There is something about peering at miniature human figures that lets you feel giant and godlike – even malevolent. Here is a vulnerable little world, with its tiny houses and delicate trees, that could be demolished in an instant with one swift kick. You experience a sense of superiority much like when looking out the window of an airplane or a very tall building, watching ant-like people milling about, unaware they are being observed.
Microcosmic creations by three American artists make up Dream No Small Dreams at Ronchini Gallery, curated by Bartholomew Bland. Fittingly, the exhibition itself is quite small, displaying only three or four pieces by each artist, but each one is an exquisite masterpiece of craftsmanship and patience. Thomas Doyle's fantastical houses teetering on mossy mountaintops; Patrick Jacob's tiny, lifelike landscapes; and Adrien Broom's carefully staged macro photography all betray something a little sinister in their miniature, constructed worlds – perhaps a desire for complete control, bordering on a God complex. While such sinister aspects are indeed at play here – especially in Doyle's narratives of human destruction – the way these pieces engage with scale and perspective also holds something much more touching and sympathetic. Miniature scale permits omniscience, but it also helps you realise just how small humans are, relatively speaking – merely a blue dot floating in an infinite universe.
Doyle's pieces are spectacular constructions – like elaborate models, his typically American houses stand motionless and frozen under their glass domes and boxes. Under the hermetic seal of a bell jar, we can observe a range of narratives being played out by these figures, most of which are perching precariously on the edge of disaster. A little drowning man reaches desperately for a floating ladder; a set of three ticky-tacky houses are falling down a vast pit of destruction in Mire (2013). In Double Blind (2013), a pretty robin's-egg-blue house has mysteriously lost all of its doors and windows, and a woman waits around the corner as her husband and child return, holding a suspicious package. Doyle's worlds are full of intrigue and drama – while their size indeed encourages a "God complex", we cannot help but feel sympathy for these figures as we recognize ourselves in both their ignorance and frailty.
Patrick Jacobs' three portholes provide a tiny window onto a minuscule woodland scene – when you look through the concave lens, his landscapes are not only incredibly detailed and hyperrealistic, but also somehow animated. There is something in the lens and in the scene's manipulation of focal points that creates depth and almost movement, as though a gust of wind might rustle its minute blades of grass. Evocative of the Victorian stereoscope – those antique predecessors of the Viewmaster – they give the sense of discovering a secret world. There is space for only one person to view these at a time, and thus looking at Jacobs' works is an essentially private, intimate experience – much like the woodland scene itself, we can imagine ourselves utterly alone, surrounded by the calm of nature.
Adrien Broom's large-scale photographs may take up the most physical space in the gallery – though her experiments with perspective and close-up shots present a distorted view of her miniatures. We only recognize them as miniatures by the figures themselves – the sort of plastic dolls used in architectural modelling. Her scenes are carefully staged, playful and mysterious, asking more questions than they answer. Direction (2012) shows an idyllic forest scene, underneath which a little person is mining an interminable tunnel through the earth. Why is this person digging? Why have they dug themselves into a U-turn? Then again – Broom seems to ask – why do human beings do anything?
Miniature scale not only makes human endeavour seem faintly ridiculous when seen from afar, but act as powerful metaphors for our own world, which seems to be growing larger every day. This exhibition at Ronchini Gallery, a cosy space just off of Oxford Street, is small and undemanding, with no grand theory or the need for lengthy explanatory text: you must simply look closely to see its charms. If you have a magnifying glass, bring it along.