Looking at the dioramas of French artist Marc Giai-Minet, you’d be forgiven thinking they were props from some strange Hollywood team-up between Tim Burton and Wes Anderson. His scenes of unseemly libraries, forgotten laboratories, rusty workshops, and ramshackle slaughterhouses seem like they were plucked from a series of dollhouses, detailing some unknown holocaust.
They’re as fascinating as they are abstractly unsettling, an effect very much designed with intent. “In my work, the strained relationship between light and shadow—in other words between good and evil, spirit and matter, knowledge and ignorance—is the very essence of the metaphor of mankind I am trying to paint,” Giai-Minet says. “A portrait of mankind that is both fascinated by the divine and tempted by bestiality.”
Artistically, Giai-Minet is obsessed with the dark nature of man. Primarily a painter, his works largely focus on human monsters. “As a young child, I was utterly shocked when I saw photographs of concentration camps and their methodicially lethal facilities: the piles of dead bodies and the huge stacks of stolen items, carefully sorted to be re-used,” he says. His dioramas are an abstraction of these themes, attempting to convey the monstrous dark side of man without actually featuring human figures.
“When I started making boxes in the early 90s, they were small formats dealing with the same themes as my paintings: brainwashing scenes, visiting mummies, crawling worms and various transfusions,” Giai-Minet says. “Small cardboard cutout figures performed the ironically cruel and existential ballet of my painting. As my work evolved into much larger constructions, the characters disappeared and books, whole libraries of them, filled the space along with warehouses, interrogation rooms, prison cells, staircases, walkways, ovens, sewers or platforms and docks.”
According to Giai-Minet, who spent the majority of his career as a painter before embracing dioramas in the ’90s, his “boxes” are an exploration of his playful side: the part of him that liked to play with toy soldiers and model trains as a boy. But that playful side still has morbid obsessions.
“From the whiteness of books to the darkness of sewers, everyone will see in my work a wandering, a never ending to and fro between the two main poles of humanity: bestiality and transcendence, human fragility and inaccessible divinity,” he says. Hey, Nic Pizzolatto: hire this guy to write for True Detective season 3, stat!