In consideration of the health and welfare of visitors, volunteers, and staff, Mia is temporarily closed to the public. Learn more here.

Surprise sculptures: The artist behind “Microsafari” explains the tiny new creatures in the galleries

The bird-like creatures above, evoking Mother Nature kissing humanity, in the context of the Native American gallery.

The bird-like creatures above, evoking Mother Nature kissing humanity, in the context of the Native American gallery.

Mercedes Knapp arrives at the MIA with a serving tray bearing a miniature menagerie. Some of the creatures are identifiable: koi fish, a lion, a sleeping deer. Others are more nebulous, with the rounded, fantastical features of anime. She calls them Puds, colorful little blobs that resemble nothing so much as gumdrops. She’s been making the cuddly creatures out of Sculpey clay since she was 12, when she would sell them on eBay.

Knapp, a student at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, is the latest young artist chosen to exhibit at the museum through the MCAD@MIA program. In a floral skirt and a blue T-shirt stamped with a quote from Game of Thrones, she sets up her show, “Microsafari,” carrying her tray around the museum and depositing the sculptures next to one artwork after another—works that inspired these creations.

Beside the lobster coffin in the African galleries, she places a skull-like creature emerging from—or entering—a tiny vase. “Okay!” she says after a few tweaks. “Cute!” Under the Native American hide scraper in Gallery G261, she sets the sleeping deer. In the rock garden beside the Japanese teahouse, she arranges little blue blobs near a stone pot of water—sploots, she calls them, like the sound of jumping in water. It’s a reference to the teahouse practice of sprinkling water on garden rocks, like mountain dew. “My whole life is onomatopoeia,” she says.

The sploots on the stones outside the Japanese teahouse.

The sploots on the stones outside the Japanese teahouse.

Nine of these installations await throughout the museum, surprises that animate the art almost literally, with animals. They’re up through June 21, and when you spot them, snap a photo, tag the museum on Instagram @artsmia and Twitter @artsmia using #ArtSafariMIA. With each tag you’ll be entered in a lottery to take home a creature.

You can also join Knapp on a tour of “Microsafari” on April 16, during Third Thursday. No pith helmet required.