To see the world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour
If you scale down the world, you must, by necessity, edit. Humans do not relate well to the colossal, to the infinite. How to understand something enormous? By representing its characteristics at human, or smaller, scale; by making a microcosm. The Small Worlds exhibition began as a meditation on small things-the incredible and indelible appeal of the miniature. It has evolved into a consideration of smallness as an idea and what that means in today's world. In John Mack's exploration of the history of the miniature in art and literature, The Art of Small Things, he calls microcosms the "focused, contained versions of larger, and sometimes enormously larger, universes."1 Maps are naturally microcosms of geography, whether of a single city or of the entire planet. How you choose to frame your small world determines the level of detail your microcosm can contain. A map of the United States of America will have only the most significant landmarks, large cities, major highways, etc. However, a map of Washington, D.C., can provide street names, identify major buildings, and give public transportation information. A map of the National Gallery of Art on the Mall in D.C. will provide more specific detail—what kinds of art can be found in each gallery and where you might find a café or restrooms; while an architectural plan of the National Gallery building would allow you to know the thickness of the walls and the layout of the lighting grid, amongst other details of its construction. Each of these examples is framed in a particular way in order to provide the best possible information, given their intended use: from traveling across the country to finding load-bearing walls. For the casual visitor to the National Gallery the architectural rendering would be too much information and would only serve to confuse. Conversely, the street map of the city would provide little useful information for the building's facilities manager.
The artists featured in Small Worlds create work that examines the tensions between microcosm and macrocosm, exploring the role of scale in meaning-making. Although the exhibition approaches the idea of "small" from many perspectives, in some cases the finished works of art aren't so small at all. Each, however, creates an intimate space, tableau, or environment, framed to bring our attention to certain details and larger issues. The worlds that the artists present are distilled from the ordinary—they are microcosms of everyday life, but perhaps slightly skewed, bringing the viewer into the work and engaging him or her in an intimate interaction between object and observer, shedding new light on the familiar.
Two of the artists explore territory familiar to the Toledo Museum of Art community: the Museum itself and its surrounding neighborhoods. In his installation commissioned for this exhibition Gregory Euclide has included tiny landscapes and building models within a large structure that visitors must pass through to enter Small Worlds. The overall effect is suggestive of a mapping of the Museum and its relationship to the community. Also inspired by the Museum's placement—both literally and figuratively—within its community, Charles Kanwischer drew a one-mile radius on a map of Toledo with the Museum at its center. The homes in his detailed drawings are taken from within that circle. The small size of the images and their evocative style draw us close and make us aware of the house as a microcosm of the family, the neighborhood, the community, the city.
All of the artists in the exhibition, perhaps taking a cue from William Blake's "world in a grain of sand," encourage us to find a different way of seeing—to take a closer look at those things that initially seem familiar and to understand the extraordinary that can be found in the ordinary. This sort of exploration is, of course, not new in either art or literature. Throughout history, we have been fascinated by changes in scale and the juxtaposition of the minute and the colossal. One of the most famous and enduring examples is Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), in which it is Alice who changes size in order to fit into the inviting world she sees through a tiny doorway. We too peer with wonder and desire into miniature worlds like Joe Fig's meticulous sculptures of artist's studios.
How a dramatic change in scale can shift the way you see the world is brought into sharp relief in the tale of Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726). Gulliver finds himself the giant in the land of Lilliputians, where he nearly causes a famine through the sheer volume of food required to sustain him; and then the reverse in Brobdingnag, where everyone else is giant and Gulliver is the "doll," petted and precious, and at risk of capture by the household rodents. The theme of a person finding himself small in a big world, or vice versa, is the subject of countless films and books. It continues to have appeal, perhaps because it imaginatively portrays a phenomenon that we experience on a daily basis: that your perspective can shift at a moment's notice, and small, seemingly insignificant things can suddenly take on huge meaning and import, simply because your attention has been drawn to them. They become "bigger" because you see them specifically. In Tabaimo's animated video of the interior of a series of Japanese apartments she edits down what you see to the essentials; but this throws those details into sharp relief, and you immediately recognize both the magical (in the repeated appearance of a bird in flight) and the mundane (the sound of a toilet flushing).
John Mack asserts in The Art of Small Things that "to represent ordinary things on an ever reducing scale is, arguably, to render them more powerful in visual terms."2 Often by editing down to a microcosm, the final object presented is almost hyperreal in its detail and verisimilitude. This is certainly true of several of the works of art in Small Worlds, and particularly true of Lori Nix's photographs of her highly detailed and intricately constructed tabletop tableaus of an abandoned, post-apocalyptic city, which by virtue of the level of minute detail, take on a haunting, yet darkly humorous, quality reminiscent of a vivid dream. This characteristic of the miniature is in part due to the fact that the enormous is so difficult to relate to in an individual way. Small things, by definition, have edges that are finite and known—hence the reason a tiny grain of sand can stand in for the enormity of the universe. Our minds cannot truly comprehend the scale of "universe," infinite and ultimately unknowable. By giving us this metaphor, in a scale that is immediately understandable, William Blake provides us with a moment of wonder. Blake's poem also helps us understand what we mean when we say that something has a "sense of scale." Technically, scale is a fixed measurement by which something may be proportionally made larger or smaller while retaining a direct relationship to the original. For us, the sense of the scale of an object is always understood in relationship to our own bodies, the gold standard in the realm of measurement. Everything is understood as larger, or smaller, than ourselves.
Artists understand the importance of scale; decisions about the size of a work of art are central to how a viewer is going to understand it. In the mid-20th century the Abstract Expressionist painters deliberately made their canvases as large as they could, many of them designed to fill the viewer's field of vision and to envelop them in the environment of the painting. Sculptor Tony Smith addressed these issues directly when asked about the size of Die, a 9-foot-square cube of rolled steel. An interviewer famously asked him, "Why didn't you make it larger so that it would loom over the observer?" To which Smith replied, "I was not making a monument." The follow-up question posed, "Then why didn't you make it smaller so that the observer could see over the top?" Smith's answer: "I was not making an object."3 Smith neither wanted Die to dominate the viewer nor for it to be seen as precious and handleable. So he chose a scale that lives in the space between the two extremes. Like Tony Smith's Die, the Tumbleweed Tiny House included in the exhibition is scaled to feel unimposing and relatable. At 65 square feet it represents an extreme in terms of downsized living space, yet is still comfortably habitable, even cozy.
Small Worlds seeks to reflect our shifting sense of metaphorical scale in relationship to the world. We live in a time when the world feels simultaneously smaller and larger than we'd ever imagined possible. We can follow a revolution in real time half the globe away via the social media site Twitter, but we feel worlds away from events and social problems playing themselves out on the streets of our own towns. When the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center happened on a sunny September morning in 2001, for days it felt that the whole of the United States, and often the world, was in New York City. Disasters, whether manmade or natural, shrink the world to the size of a television screen, or even to the 140 characters of a "tweet." Artists can help us understand the huge events in our world, but their best work often is that which draws attention to things heretofore unnoticed, overlooked, or under-appreciated. What we can actually personally affect, for most of us, does not include terrorism, or the aftermath of an earthquake, or the detention of a dissident artist. That smallness, engendered by an increasingly connected world, has its limits. So we turn to what we can affect. How do we define our own small worlds? Is it two people in a room? Is it your family? Your home? Your community? Your environment? Your city? Some of these are tangible, such as the impulse toward home ownership-the so-called "American Dream." But a house is just a thing. What makes it a home—a small, inhabited world—is what we do with it, the relationships that happen within its walls. Sometimes our small world is based around emotional space. We have all experienced the moment of receiving terrible news when the world seems to shrink to the size of the room, or to the phone connection, or to the conversation. The world in which we live is ultimately a deeply personal space, affected—sometimes out of all scale—by events both large and small.
Artists are uniquely placed to reflect the complexity of our lives back to us in ways that allow us to see them anew. You can find important truths in the smallest of things. While each artist in the Small Worlds exhibition focuses on a small section of the world—real or imagined—they all help us understand our own world more clearly by seeing things through their eyes. They help illuminate the world in the macro sense by showing it to us in microcosm.1
©2011 The Toledo Museum of Art
Exhibition Curator and author: Amy Gilman
Design and programming: Greg Jenkins, Madhouse Art Direction: Leah Brasch Map design: Leah Brasch and Greg Jenkins
Publications Manager and editor: Paula Reich
Published in conjunction with the exhibition Small Worlds at the Toledo Museum of Art, November 18, 2011—March 25, 2012. Print catalogue available at the Museum Store, Toledo Museum of Art.
Many heartfelt thanks to Toledo Museum of Art staff who made this exhibition and publication possible through their talent, inspiration, and tireless efforts: Carol Bintz, Jeff Boyer, Leah Brasch, Russ Curry, Jason DePriest, Claude Fixler, Timothy Gaewsky, Kelly Fritz Garrow, Suzanne Hargrove, Michelle Harvey, Brian P. Kennedy, Erin Kosier, Andrea Mall, Timothy Motz, Paula Reich, Karen Serota, William Shelley, Lianne Uesato, and Patricia Whitesides.
Thank you to Madhouse Creative for their vision, and especially to Greg Jenkins for bringing this catalogue to life.
Thank you to the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company for their inspired XS house design, and to The Andersons, Inc., and The Lathrop Company for their commitment to realizing our very own Tiny House.
And our gratitude to all the galleries we worked with to bring together this wonderful group of artists: James Cohan, Jessica Lin Cox, and Eric Magnuson at James Cohan Gallery; David B. Smith at David B. Smith Gallery; Maria Kucinski and Cristin Tierney at Cristin Tierney Gallery; and Brian Paul Clamp at ClampArt.
And special thanks to the artists Gregory Euclide, Joe Fig, Charles Kanwischer, Lori Nix, and Tabaimo.
Joe Fig takes as his subject artists themselves. Not artists as represented by their finished works presented in ideal surroundings and divorced from their origins; but artists at work in their studios, engaged in the often mundane—and sometimes magical—messiness of creation. For his 2009 book Inside the Painter's Studio Fig visited studios and talked with 50 artists about the nitty gritty of their process: How often do you clean your studio? How long have you had that painter's table? What does your day look like? By focusing on artists' everyday work lives, Fig attempts to dispel the myth of the artist as singular, troubled genius and helps us to identify with them as ordinary people.
Fig's sculptures are incredibly detailed, miniature renderings of where particular artists work—their small worlds, all uniquely idiosyncratic to each artist's practice, but also similar in basic elements. His tiny recreations of every stained brush, neglected canvas, and wayward drip of paint focus our attention on the enormity of the creative process, while at the same time revealing that "artists are just like us"—they have a routine, they struggle with inspiration, they go home to their families, they work every day at their craft.
A graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Joe Fig started out as a figurative painter. In 2000, as a way of examining the artistic process and "the myth of the sacred studio space," Fig began making painstaking miniature sculptures of the studios of artists both famous and up-and-coming. His work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Art and Design, New York; the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH; the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; and the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
Born in Seaford, Long Island, in 1968, Fig now lives and works outside Hartford, Connecticut.
For her series The City Lori Nix recreates in miniature the familiar haunts of the urban environment. But hers is a disquieting world where humans have disappeared—apparently suddenly—and the built environment is slowly being reclaimed by nature. While Nix painstakingly builds dioramas of each scene, they are not intended to be viewed as sculpture. Instead she photographs each set-up from a distinct viewpoint, and then presents the large photographic prints as the finished work of art. At first glance they appear to be documentary photographs, perhaps in the recent tradition of "ruin porn," where photographers lusciously record the deterioration of abandoned, but once beautiful, city buildings, often in the industrial Midwest. But look again and little idiosyncrasies that give away the scenes' clever fiction begin to emerge.
Nix's work lives in a tradition of storytelling. But rather than depicting a scene from a narrative, her work often begins after "The End," when all the characters have left the stage, and the set is all that remains to tell the story. Each of the scenes beckons the viewer to enter—to discover what lies at the top of the escalator in the abandoned shopping mall, or to stand in the natural history museum—where the dioramas of penguins and big horned sheep, perfect in their "created" environments, still command your attention—and peer out into the ruined cityscape beyond the broken walls.
Lori NixLori Nix was born in rural western Kansas in 1969, an area known for natural disasters. These "seasonal disruptions" informed Nix's dark sense of humor and interest in depicting scenes fraught with danger or some hinted-at devastation. Inspired by historical landscape painting and Romanticism, she constructs astonishingly detailed dioramas that she then photographs. Nix earned a B.F.A. in photography and ceramics and a B.A. in art history from Truman State University in Kirksville, MO, and undertook Masters studies in photography at Ohio University, Athens.
Nix currently resides in New York City, and her photographs can be found in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Spencer Museum of Art, Kansas University, Lawrence; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Gregory Euclide's work brings new dimension to the tradition of landscape within art history. He does not confine his interest to our collective ideal of landscape, but actively engages with landscape as we actually live in it: "bent around the making of land's new use." We often have a romanticized vision of an unspoiled landscape, unmediated by man; but most of the landscape with which we come into contact is defined by human interaction, even if it doesn't appear so. Nothing is virgin territory. Euclide's sculpture reminds us that there is no separation between what we do on a daily basis and where we go in the world.
In creating his striking site-specific installation for Small Worlds, Euclide has drawn inspiration from the local environment of the Toledo Museum of Art. The construction—the largest Euclide has yet made—is comprised largely of materials (sticks, leaves, packing crates) found either on the Museum grounds or in the Toledo area. By utilizing local materials, he takes pieces of our familiar environment and re-presents them to us in a way that makes them new. But as in all his work, Euclide goes beyond the local and the specific, combining knowledge of the history of landscape in art and the powerful influence of the land on culture and society in general.
Born in 1974, Gregory Euclide grew up in rural Wisconsin, where his encounters with open fields, rivers, and forests, unmarred by the housing developments that would come later, ignited an enduring interest in landscape. Engaging in art history, memory, and humanity's shaping of nature, Euclide's landscape constructions often incorporate acrylic paintings on torn and crumpled paper, but also a wide range of materials—both organic and manufactured—that he collects from the land; including Styrofoam, wood, cigarette butts, moss, seeds, roots, and even hair.
A graduate of Minneapolis College of Art and Design (M.F.A.) and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (B.F.A.), Euclide currently lives and works—as an artist and high school art teacher—outside Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Charles Kanwischer looks at neighborhoods—the kind we drive by every day—and transforms single homes or entire blocks into meticulously rendered drawings. For Small Worlds he is premiering a new body of work, created after thinking about the theme of the exhibition: What is the definition of a "small world" and how does that fit into his practice? Kanwischer created "portraits" of homes—including the empty, lonely space left between homes when one is demolished—all within a one-mile radius of the Toledo Museum of Art. Even if you don't recognize the specific houses, they are familiar to anyone who has lived in a neighborhood in the Midwest. They are of a type, but also individually their own.
What is a home, but a place in which we all try to create a "small world"? We imbue even the most depersonalized spaces with individuality and memories when we inhabit them over time, taking a generic example of homebuilding and endowing it with intense emotional associations. Kanwischer's drawings capture that sense of the house as repository of accumulated experiences and, when faced with the gaps in the line of homes, the effacement of the idea of "home" as stable and permanent. His careful attention to detail and atmosphere and his labor-intensive use of layers of graphite marks—the effect of which recalls the not-quite-in-focus nostalgia of old black-and-white photographs—bring intimations of the lives lived in these homes into the experience of viewing each image.
Charles Kanwischer received his B.F.A. in printmaking from the University of Iowa in 1985 and his M.F.A. in painting and printmaking from Yale University School of Art in 1989, but his preferred medium is graphite pencil. Building up layers of silvery graphite, Kanwischer softens his subjects (often isolated tract housing or road projects that seem eerily abandoned), reducing sharp focus and bringing out a sense of poetry in the mundane.
A native of Oklahoma City, Kanwischer grew up in Lake County, Illinois, near Chicago. He now resides in Waterville, Ohio, and is an associate professor of drawing at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio.
Japanese artist Tabaimo works at the cutting edge of video and installation, creating environments meant to envelope the viewer in her hand-drawn animated worlds. Her video installation danDAN places the viewer inside a traditional—if somewhat surreal—Japanese housing complex. Tensions between traditional culture and modernization, and between communal and individual identity, are at the heart of the work.
Tabaimo's elegant drawings link her videos to anime, a cartoon and animation style identified as uniquely Japanese, but exported to many countries. Familiar to Americans through such cartoons as Speed Racer and Avatar: The Last Airbender and the films of Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away), anime is employed by Tabaimo as a traditional graphic technique, but also as a way of turning tradition on its head. The darkened room and the specific shape and setup of the video installation in the Small Worlds exhibition encourage viewers to be less passive than they might be if viewing a video on a monitor. Surrounded and confronted by the work of art (even made to feel uncomfortable), the viewer becomes a part of it—inhabiting for a time the small world that Tabaimo has created.
Selected to represent Japan at the 2011 Venice Biennale, Tabaimo is recognized as one of Japan's leading young artists. Her surreal, technologically sophisticated video installations of hand-drawn animation reference the aesthetic of traditional ukiyo-e woodblock prints of the 18th and 19th centuries. They also draw upon the modern phenomenon of Japanese anime cartoons, capturing her generation's sense of disconnect from the reality of world events.
Born 1975 in Hyogo, Japan, Tabaimo graduated from the Kyoto University of Art and Design in 1999. Her work is found in the International Museum of Art, Osaka; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She lives and works in Nagano, Japan.
Tumbleweed Tiny House
- Small House Movement
- Construction video
- Little House on the terrace
- Construction slideshow
Tumbleweed Tiny House
While not created as a work of art, the "XS" (extra small) model Tumbleweed Tiny House was included in Small Worlds because it and the small house movement it represents encompass the theme of the exhibition so elegantly. How does the size of your home reflect the microcosm of your own personal world and the macrocosm of society? With 65 square feet of living space, the Tiny House comes complete with kitchen, bathroom, sitting area, and queen-sized bed, all designed to be built on a standard 7 x 10 foot trailer.
Huge homes are still being built, but a sea change has occurred in new home building in the United States.No longer is the goal simply more square footage. Increasingly the focus is on houses that encourage human interaction, build community, and impact lightly upon the environment. Ask a small child to draw a picture of a house, and you will likely not get an image of a so-called McMansion, but something very close to the Tumbleweed Tiny House—the prototypical house of our childhood imagination, a dwelling pared down to its essentials.
Small House Movement
In 1997 Jay Shafer built an 89-square-foot house for himself and named it Tumbleweed. The Tumbleweed Tiny House Company was born as more people became intrigued with the idea of "living small." Shafer's "Dream Big. Build Small" philosophy has struck a chord in a time when a growing number of people are mindful of the impact their lifestyles have on the earth—and with the realization that housing bubbles eventually burst. Offering house plans ranging from the 65 square-foot "XS-House" to the roomier 874 square-foot "B-53" cottage, the Tumbleweed Tiny House has been at the forefront of the small house movement in America for the past decade.
It's delightful to distort size, to see something that's tiny as though it were vast.
Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.
It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to have to paint it.
A person's a person, no matter how small.
To make us feel small in the right way is a function of art; men can only make us feel small in the wrong way.
An oak-leaf hat he had for his crown;
His shirt of web by spiders spun;
With jacket wove of thistle's down;
His trowsers were of feathers done.
His stockings, of apple-rind, they tie
With eyelash from his mother's eye
His shoes were made of mouse's skin,
Tann'd with the downy hair within.
P.S. Regarding Mike Teavee,
We very much regret that we
Shall simply have to wait and see
If we can get him back his height.
But if we can't — it serves him right.
Perhaps it isn't I who's growing, but it's everyone who's shrinking!
I was continuing to shrink, to become... what? The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human being? Or was I the man of the future?...So close—the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet—like the closing of a gigantic circle.
All difficult things have their origin in that which is easy, and great things in that which is small.
Eschew the monumental. Shun the Epic. All the guys who can paint great big pictures can paint great small ones.
If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?
I reflected what a mortification it must prove to me to appear as inconsiderable in this nation as one single Lilliputian would be among us.
This made me reflect upon the fair skins of our English ladies, who appear so beautiful to us, only because they are of our own size, and their defects not to be seen through a magnifying glass...
Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains, but she could not even get her head though the doorway; 'and even if my head would go through,' thought poor Alice, 'it would be of very little use without my shoulders. Oh, how I wish I could shut up like a telescope! I think I could, if I only know how to begin.'
Nick Szalinski: We're now a quarter of an inch tall, and 64 feet from the house. That's an equivalent of three-point-two miles. That's a long way. Even for a man of science.
Amy Szalinski: Nick, I've got six hours to get home, get big and get to the mall. Now get moving.
Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.
Think naught a trifle, though it small appear; small sands the mountain, moments make the year, And trifles life.
Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.