Wednesday, February 4, 2009

BIG WORLD - small world

Ever since I can remember I have loved all things miniature. Now I see the connections to the deep thinking and patterning of a growing mind. We grow up getting accustomed to the big world by playing with smaller toy versions of things we see around us. Our toys can later become our obsessions in our adult life.

I can remember creating whole worlds around toothpick villages, clothes pin dolls, toy trucks moving dirt along miniature construction site roads, making mud pies and sand castles. Miniature model ships were fitted with broom straw railings and sailed into the dreams at night when the sleep began. It was a world just as real as any, this world created out of nothing but a dash of imagination and a sprinkle of pretend.

Toys are played with by children in every culture fashioned from stick to plastic. Kids mould their worlds of imagination through them. The puppets, the dolls, the trucks and games all contribute to making sense of the world through miniature means. The dreams we have when we are young are like a prayer or a wish for how we would like our lives to be when we “grow up”. This concept of play creating the mind is vitally connected to the way we teach ourselves to think and create patterns of behavior and discovery. The small childhood worlds become our own real lives lived in full scale.

In younger years I visited natural history museums along with my family. I remember the miniature dioramas of native villages, with hogans, cliff dwellings or pueblo villages done to such a degree of detail that tiny pots had been painted with authentic patterns and clay sculpted women grinding miniature ears of corn could be seen under the small glass cases. The dioramas all brought these lives of ancient people to vivid, but miniature life.

The world of the miniature has been around for a very long time. The definition of miniature carries a wide range as well. Early man drew remarkably elegant pictograph drawings of the hunted prey to either bring success in the hunt or to celebrate their kill on the walls of caves. The body adornments that graced the wandering tribes were small out of nomadic necessity, made beautiful for the enhancement of the wearer. There was a time when, during arranged marriages of royal lineage that the image of the betrothed one was made in a
miniature portrait that could safely travel to the chosen neighboring kingdom royal family. These portraits were often the only image that the future young husband or wife would see until their wedding day. The portraits were painted with great care and often creative liberties were taken to make the prospective future family member appear worthy and attractive.

Architects create miniature models of buildings to convince clients that their grand designs are worth the investment. Shipbuilders would model out their plans in pine, string and miniature plank. Ship voyage maps and the cartographic miniaturization of the sea routes have served for the opening up of the world’s trade market and colonization from the European expansionist empires. The Polynesian navigators mapped islands using their knowledge of wind patterns and ocean swells and used
maps of woven sticks and cowry shells to plot island positions and conveyance. Mapping is the miniaturization of the land and sea to set voyages of discovery and plan family vacations.

Dolls can be trainer babies for the real thing later in life with the practice of care and dress and groom. In Japan, when a woman looses a child its considered socially acceptable for the grieving mother to carry a doll around as a symbol of her loss. She cares for it like a real child to ease the pain. Dolls are used for shamanic focus in rituals and voodoo spell binding. There is an ivory doll, well known in the orient that is used in countries that maintain sanctity in the privacy of a woman’s body. This doll is used by doctor and patient to point to “where it hurts”.

The play of shadows on a screen or wall have entertained for centuries and is directly related to our present day shadow and light show…the television and cinema screens. Photography itself is a magnifying lens focusing our world onto a miniature light sensitized plate or film or digital sensor. What remains is a flattened miniature print of the effects light and shadow on a form or a landscape.

Plato’s allegory of the cave of shadows tells volumes about how we are entranced by the dance of images pretending to be the light of reality. In several cultures the shadow show performances have used puppetry to teach anything from French and English humor to the tales of the monkey king and the Ramayana in the all night Javanese shadow puppet performances.

We now study small specks of light on photographic plates and ultraviolet red shifts to determine orbits of the largest stars in the universe so that we can discover the invisible planets that may orbit those suns. We have sent exquisite radio controlled vehicles (controlled, more than likely, by scientists who played with radio controlled toy cars as children) to roam the surfaces of nearby planetary neighbors looking for microscopic evidence of bacterial life or fossils. We map the shape of the known visible universe to look for the smallest evidence of life. Big and small, macro and micro. It is the way we make sense of our place here in our tiny little home on our little blue planet in the sea of unknowns.

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