Upon noticing this image, at first glance you probably think, “nothing to see here.” Just a regular grey apartment block without even the benefit of decoration or a fancy color to make it stand out. But look again and you'll notice something isn’t quite right… Care to catch some sun on the balcony? Or how about stepping outside for a second?
Like many of the models by German artist and photographer Frank Kunert in his "Small Worlds" series, the surreal aspect of this building isn't obvious to the casual observer. However, once you perceive the absurdity at play, it’s likely to bring a smile to your face. Humor is an important element in all Kunert's miniatures. Humor and more than a touch of the surreal – giving our powers of perception a workout; this is satire on a small but no less captivating scale.
It shouldn't take you too long to see the funny side of this piece. Titled “Public Toilets”, that’s exactly what the model depicts, the name for such facilities taking them to their logical conclusion. Kunert's work – like architecture itself, he notes – is a way of expressing the hopes and fears of ordinary people living day-to-day lives in urban environments, in a way that will hopefully make you both laugh and think.
"The Dream of Happiness"
Here's an ordinary enough looking house… if you ignore the giant pillar upon which it's perched. Definitely not a good residence for a sleepwalker. One of things you'll notice about this and indeed all of Kunert's models is the incredible level of detail – right down to the texture of the paint and the grime accumulating at the pillar's base. This is definitely art where realism slips, sometimes almost imperceptibly, into the surreal.
Kunert chooses to make his miniatures the old-fashioned way – by hand, rather than on a computer. He prefers the rough edges and solidity of his three-dimensional constructions, and isn't worried if people recognize them for what they are – models – rather than real buildings. In fact, he’s counting on them to. Kunert also thinks using real-life models rather than more flawless-seeming digital productions adds charm to the photographs, and we quite agree.
This miniature may look like a perfectly acceptable vert ramp (albeit one with it's own door and windows in the side!) but upon closer inspection it turns out to be a tennis court instead – or as well. Note the umpire's chair and the net running down the middle of the half pipe.
"Menu a deux"
With its two televisions and odd-shaped dinner table, you probably don't have to think too hard about what this piece is trying to say – but it’s wit in miniature nonetheless. Once again, the detail in the scene, complete with tiny napkins and table settings, is incredible. The artist must have very steady hands – and good eyesight, too!
The artist’s work table
Not until he has crafted his miniatures to his satisfaction does Kunert begin photographing them, using studio lighting and a large format camera. After initial ideas and sketches, the whole process can take weeks or even months to complete. He has described taking photographs of his models as "diving into another reality." A very strange altered reality, to be sure!
Although they are comical in many ways, Kunert's models also have a touch of forlornness about them – and sometimes a darker edge, too. The colors are generally drab, and there is little in the way of adornment, or nature, in his starkly urban scenes. There are both light and dark shades to his artworks, although whether you choose to see one or the other, or both, he leaves it totally up to you.
Here’s another example of Kunert using a toilet in his work – this time in the form of a rather icky swimming pool. The tiles on the wall inside and outside the public pool-cum-toilet block are yet another remarkable example of how much care has been invested in the minutiae of this bizarre world.
Here we have another swimming pool – not quite so yucky but still brilliantly fantastical. It’s a refreshment stand that isn't beside the pool but instead lies at its bottom. We’re not sure how Kunert created the effect of water in this shot, but however he did it, it works!
"On a High Level"
Here's an example of a museum that obviously only displays ‘high’ art, in what seems to be a clear comment on the inaccessibility of art to the common man. If you look through the windows you can actually see the tiny sculptures and paintings on display. Still, you won’t be able to get in on foot.
The artist at work
Kunert came to model-making and photography after doing an apprenticeship with a photographer, followed by a stint in industrial and advertising photography. He soon realized that his true path lay with composing his own scenes, and fortunately he found a market for the work he created.
"In one piece or sliced?"
Having found his niche, Kunert continues to craft and photograph his strange but beautiful "Small Worlds," a process he likes to go through alone in his studio. And, as he says: "Perhaps it's easier for me to handle the absurdity of life with humor." Sounds like good thinking to us.