thrown into a world that combines fantasy with reality. However, there is a strangeness to the scenes. At times it feels as if we are peering into a dystopian world, where humans have left, and only their objects and molluscs remain.