A talk with Kim Brennan
By Chris Busby
Kim Brennan, 37, is an artist, teacher, and mother of three who lives in Manchester, Maine. She recently started an art project she refers to simply as “the diorama project.” It’s part of the work she does with a loose collective called Without Walls – the other two members are women living in California and Pennsylvania.
The yearlong diorama project, begun three months ago, involves small, sculptured landscapes that Brennan makes and places in public and private bathrooms in Maine and elsewhere. She’s sent some to people in other parts of the country who are distributing them accordingly.
The Bollard: What’s the mission of Without Walls?
Brennan: The work that we do, whether individually or collectively, is set up to question systems of hierarchy…. We want to take our art into the streets and show it in nontraditional settings, so it reaches a wider venue of audience.
My work is in the bathroom. It’s waiting for the spectator to get there.
How did you get this idea?
I’m particularly interested in the interaction of reality versus fantasy.
Dioramas are a very nostalgic medium. They’re based around miniatures, the world of fantasy and myth.
For me, I’m constructing these dioramas and I’m putting them in a place where the processes of daily life are going to decompose that art object. It’s going to come into contact with body fluids and dirt, and it’s also disrupting the person that’s going into that environment.
How long do they last?
Not very long. I was down in Newcastle this weekend for a workshop. I’d stopped along the side of the road and put one in a rest stop. I stopped by three days later and it was gone.
It could be an hour, it could be a day or two. It depends on who gets in there to clean it. For me, I’m documenting it as I’m photographing it. I don’t care if it stays or if people throw it away.
Is there a theme to the dioramas?
Part of my influence is miniature trains. That’s something I’ve always been fascinated with. I grew up in Maine, in the conservative suburbs of Bangor, so the whole idea of this fantasy world appealed to me.
I think they look a lot like the coast of Maine.
What sort of reaction has this project gotten?
The most reaction I’ve known of came when I put one in a porta-potty during a festival held in my backyard. Most people came out with smiles on their faces.
When I put one in a gallery bathroom, there was some fear as to what it was. It had lights on it, and when there’s some ambiguity as to what it is, will you get down on the floor and actually look at it? [One visitor] thought it was a mouse, but wasn’t sure.
I’m a mother. I have three children. As an artist, you get away with a little bit more – they sort of expect strange things from you. But there’s a whole other side of my community here in the suburbs that’s like, ‘What are you doing?’ That’s part of why I do it.
Are there any in Portland now?
Oh, yes. There’s one in a house on Deering Street, but there will be more in Portland.