Model Realities

The world in miniature conjures memories of primary school

After the gargantuan excess of Christmas, it’s refreshingly cathartic to experience the world in miniature at the PS2 gallery on Belfast’s Donegall Street. In fact, my stomach may be the biggest thing here.

The various works that make up Model Realities may not live up to the sumptuous 18th century origins of diorama – the art of scaling down the world for the educational benefit and enjoyment of children and adults alike – but there are some interesting examples of the form here. And a bit of research helps to put the theme into context.

PS2 may be a somewhat cramped, one-room gallery, but the volunteers who work there should be commended for making good use of their virtual space to inform prospective visitors.

The webpage dedicated to this exhibition – which features work by model club collectives, individual artists and that which has been created through workshops with children – provides links to download paper models from the National Museums Northern Ireland website, for example, as well as interesting extracts from academic publications.

'Farm Yard'

‘Humans seem genetically engineered to want to simulate the terrain of life and to see the world in miniature, or preserved as if in a time capsule,’ writes the author of Small World: Dioramas in Contemporary Art, published by the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art. ‘In dioramas, the concrete and the imaginary, the authentic and the artificial become magically intertwined.’

'Farm Yard' (above), by Chris Irwin of the CiMODELS collective, is set up beside the window and catches the best light. It brings me back to primary school: little plastic sheep roam the fields, cows watch tractors in dumb silence. I imagine that I smell plasticine and hear a choir practice nearby. Nevertheless, this modern rural scene lacks the magic and theatricality of some of the other works on show.

Take Michael Digby’s 'Sandy Row: Looking Down Wellwood Street' (main image), for example. A diorama constructed of a grainy cardboard decorated with black ink – black, empty windows, black door frames, cobbles and clouds – it shows the Belfast street all but devoid of inhabitants, eerily quiet. There is a simple, understated tension in this work that Elizabethan dramatists and diorama pioneers would have appreciated.

The same cannot be said of the First Bangor Model Railway Club’s inclusion, a scaled down reconstruction of the Glenash track, but it is still fun and full of movement and impressive miniature work.

There is also a video piece by the Northern Irish film-making Spence Brothers, entitled ‘No-Budget Special Effects’, dioramas installed in old television sets (commentaries on how our viewing tastes have changed since the heyday of commedia dell'arte, perhaps), as well as miniature liners and Edwardian piles.

There is nothing as flamboyant as diorama innovator LJM Daguerre’s remarkable works in this quirky exhibition, but some of the exhibits – such as a piece that depicts a man dressed in green painting a wall green by Christopher J Campbell (below) – raise a chuckle and take the theme in an entirely unexpected direction.

One cannot deny that each exhibitor has put in the hours on these impressively intricate models, and that there is a diversity of subjects and techniques on show that should ensure that everyone finds a favourite.

Model Realities: Dioramas and Miniature Worlds in the PS2 until Saturday, January 7.