Small Wonders comprises 7 installations by 7 curators and is the outcome of a six month long curatorial workshop. Workshop participants Bopha Chhay, Bronwynne Cornish, Sarah Cox, Adam Gifford, Rose Hoare, Karla Bo Johnson, Roberta Johnson, Esther Lamb, Rick Pearson, Esther Rosser and Anna Wallis are responsible for the curation, design and writing for Small Wonders. In their installations the curators consider various qualities of The Miniature. Distortion, essence, possession, portability and power that arise from the reduction in scale. The qualities of expertise, fastidiousness - which are inherent in miniature making - otherworldliness and seriousness indicate that these are not toys for children.
Miniatures alter our sense of scale, such that we feel ourselves to be momentous and substantial, or else they invite us to shuck off our gargantuan bodies and move, as light and insouciant as a pixie, through their tiny spaces. Miniatures cause us to daydream, and in our daydreams we bring them to life.
We might think of miniatures as well-mannered, not profligate with space. Figuratively speaking, they have drawn in their skirts to make room for others.
We might think of miniatures as endearingly witty, proposers of an elaborate, finely wrought, visual joke. They appear to be trying to make us smile, and we love them all the more for it.
We might think of miniatures as petty tyrants, and experience their smallness as a kind of shouty pettishness. They might seem ludicrously fussy, prissy, and bossy.
At other times they might exude a proud, ample serenity, at peace in their private, overlooked world. Miniatures are not fragments of things. They are perfectly replete, a premise (daft perhaps, perhaps brilliant) taken all the way to its logical conclusion. Their self-possession might activate in us a desire to possess them.
But miniatures demand a level of attention and care that turns viewer into servant: attend me, carry me, polish and dust me, build narratives in my honour, buy me friends, cloister me.
Miniatures are masters of suspense. They conceal their impact until the last moment. It's not until you draw near and bend to their level, that an unexpected abundance of detail erupts. Miniatures brim over with imagined life. In this sense, they are like Doctor Who's Tardis or Mary Poppins' handbag: they contain more than their size allows.
Karla Bo Johnson's installation of dioramas, used as educational tools in a programmed outreach to schools, box up the uncontainable New Zealand landscape. Their quixotic earnestness parallels colonial goals; a boundless exterior is made into a finite, perfectly enclosed entity.
The charms that Roberta Johnson has gathered are small enough to be portable but capable of offering protection to something much bigger, and yet despite such outsized power, some are so fragile as to be untouchable.
In Bronwynne Cornish's Relics from Tinytown, the maquette-sized has usurped the place of the 'real', and sits as rightful king of this magnifying, hermetic environment.
In the idealised domestic arrangements of doll's houses, plump sausages and bright-yolked eggs are perpetually frying on the kitchen's stove, the car is always in the garage, the lawns freshly mown and the occupants recline on couches or lie in their beds, presumably having earned their repose.
However, Trilby Conway's Arden Hall is a disquieting combination of dishevelment and disuse: the teensy beds are unmade, drawers and wardrobe doors hang open, the rooms are coated with dust and spider's webs. Arden Hall looks as though its inhabitants evacuated in haste, never to return. A shotgun is propped against the wall of the parlour. Ivy curls sinuously, possessively, around the house's stony exterior and has started to encroach upon the white-wickered primness of the conservatory.
Because miniaturisation suggests cosiness and intimacy, and permanent manageability, there's a tendency to assume that the point of conjuring worlds in diminutive proportions is merely to beget childish fantasies. Miniatures surely must be playthings for lisping heads to bend over and little fingers to pet.
Small is cute, and miniatures are equated with daintiness, delicacy, trembling sentimentality, the substance of nursery reading like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Gulliver's Travels. However, the former is a contorted, logic-chopping examination of language's furthermost possibilities, frequently bewildering and scary. The latter - though its final devastating chapter is often bowdlerised out of existence - is a work of profound adult misanthropy. Having passed through Lilliput and Brobdingnag, Gulliver is not permitted to return happily to his own world.
The lesson, kids, is that entry into a miniature world does not guarantee endless gasps of delight. The miniature's promise of cosiness and intimacy is not always well-intentioned: such allurements can draw us in, only to startle and discomfort us.
Brendon Wilkinson's Meat Dust uses the sort of perfectly formed models painted by hobbyists and sets them amidst an industrial landscape besmirched with what looks like oozing effluvia. This rawness is set atop a bed, the place of peace and restfulness.
Lia Purpura writes that miniatures are compelling because they are mysterious - we wonder how they work. We also wonder about how they were made, for it is pleasurable to imagine the conditions of their making, the long, uninterrupted hours, infused with affection for the subject or intended audience. Gaston Bachelard remarks, "I can well imagine this patience, which brings peace to one's fingers. Indeed, we have only to imagine it for our souls to be bathed in peace".
Anna Wallis is fascinated by sailors who, on long voyages at sea, fashioned miniature ships to be displayed inside liquor bottles. What fuelled such creative stamina? A sentimental desire to preserve the proud perfection of a beloved ship? Sheer boredom? Or were they hooked on the adrenaline rush of that final ‘ta-dah' moment?
Compression intensifies, and Esther Lamb has assembled memento mori that contain a token of a beloved in a portable or wearable form. An essence that gets stronger as it gets smaller. In spite of this, some of the elements in Lamb's installation are perishable. Miniatures, apparently, cannot triumph completely over mortality; they only make it seem that way. Still, the pressure of miniaturisation on the imagination is not a wistful or lackadaisical thing. It is potent and commanding.
Miniatures demand much from us. We can lose ourselves in the painstaking labour of their creation or delve head-long into a narrative fantasy. In return the miniature may offer immense symbolic power or allow us to enjoy a feeling of omniscience.
Lia Purpura describes an intriguing experiment conducted by the University of Tennessee's School of Architecture, in which students were asked to play with model rooms, scaled down to 1/6, 1/12 and 1/24th the size of full-scale rooms, imagining themselves inside the rooms for what they felt to be 30 minutes. "The researchers found that scale radically altered perception of time and in direct proportion to the scale. For example: 30 minutes was experienced in 5 minutes at 1/12th scale but in 2.5 minutes at 1/24th scale." We could live forever, presumably, if we could imagine ourselves in a small-enough room.
Essay by Rose Hoare & Esther Rosser
Renee Bevan, Sandra Bushby, Trilby Conway, Phillipa Crane, Andrea Daly, Gayle and Laurie Davey, Peter Deckers, Jane Dodd, Greg Dyer, Ilse-Marie Erl, Ernie C. Harrison Snr, Hilary Kerrod, Peter Lange, John McCaw, David McLeod, Tanya Zoe Robinson, Simon Gamble and Ilse Marie Erl, Nikki Soons, S.M.W. Turner, Brendon Wilkinson