TURNING LONDON INTO LILLIPUT
A Sneak Peak at Street Artist SLINKACHU’s Recent Work and His Upcoming Exhibition CONCRETE OCEAN
Slinkachu by Tyler Malone
The work of street artist Slinkachu may be miniature, but it feels larger than life. The emotions it evokes within–running the gamut from the deepest of sorrows to the most exuberant of joys–are no small, petty feelings, but pivotal sensations. His little people bring about giant epiphanies with their subtle suggestions. They achieve this massive feat by juxtaposition, by comparison. As Jonathan Swift wrote in Gulliver’s Travels, “Undoubtedly philosophers are in the right, when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.” This Swiftian notion of comparison is what makes Slinkachu’s street art installations so compelling. The figures may be miniature, but they interact with the same big, bad world that we live in. We feel their littleness in juxtaposition to the enormity of the world, and we find comparison between ourselves and these miniature men and women. Like them, we are small, we are meaningless, we are easily forgotten.
Sound depressing? Not exactly. Coupled with that ominous sense of the melancholy of existence, Slinkachu imbues his work with that feeling’s polar opposite: an uninhibited joie de vivre. It is as the great philosopher Albert Camus said in his famous philosophical treatise on existence, The Myth of Sisyphus: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” Even in the midst of the enormous chaos of life, inundated with that ominous sense of the melancholy of existence, there is a joy and a beauty in the mundane, in the small, in the forgotten. Though these little people may make us want to cry, they also can’t help but make us smile. Often we hear of people taking pride in their appreciation of “the small things in life.” They should take pride in such an appreciation, for it is in these small things that we are able to find our solace from that big, bad world. Slinkachu creates such small things–things that save us from the enormous chaos of life, reminding us of that melancholy of existence while simultaneously giving us respite from it with the play of comedy with pathos. One must imagine Sisyphus laughing. And we do laugh, we can’t help but do so when we see these miniature men taking on the big, bad world. Slinkachu achieves this underlying sense of joy and hope and comfort by reminding us, without telling us, that we create our own meaning in a world full of meaninglessness, we create our own solace. With Slinkachu’s upcoming exhibition Concrete Ocean in London at the Andipa Gallery just around the corner, I thought it’d be a great time to discuss these themes, dichotomies, juxtapositions and comparisons in the work of the man who is swiftly (and Swiftly) turning London into Lilliput.
Tyler Malone: Since what you do is so unique–a very specific type of street art in miniature–I was wondering if you could just describe how you define what it is you do?
Slinkachu: It is hard to define it specifically–”street installation and photography” probably sums it up. But it is probably best to say that I stick miniature model people around the streets and take shots of them.
TM: What drew you to the medium of miniatures?
S: I first started as a hobby–a creative outlet that was apart from my day job at the time as an art director. I’ve always been interested in miniature things: animals and insects, and models and toys. As a child I was always fascinated by train sets, but not the trains themselves–the worlds built around them. And my mum and I would often make dioramas together out of cereal boxes–Indian Jones themed ones, or a haunted house. I liked the thought of doing something similar, but on the street in a real environment. I was attracted to the idea of hiding these miniature train set figures so that only a lucky few would ever find them.
TM: That said–about the lucky few finding them–I’ve been wondering: Do you leave the miniatures at the scene? Or do you just take your pictures and then take them with you?
S: I usually leave the figures–that is a big part of my work. I like to abandon these little people to their fates on the street, or perhaps for someone to find. Sometimes, if I can’t get a good shot, such as when I miss the right light or it starts to rain, I will take the figures home again and return another day.
TM: How do you work? Do you see a space and then figure out which certain kinds of miniatures doing certain kinds of things should go there? Or do you come up with the miniatures and then find an adequate space for them?
S: I do a bit of both. I will decide on a set-up and then go to different parts of London, or another city, and just walk around until I find an interesting area to place the figures. But in doing this, I often find other areas that I want to shoot in so I will go back again a week later with a new installation tailored for it.
TM: I know you’ve said you think of your miniatures as each having distinct stories, personalities and existences. Who is your favorite “character” you’ve created? And what, briefly, is their story?
S: There are a few recurring types of characters that I use and I do sometimes imagine that they might be the same people. A particular grey-haired office worker, a father and young son, and an older teen in a hoodie are a few. All the characters are “every-men” in a way though–hopefully people can project their own stories on to these characters.
TM: Do you ever imagine that all the little people you’ve populated London with will one day rise up against us? I just have an image in my head from Gulliver’s Travels of Gulliver tied down by a bunch of miniature Lilliputians.
S: No, I imagine them still living generally down-trodden and ignored!
TM: Will Self, one of the great living authors, wrote the foreword to your book where he actually quotes Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels:
“Undoubtedly philosophers are in the right, when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison. It might have pleased fortune, to have let the Lilliputians find some nation, where the people were as diminutive with respect to them, as they were to me. And who knows but that even this prodigious race of mortals might be equally overmatched in some distant part of the world, whereof we have yet no discovery.”
The comparison to Gulliver’s Travels I think is very apt, and Self makes some interesting points in his foreword, and seems to be an unabashed admirer of your work. How exactly did it come about that you got Will Self to be a fan and to write the forward to your book?
S: Unfortunately, I’ve never met Will Self, but he was known to my editor and I thought he was a great suggestion for the writer of the foreword. He has a fascination with miniaturization and understands the different ways that the miniature can and has been used as analogy.
TM: Speaking of miniaturization, it seems to me that you aren’t just an artist who works in miniature (which could otherwise get rather boring and banal quite quickly), but instead you are constantly playing with this Swiftian notion of scale (that Will Self discusses in that foreword). I think one of the most fascinating things about your work is the juxtaposition, or to use the word in the Gulliver’s quote: “comparison.” Is this idea of juxtaposition, comparison and scale what you would consider the defining aspect of your work? And how does that interact (juxtapose? compare?) with the themes of existential loneliness that you are obviously exploring?
S: I agree that the work could stand a chance of becoming banal–it is really important to me that my work has other themes going on under the surface rather than just being “a little model stood next to a big object.” I worry about the work becoming too “cutesy” too. My ideal piece is one that looks intriguing on the street, but can be appreciated in different ways when seen in a photograph. Something that is interesting enough to reward looking at it for a while, like the best of Edward Hopper’s paintings, which I love. If a child can like it on one level and an adult on another, then I think I have achieved something. So I like to play with juxtaposition in different ways–using scale, using themes, by subverting what the image may show on the surface by giving it a title that makes you re-evaluate it. And also using humor and tragedy in equal measure. I try hard to get some emotion in to the images. Whether I succeed all the time is another matter!
TM: I would definitely say you succeed quite often. For me, that is one of the things that keeps me drawn to your work: how the pieces are somehow able to simultaneously relay both a sense of the loneliness and isolation of the world as well as the sort of joie de vivre and humor that must be part and parcel with that melancholy if we are to face the absurdity of existence and go on living. By this I mean that there is a quality that one finds in the works of people like David Lynch and David Markson and Samuel Beckett: artists whose work is often funny, but heartbreakingly so. Do you see your work in that context?
S: That is what I aspire to do. I guess it comes back to the juxtaposition thing again. All my favorite art, books and films are lateral works, things that can make you laugh and cry at the same time and that never give away what the correct reaction should be. I am fascinated by the absurdities of life–I get inspiration from news stories and just people-watching a lot of the time. If I can get any of that into my work then I am happy.
TM: Who are some of your favorite artists (either visual artists like yourself, or writers or musicians or filmmakers)?
S: As I mentioned, I love Hopper’s work. I really admire Anthony Gormley and Ron Mueck. I think Chris Ware is probably a genius. I love a lot of current street/urban artists such as Blu, Mark Jenkins, J.R. and Vhils. I like to read David Mitchell and Douglas Coupland–and I am reading a lot of Cormac McCarthy at the moment. I am a big fan of Ben Folds ever since his days in Ben Folds Five back in the day. I loved The Wire and a British TV show called Misfits. And I am a big Star Wars fan.
TM: How would you define “art”?
S: Anything can be art these days, can’t it? As long as someone is saying it is “art,” and then the argument begins.
TM: Then what is “street art”? Merely art that takes place in the street-environment?
S: Pretty much.
TM: Lastly, I’d like to hear what is next for you?
SLINKACHU is a Street Artist based in London. His Little People Project started in 2006. It involves the remodeling and painting of miniature model train set characters, which he then places and leaves on the street. It is both a street art installation project and a photography project. The street-based side of his work plays with the notion of surprise and he aims to encourage city-dwellers to be more aware of their surroundings. The scenes he sets up, more evident through the photography, and the titles he gives these scenes, aim to reflect the loneliness and melancholy of living in a big city, almost being lost and overwhelmed. But underneath this, there is always some humor. He wants people to be able to empathize with the tiny people in his works.
Slinkachu interviewed by Tyler Malone
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography by Slinkachu
Design by Marie Havens
“The Last Resort,” Photography by & courtesy of Slinkachu
“They’re Not Pets, Susan,” Photography by & courtesy of Slinkachu
“Majestic,” Photography by & courtesy of Slinkachu
“Family Day Out,” Photography by & courtesy of Slinkachu
“Boys Own Adventures,” Photography by & courtesy of Slinkachu
“Downpour,” Photography by & courtesy of Slinkachu
“Company Car,” Photography by & courtesy of Slinkachu
“High Expectations,” Photography by & courtesy of Slinkachu
” The Cave,” Photography by & courtesy of Slinkachu