This week we dropped a claw into the arcade-grabber game that is the Birmingham art scene and it came up clutching Tam Bernard and Kieran "Key" Powell, makers of mini, micro scenes of some considerable magnitude.
Pals of more than 15 years, they met while gigging for different bands and their friendship progressed to a bizarre shared passion for creating tiny scenes using model railway people, under the combined name LOW LFE. "I’ve always been a little obsessed with the concept of small people, right back to being a kid and watchingThe Borrowers," says Key. "Over several years and even more beers, somehow, Tam and I found our way to this style of art. Everyone's into something, right?"
Their work, more often than not, carries hidden — and not so hidden — moral messages. "Hopefully that's our point of difference," explains Tam. "Quite a lot of people are into miniature art, but much of it is rather samey. There seems to be a natural leaning towards food. You know, the classic shot of a young girl under a giant mushroom, Alice In Wonderland sort of a set up. That's not for us."
Pictured above Who's Killing All The Bees is their CSI-style nod to the the global bee crisis. "We want to get this message into schools," says Tam. "If any bee charities read this and want to work with us, we'd provide a forensic report to accompany the image, to teach kids about the importance of bees. And ask why corporations and governments are doing very little about the population decline."
When Trump was elected Tam and Key rummaged through their leftover figures, found some punks and a guy on a ladder, and got to work. Taking Shepard Fairey's world famous and unmistakably ominous OBEY slogan and blending it with the harrowing faces of John Carpenter's satirical sci-fi horror flick They Live, LOW LFE created an eerie mini billboard of the now President. "We stuck the punks in, flipping Trump the bird as a bit of a f*ck you to the guy," says Key "And took this photo on an actual giant billboard in Birmingham. Our work is 100% shot outdoors. No studio work. No Photoshop."
The most common place Tam and Key find themselves photographing is in Key's back garden, in Rednal. My Phone Died (above) is one such instance. “When someone’s phone dies it’s as if it’s the end of the world," explains Key. "Even the terminology— 'my phone’s dead' — is properly melodramatic, isn't it? So we poked a bit of fun at that. We put the phone in its box, as a coffin, and had 'Slave to the update' as the epitaph. That's pretty much what we've all become, right?"
Hardly likely to bag themselves paid work from Apple, Tam and Key are, however, open to commissions. "As long as the companies aren't f*cking dirty," they stipulate.
Their most recent work is in response to news reports of fines being handed out to beggars. "What the hell's that all about?" asks Tam. "These people need help, not fines." The guys are brimming with ideas ("we want to do a scene set in the future where kids are touring a polar ice cap museum, learning about what the ice caps were"), but holding down full time work while producing their art means there's only so much they can get done. One day, though, they swear blind, they're going to exhibit their tiny work for all to see, physically and in person. They have interest from festivals for next year but nothing solidly based in Birmingham. If only they could reach 15,000 Brummies who love championing local artists, in one handy email.
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