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A Word from the Artists

We hope that the Small World exhibition speaks for itself but in case you’d like to know more, here are our thoughts about some of the exhibits.

Welcome to the Invisible Cabaret

Diatoms are a kind of plankton and 100 All Time Diatom Greats shows the names Will Holloway has given to some of them, based on their scientific names (in some cases, very loosely). The hundred diatoms in question were arranged by one J.D. Möller on this single slide in 1871, probably as a competition entry. Diatoms were also popular for testing the accuracy of microscope lenses – the creatures being used to investigate the microscope, rather than the other way round. It seemed unfair to us that microscopic creatures don’t have names in English as well as in Latin, so now justice has been done.

Parlour Fancies

Much of the Museum’s microscopical collection dates from Victorian times. Many of the specimens were collected and preserved by amateur scientists in their parlour laboratories, a source of delight, wonder, and after dinner entertainment. The vocabulary of microscopy often strangely resembles the language of the theatre, with specimens placed on a stage to be seen. Top of the bill here is The Great Pedanto, a music hall act played by The Carpenter’s Improved Opake and Transparent Microscope.

In the gallery you can sit and contemplate the cellular nature of life, through sections of whalebone, sea urchin spine, plant hairs and fishes’ teeth. The So-Called Individual quotes the 19th century cell theorist (and public health activist) Rudolf Virchow. As you ponder, you may notice the Small Worlds wallpaper, depicting benzoic acid crystals where William Morris might have had flowers.

The curtain designs feature tiny shelled marine creatures called Foraminifera. Feedback Loop lets the Foraminifera have their say about humanity. They’re not best pleased.

With microscopy a popular hobby, books were published with titles like ‘Half Hours with the Microscope’.  Bizarrely, there was also a market for photographs of macroscopic objects shrunk down to be viewed through a microscope. The ‘microphotographs’ shown in our parlour are accompanied by The Voice of Scale.

Deep Time

Artists usually say that their ‘work explores ideas of memory and identity’. But for once this is actually true. In our exploration of the Museum’s collection we noticed the similarity between this collective memory and an individual’s memory, and how vulnerable both are to forgetfulness. Meanwhile, floodwaters seemed to be everywhere, threatening to wash all the archives away. The photo album of decay and Remembering Summer 2007 are all that remain. The exhibition ends with Deep Time, inspired by the archive’s geological specimens.

Heather Barnett and Will Holloway
October 2007