Sunday, 22 January 2012

Miniatures at the Wellcome Institute

Last week my friend FB and I spent a wonderful evening listening to a talk on miniatures at London's Wellcome Institute. The writer, philosopher, academic and thinker Stephen Connor delivered an excellent lecture on "the miniature" in all its forms and uses. His observations were witty and bolstered by humorous examples from pop culture, including The Simpson, Fantastic Voyage and The Twilight Zone.

His talk covered a lot of ground and his arguments were manifold. I won't try and recap the whole thing in this post, but I will touch on some of his more interesting points. He reasoned that we find accurate scale miniatures fascinating because they do not occur in nature. We are used to the laws of physics determining that large animals have stocky legs and small eyes, while small creatures have thin legs and large eyes (the result of the way gravity and light behave). Therefore when we see a reduction of a thing in perfect proportion, it is both unusual and unnatural. Interestingly, terms of endearment are usually in the diminutive - "You are my little flower" being a good example.

Connor explored the established observation that miniatures give us a sense of God-like mastery. This can often lead to a desire to be 'in' a miniature. We are able to create models of places and buildings and we have a tendency to want to be in these tiny locations. However, he extrapolated from this that our bodies (which, of course, begin as miniatures) are one of those rare things we both regard as possessing and which we are 'in'.

Food for thought...


  1. god like perhaps if one sees oneself as a god seeing over regiments of little men being heroic and going to their deaths and in reality most of us never have to do such yet our grandfathers did - the pageant of history is wargaming to some but pushing the boundries into bleak dystopian visions connects with something much more fundamental with our subconcious -that is 40k ....and then is the creative side of little men miniatures which scratches at another nerve in many people - and then there is messing with a deeper sense of imagery remembered from our ancestral pasts - aint little men miniatures fun ....

  2. For as much as I love miniatures, Connor's points raise some ideas I never considered before. Did his examples include movies such as The Incredible Shrinking Man, the original The Fly, and giant monster movies such as Them! and Mimic?

  3. An intriguing take on miniatures and the miniatures hobby sub-category we dwell within. For some reason it inspires me to sculpt some weird stuff...

  4. @ j.B. - Indeed. And it should be remembered that the Germans invented Kriegspiel for the very real task of training officers for war!
    @Tim - Yes, he drew on all those and more!
    @Steve - Yes! More weird stuffe!!!

  5. Miniature proportions are interesting. Ww2 miniatures both wargaming and those for dioramas have different proportions whilst still being considered 28mm. The ones for dioramas are tall and thin but in scale whilst the wargaming figures are more stocky and are out of scale but look more 'right'. 40k does it too. With oversized guns that look right on the miniatures but would be ludicrous if scaled up.