The Miniature and the Gigantic

Miniatures and miniature environments existed for a very long time. John Mack’s The Art of Small Things (Harvard U.P., 2007) provides a very useful overview of the uses of miniatures in a number of cultural contexts. Our archeology museums, churches are populated with miniature figurines. Miniature objects are a matter of living practice; they are collected and produced by amateur enthusiasts, not to omit contemporary artists. While miniature environments were created by emperors in Rome and China, e.g. Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor,  we use “Miniature Worlds” here to refer to more recent developments, following the “birth of consumer society” in the 18th century.

MINIATURE WORLDS: (a working definition)
Spaces of consumption that use miniaturization as a spatial strategy, theming to differentiate the experience, and virtuality to “move” their customers or guests.

“The use of an overarching theme, such as western, to create a holistic and integrated spatial organization of a consumer venue.” (Scott Lucas)

“An image or space that is not real but appears to be.”  (Nicholas Mirzoeff)

Gulliver1 copy

Illustration showing Gulliver in Mildendo, the imperial capital of Lilliput. In Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels to Lilliput and Brobdingnag. Illustrated by Victor Candell & R.G. Mossa. (Garden City, NY : Garden City Publishing Co., 1726/1930).

Susan Stewart makes many important observations on why miniatures appeal to us in her chapter “Miniature” (in On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, John Hopkins U.P., 1984). Here are some of them:
- The miniature object has a paradox: It is more precious despite its smaller size because more labor is invested in its making.
- The locus of the miniatures (e.g. miniature railways) is nostalgia for (an imaginary) childhood and the (preindustrial) past (of artisanal labour).
- The miniature is a cultural product, as opposed to something found in nature.
- Miniature transforms its context: “Scale is established by… correspondence to the familiar,” and “miniature has the capacity to make its context remarkable.”
- The miniature (e.g. the dollhouse) is usually an “island,” uncontaminated and perfect. It has an immense effect on the viewer: “The interiority of the enclosed world tends to reify the interiority of the viewer.”