You’d think, for an exhibition about very small pieces of art, you wouldn’t need much space, but for whatever reason, the opening night of the Buentoilliçan Festival of Miniature Art is held in the very large Saint Dondrite’s Hall. Perhaps it is to emphasise the smallness of the objects themselves, although it may also have something to do with the fact that the creation of miniature art is a fashionable and ever-growing endeavour, and there are many, many pieces to show.
Surely it would be much more fun to sit in front of an easel on a bright sunny day, to messily paint with large strokes and a certain abandon? Yet there is a kudos, a sense of achievement which goes with making your art very small. By far the most popular form of miniature art is the mini painting, seconded only by dolls houses and set designs, and these litter the walls of the hall today like insects swarming on the walls, grouped according to subject. They are usually painted onto polished bone fragments or porcelain, following the traditional methods pioneered in the 15th century, when miniature paintings first became popular.
Paintings of any sort are very time consuming, and necessarily expensive to produce, so they were primarily the reserve of the royal court and upper-middle classes. The first known practitioner of the art to have gained any critical acclaim was Gadol Lenn, who painted rather risqué images of unclothed or semi-clothed ladies and gentlemen which were exchanged between those having affairs or essentially kept as a less detectable form of pornography. Often the images would be mounted onto a small chain and kept around the admirer’s neck, or formed part of a locket which contained a strand of the admired’s hair. Other artists eventually caught their share of this profitable trade, although Lenn’s work was always most sought after. This may go some way to explaining why he was targeted by King Juttegard the Pious in the crackdown on this kind of sexually liberal behaviour which had scandalised the court.
Whilst many of the works on display today will feature frank depictions of the human form, it is no longer the only subject depicted within the medium. Very small maps with articulated magnifying glasses attached are common, an expensive but pocket-sized way of navigating Buentoille. Non-pornographic portraits are also common, as are still-life studies, but truly the subjects are as varied as any other art form. Amongst the paintings on the walls are little dioramas, or tiny houses, mouse kitchens with tiny knitted jumpers and minuscule television sets. Fruit stalls with remarkably lifelike foods are manned by dead flies and other insects. A factory is in cross-section, the threads whirring through the looms, seemingly operated by the smallest of workers, perfectly formed scarves dropping out of one end.
Whist most exhibits come with their own large magnifying lamps, it is wise to bring your own just in case, especially given the recent trend for making the small even smaller, so small that it is barely visible to the naked eye. The artist Ogden Stanley is the foremost artist in this developing field, where grains of sand, salt crystals, tooth picks and pencil graphite are carved into minute sculptures. Stanley mounts her masterpieces on pinheads and on the sides of matches to emphasise their smallness, and shows them with specialist high-magnification lenses, else they simply cannot be made out by anyone but a Pohlatiné. In order to actually carve the artworks, Stanley drinks a special heartbeat-slowing brew and makes all marks in the slightly extended periods between each beat, else the very slight hand tremors they cause would ruin her work. In order to achieve the requisite steadiness of hand she must meditate for over an hour.
Stanley’s more impressive works feature many figures at work, rest or riot, with beach scenes, call centres and political demonstrations with somehow-readable placards. Perhaps Stanley’s most famous work is called ‘The Exhibition.’ It is a postage stamp onto which has been mounted a scale replica of Saint Dondrite’s Hall, the ceiling removed, with hundreds of perfect, implausibly small paintings lining the walls. Expectations are high for what she will bring this year.
Please note that any members of the Perspicacious Union of Optical Workers receive free entry to the opening night and private viewing earlier in the day, with a valid membership card.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Great Index
- The Jolly Festival of Unknowable Good