Earlier this year I discovered that action figure photography is a thing.
Like, a huge thing. There are all these groups on Instagram of guys – it’s only guys, as far as I can tell – taking serious photos of their 6″ (dollhouse) scale action figures. As the toy photography culture has grown, props for it have also become a thing. And a company called Extreme-Sets (which tells you a lot about the dudebro culture of the toy photo groups) has emerged, creating pop-up cardboard sets for your action figure photo shoots.
When they came out with a subway station that had a NYC subway map and a subway car that looked like a classic NY car, I knew I had to have them.
But shipping was ruinously expensive. Lucky for me, some friend-muse-patrons were coming to Berlin for Thanksgiving!
Once I opened my new sets, I set about kitbashing them. Kitbashing is a term from the model car world, I believe, that I learned after it found its way into dollhouse culture.
My dollhouse, for example, is a radical kitbash of a standard dollhouse kit.
I trimmed down some elements of the Extreme-Sets station and changed their proportions so it would feel truer to an 80s’-era station.
I customized my station by cutting the panels apart and melding them back together in new forms. That way I could feature the subway map and have the parts of the panels I liked best clearly displayed.
I added a poster for the original Terminator movie. It’s 1984 in my subway station.
I mounted the panels on the deconstructed interior of the IKEA door modules on the bottom center cubbies of my dollhouse, using carpet tape. I spackled the grooves where the panels met and colored the spackle to match.
Then I tagged the station and the train car with the tags of my 80s graffiti writer boyfriends and people I knew back in the day, and my own tag, with my crew, Acid Writers. I posted what I was working on Instagram, with the hashtag “AcidWriters”. It showed up as an official hashtag, so I browsed through the images, and saw people I recognized.
That’s when I found out another one of my boyfriends from the 80s was dead.
We had a high-risk lifestyle. I don’t know why I had expected he’d be alive. To be honest, I hadn’t thought about what he was doing in many years. There’s so much grief and loss from those days; I don’t borrow trouble. Matt was drinking hard by the time he was twelve.
Making art, and my dollhouse in particular, is a way of processing grief and turning it into tribute.
My dollhouse is a safe house for my memories and stories, a home for all the things that matter. How much I loved Peter Parker and the New Mutants when I was seventeen. The refuge that fantasy books provided, starting with the Narnia books when I was eight. The impossible, inconsolable grief of the death of my best friend and love of my young life at nineteen. The New York we roamed and loved, and the way Berlin recalls it.
Berlin is a recursive, palimpsest city, drilled down deep into the underworld, like New York.It seems completely right to build a tunnel to the past under my dollhouse here, a secret shrine with coded messages.
Stories are the immortality of love, and telling my stories are my tribute to the dead.