'It'll Make You Blind!'
Miniatures, Secrecy & Scandal
In some ways, miniatures make the real world bigger by allowing us humans to play as voyeurs and curious gods overlooking a more malleable and manageable world. The roof (and maybe a wall or two) can be removed from a room to give easy access to an interfering hand and an all-seeing eye. Usually only natural disasters or bombs tear open homes so eerily.
More often for me though, miniatures close down the big bad world around them. The act of viewing something so much smaller than life invites a shielding hand to blinker the surroundings from other prying eyes, like a schoolchild wrapping an arm around a spelling test, to keep the scales separate, secluded.
To keep things private.
To keep the secret.
Privacy and secrecy tread a fine line, and in the Internet Age this line is often blurred beyond recognition. Artifice, confession, construction and revelation all play out daily in our hands - in a society immersed in mass communication what once might have been shocking or scandalous is now explored, documented and discussed in minute detail. I am quite a private person, open and honest, but not filtered by social media. Secrecy and miniatures have always gone hand in hand. From scandal to spycraft, the ability to make things tiny has always solicited intrigue. Technology allowed the world to shrink and advances in micro-photography allowed for image reproduction at a smaller and smaller and smaller scale. As with most technological advances there were two industries eager to peer in first; pornography and war. Sex and death are always ahead of the crowd to capture and exploit progress. Many a big screen has shown the importance of tiny documents to the military and espionage - tiny messages carried by birds and microfilm smuggled across borders. The Spy That Loved Me traded seduction for scaled-down submarine tracking schematics.
But perhaps less known than its role in State Security is the history of microphotography & miniature pornography. When photography was developing in the 19th century, it wasn’t long before someone used it to create erotic images. And as microphotography made images small enough to hide in your palm, it wasn’t long before pornography would be secreted into everyday objects too - hidden in cigarette cases and lighters, penknives and pocket-watch winders, generally in items targeted at men though not exclusively used by them. Carrying a tiny glass slide of an illicit moment to be peeped at, without anyone else being able to see the image, became a risqué Victorian trend - a private peek was possible, even in a public place. Who knows what politicians sneaked in to view in the House of Commons back then…
As a contemporary miniature artist, I found this secretive trade of Victorian erotica fascinating and an eye-opening pull from the big loud world, so brashly destroying itself around us. I painted a series of 3cm bottletop pieces working with reference to the Kinsey Institute and other archive images showing illicit (for the era) posed images.
When people view my work they do so individually, even if the room is crowded. Miniature work can’t be understood from the other side of a crowded gallery, nor can a live miniature exhibition be glimpsed from pictures of the event. From even a short distance it is just a small object on a big wall so you need to be there and you need to look carefully. The viewer must to be invited to lean in, to be up close and personal with the work to grasp its detail, humour or weight. The viewer needs to stand just ahead of the crowd to see it.
As with all miniature work, the process puts strain on the eyes. People ask if painting hurts my eyes or gives me a headache, and people viewing my work often comment on the conscious effort to focus their vision on marks so minuscule… so a nod to the old, pious warning about blindness seems uniquely apt as a title for this work.