One of Tracey Snelling's models, against an urban backdrop Courtesy photo
Tracey Snelling's diminutive dioramas set the stage at Sala Diaz

If the Borrowers were ax-wielding micro maniacs, they would dwell with glee in the intricate edifices fabricated by Oakland, California-based Tracey Snelling. Her diminutive, 3D dioramas stage intimate scenes detailed with film-noir semiotics. The meticulous models - and large-scale photographs of them - are currently on view at Sala Diaz.

The viewer is transformed into an omnipotent voyeur gazing through tiny panes of glass and cracked doors at a surreal world frozen in mid-centure American vernacular. Each diorama weaves a different "end of the road" scenario: illicit liaisons in a dilapidated skid row apartment or the vulnerable isolation of a night spent alone in a Bates-like roadside motel.

Snelling constructs her Lilliputian realities with the finesse of a seasoned Hollywood set director. Threadbare furniture, peeling wallpaper, and dramatic interior lighting further distort an already skewed perspective. This tension is amplified by subtle sounds piped through empty bedrooms, hallways, and darkened

By appointment
Through September 3
Sala Diaz
517 Stieren
stairwells: the distinctive, rhythmic hum of a neon motel sign, the ominous chirp of a solitary country cricket, or the muffled sounds of unseen human activity.

The most elaborate piece on view is an exacting rendition of the alley beneath the artist's shabby Oakland studio. The block-long exterior scene is complete with tangled utility wires, discarded beer cans, swollen trash bags, late-night wino conversations, intermittent car stereos, police sirens, and urban aromatherapy - distilled concentrates of taco and trash juice. The artist's abode, tucked in the center of this concrete jungle, is recognizable by a tiny photograph of one of her dioramas. A large-scale print of the same image hangs in the hallway at the gallery.

Although purposely foreboding, Snelling's work is not devoid of humor. The idyllic grandiosity of Hollywood's "Golden Age" - and by extension, middle American mythology - is trivialized, made even more ridiculously unreal than when it appeared 30-feet high on a drive-in movie screen. Her tiny dwellings are well-decorated repositories of discarded illusions. •