In Lori Nix’s work, something catastrophic has happened, and all the people have disappeared. What exactly is this disaster? That is left up to the viewer to decide. The resulting destruction has left the manmade spaces to fend for themselves against the encroaching elements, as nature reclaims what is rightfully hers. These chilling scenes are intricately built dioramas, ironic in the sense that their construction is entirely controlled and manipulated by a human hand, only to result in representing the lack of control human beings ultimately have. After meticulously building her dioramas, Nix then photographs them and presents her work in large format.
The duo starts by conducting research that entails visiting spaces that already exist, purchasing books on the subject as well as researching images on Google. “Once I have a pretty good idea of how I want the scene to look, we start doing sketches in colored pencil and watercolor to nail down the specific color palette. We also make sketches of some of the design elements we want to include in the diorama,” explains Nix.
After the research stage is over, Nix and her assistant begin rounding up the needed raw materials such as latex paint, decorative elements, gold lea[ves] and foam boards, Exacto blades and such. “We start building the most difficult architectural elements first. For the theater, we thought the loge needed
to be fully completed before creating walls, ceiling and stage. We wanted the loge to be semicircular in shape and have very decorative elements framing this area,” Nix elaborates. The interior walls of the loge were created from plastic sheeting and glued onto foam forms to keep the circular bend of the walls. These were then set into the actual wall itself. “We started painting and gold leafing the balcony element first, then started on the columns and arch over the loge,” she explains.
The columns and arch were created out of various layers of foam and basswood, cloth trim, paint and gold leaf, “once this section of the theater was completed, we built out the rest of the walls and back of the theater. Once we had these in place, we could figure out the slope and shape of the two balconies,” says Nix. At this point, Nix glued down wallpaper, paint, and gilded decorative trim. After this was dry, the duo installed the balconies. Focus then shifted to the ceiling where they carefully laid out where moldings would go, and then created more texture with strips of basswood painted white. Nix goes on to explain, “We had one major piece of molding that would be the centerpiece of the ceiling and would hold our grand chandelier.”
“While we were creating the walls, loge and ceiling, I was also sculpting individual theater seats out of foam. These would progressively get smaller as they went to the back of the theater. I really wanted to force the spatial perspective of the place,” says Nix. She went on to paint the chairs purple, and then glued them together in rows. Nix’s assistant Kathleen worked on sculpting the large black birds out of polymer clay and Nix’s friend Dan put the finishing touches on his large chandelier and four smaller lights as well as the Majestic theater sign. “After these were installed, it was left up to me to set up my studio strobes and set the large format camera in place,” explains Nix. After a week of shooting the diorama, Nix finally had her final image on film. Although Nix does not envision what specific trauma occurred in this theater, she re-iterates that the idea that runs through the entire series The City is that something catastrophic has happened to the city and mankind has been wiped off the face of the earth. All that is left is our cultural shells, buildings both grand and everyday. Some buildings have been affected by flood and insect infestation; most are just falling down due to lack of attention. “My main concern for the Majestic,” she explains, “was to view the theater from the back of the stage out towards the audience. The viewers’ reaction to the image becomes the drama for the stage.”