Human Scale

Justin E. H. Smith in Paper Monument:

Mueck_Couple_Under_An_Umbrella-480x302While the science-­fiction trope of travelling great distances or growing to great sizes often serves as the stuff of respectable fantasy, shrinking down and travelling microscopically through “inner space” is generally, by contrast, regarded as child’s play, familiar from light Lily Tomlin movies and Disneyland rides with no minimum height requirement. Relatedly, telescopy preceded microscopy by several decades at the beginning of the scientific revolution, even though the two practices involve exactly the same optical technology and differ only with respect to the orientation of the lenses. When Galileo’s observations of the features of the sun were destabilizing ancient cosmology, the microscope was still being dismissed as a hobbyist’s “flea glass.”

We might be orbiting here around an obvious point: there is something undignified about tininess. And yet both ends of the scale, the microscopic and the macroscopic, the baroque curly-­cue and the sublime of the infinite void, are part of one and the same historical shift: the abrupt jolt away from the mesoscopic, which is to say the discovery of the problem of scale.

The Australian artist Ron Mueck’s great coup, in his outsized hyperrealist sculptures of human beings currently on display at the Fondation Cartier in Paris, is that he has taken on what might be called the philosophical problem of scale, but has done so without heavy-­handedly forcing us all into the position of the incredible shrinking viewer. That is, visitors are invited to consider the way scale affects perception, and indeed ontology (for what makes these human figures more thanreal is nothing but the fact that there is more of them), but there is no sense that we have ourselves been diminutivized for some cheap adventure.

More here.