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Little Things Posted on January 11th

Little People Project

Via the great public art blog, Aesthetic Grounds, I discovered the delightful “Little People Project.” Slinkachu, a London Street artist, places tiny hand painted figures in urban landscapes and he documents his work here. The figures can’t be more than an inch high, and they represent common types of humanity: businessmen, joggers, coffee drinkers, religious types. The artist sets them up in little scenes, snaps a picture, then lets fate take over. Whether they end up in a workboot tread or a child’s bookshelf is no matter–the mystery of their destiny is part of the art.

I’m fascinated by this project because I’ve always been transfixed by little things. When I visited the Phoenix Museum, I bypassed all the great masters and spent all my time staring into the spectacular Thorne Miniature Rooms. These perfectly decorated rooms represent décor from medieval times to present, and even include such opulent details as tiny tapestries, woven using the precursor to the microscope. They’re meticulously to scale, so if you stare deeply enough and block out your peripheral, your brain is tricked into thinking you are actually in the room, rather than just looking in. Of course, then there’s the frustration of not being able to fondle the tapestries or put your feet up on an 18th century ottoman. I imagine the feeling is comparable to what it would be like to be pure spirit–and it made me appreciate my corporeal substance anew.

 Lil’ Room

Little rooms and worlds such Walter Martin and Paloma Munoz’s snow globe art and Slinkachu’s tiny tableaux are wonderful because of the philosophical paradox they embody. On one hand, little things are poignantly vulnerable. The little people, for instance, are at the mercy of huge, distracted humankind, and they are only spared by the incidental rhythm of footfalls. The acknowledgement of a purposeful stomping would almost be better than the near-miss of a god who never once looks down! Thus the chilling randomness of our world is acted out in miniature.

 Lil’ Globes

But while little things might typify our diminished stature in the grand scheme, they also offer a special kind of wonder. The great mysteries are normally thought of as big vast unknowns–death, the universe, etc. But little things represent an equal mystery not of the unknown but the unperceived. The idea that each speck of dust is ruled by a dust-mite king, or that everything, even rocks, are comprised of electrons jiving around a nucleus–these things are compelling because they are imperceptible yet among us. The Little People Project creates a sense of wonder in the small and unseen by tampering with the details of the street. Suddenly the base of a pole or a cracked stoop might be host to a little person, or it might simply be host to a beautiful rusted patina or a looping network of cracks. Either way, it’s well worth looking down.

Little things both show us how small we are in the larger scheme and how vast a world exists in the smallest details. We may be overlooked and at the mercy of an oblivious universe, but we might be just as oblivious to the universe at our feet.

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