Culture & Arts

Big Wonders Of A Small World: Miniature Masterpieces Of The Little People Project


The next time you’re out and about in the city, be sure to tread lightly: You may step on someone! Or a whole crowd of someones going about their daily lives - just on a much smaller scale.

There are tiny worlds sprouting up in sidewalk cracks and sewer grates, in puddles and yesterday’s trash. It’s a small world after all, as the song goes, and for London-based street artist Slinkachu, this is both literal and figurative: He’s a small-scale installation artist, setting up miniatures on the streets which he then photographs and later “abandons” to the world at large (pun intended). And he’s been leaving his little people on the streets for awhile now - since 2006, when he started installing his aptly titled “Little People Project” all over the UK capital. “At first the main draw in working very small is that it was quicker and cheaper to be able to produce and leave something on the street,” the artist explained, speaking with “As I explored the idea I became a lot more fascinated with the connotations that the scale could imply.” The two-part process of the project - from the installation to the photography - perfectly encapsulates the thrills (and perils!) of life in a modern metropolis. “There are different levels to the work and different messages, for me at least. The initial street work hopefully inspires people to think about the overlooked and unseen world around them,” the artist explains, “[while] the photography can hopefully tell more of a story and make people think about their place in the world, particularly in a large city.” And indeed, Slinkachu’s little people continue to make a big impact on the streets of cities across the globe, including London, Amsterdam and Athens.

In a recent conversation with this innovative artist, delves into the mind of the creator of these small, miraculous little worlds that have already captured the hearts of the more observant passersby.

“The 'Little People Project' sprung pretty much fully-formed into my head, it didn't really involve any research,” Slink said. Although he was always interested in art, he says miniatures - while fun to look at - are often too “‘cutesy’” for his taste, and he was attracted to this ‘mini-media’ for other reasons. “Initially I loved the idea, as it was almost an antidote to the large graffiti and stencil work that you see in the city. I am interested more in the possibilities that working on a small scale on the street can create,” he explained. So far the public response has been equally enthusiastic: people of all ages are captivated by the small worlds the artist creates from his abundant imagination.

“I get a lot of different responses depending on how the work is seen and who is viewing it. People who have found the figures on the street - and realize who placed them there - are always excited about the find.” The biggest difference, Slink says, is based on age. “The images of the installations get mixed reactions from different age groups, which is fun to see. Children often read the images literally and love the idea of a miniature secret world. Adults take a lot more pathos from the images.”

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Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of the “Little People Project” is its affect on the big people who are fortunate enough to view it. “My work is often hidden and you have to be very lucky to find it. In a way I guess it is almost conceptual, in that the idea of abandoning the little people in a city is enough to get people thinking.” Thus, while small in size, Slink’s micro-masterpieces have the same monumental impact on viewers that many large-scale installations strive to impart; yet his are all the more admirable because they require a certain level of awareness that not everyone possesses.

As for the installation process itself, usually the “people” Slinkachu uses come ready-made, to a degree: they’re miniatures he finds in model railway shops. But Slink will often paint and alter their clothing or limbs, in order to change their appearance or position to fit the scene. Sometimes he uses dead insects like cockroaches or bees, and in his related project, “Inner City Snail,” he uses a “live canvas” of sorts...a snail.

So why the shift in “medium?” As Slink tells it, “The snail work was an experiment in creating moving art - the painted or decorated snails went about their business unaware that they had been vandalized. I liked the idea that no surface in a city is sacred - nothing is immune to advertising or graffiti.” His “Inner City Snail” work sometimes crosses over into the realm of his “Little People Project” as well.

Yet despite the scale, the installation of these miniature marvels comes with its own unique set of challenges. The artist’s main obstacle comes from above. “The weather,” he says, “often stops me from making the installations, especially in the UK. I get on the Tube at one side of London where it is sunny and by the time I get to the other end it is raining and I have to go back home again.”

Another challenge comes after the works are installed - left to the whims of a bustling city, many pieces are trampled on by oblivious pedestrians. But Slink remains unfazed. “In terms of how long things last on the street, I don't often go back to check. It isn't really that important for me to know how long the figures last - I really do prefer to just abandon them - although sometimes it is surprising to pass a location and see that the installation is still intact a few weeks later.” Besides, he adds, “The photography of the installations lives on online, or in a gallery where the prints can get pretty big.” (Right: Tundra, 2009)

It’s a modern-day Gulliver’s Travels, and the travelers are both the unknowing passersby. and the little people the artist creates. “I have always been more interested in creating an empathetic response from viewers, instead of a big shock or political message, which a lot of other urban/street art and graffiti is in a better position to do.” Maybe it’s a boy skateboarding on an orange peel, or a couple enjoying some fried chicken while sitting on the bird’s bones.

Perhaps it’s god and the devil debating outside a church; an old man sitting alone on a park bench or a rejected fiance perched upon a life-sized engagement ring. All of Slink’s installations tell a tale, whether it’s an illustration of daily interactions between people, or the private dilemmas of the individual mind - Slinkachu’s works cleverly address the issues we face in a modern context. “For me it is all about creating some emotional response though, some connection with the viewer through the humour or the drama that the picture is showing. I like creating a story behind the images.”

Slink’s work captures the everyday lives of ordinary people, in depictions that are in turn humorous and tragic, and always thought-provoking. “The street-based side of my work plays with the notion of surprise and I aim to encourage city-dwellers to be more aware of their surroundings. The scenes I set up, more evident through the photography, and the titles I give 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 humour. I want people to be able to empathize with the tiny people in my works.”

And indeed, it’s easy to empathize within the context of Slink’s “Little People Project” because it reflects the paradox of an individual living in modern times - how it feels to be both a big fish in a small pond and just another face in a sea of faces. “We have all felt lost and ignored before, we've all been told we are worthless or have felt alone in a crowd. It is a universal feeling,” Slink says. But for those lucky enough to view his installations on the street, even the most jaded city-dweller is reminded: None of us are ever really alone.

Written by Staff

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