Microminiatures

by Caitlin Garvey


[Editor’s Note: Click on the images below to view each one at full size.]

1. “Wild Animals” by Hagop Sandaldjian. Description: On a strand of hair covered with glue stand twelve wild animals.

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The day after all of Momma’s hair fell out from the chemo, we sat in her bedroom and watched re-runs of Planet Earth together. Our favorite scene was Invisible Worlds.

Plankton, tiny creatures virtually invisible to our eye, are an entire universe of life forms. The camera zoomed in on the microscopic phytoplankton, which provide 50% of the oxygen we breathe. All life on the planet depends on them.

The scene illuminated the intricate detail of the floating bacteria. Certain varieties had complex diamond patterns, snowflakes of the sea.

2. “Autosculpture” by Hagop Sandaldjian. Description: In the eye of the needle stretches the artist’s black hair, upon which stands the autosculpture of his own head.

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Hagop Sandaldjian sculpted his microminiatures by looking through the eye of a microscope. On working through a microscope, he said, “It requires not only control of the hand and of one’s breathing, but of the entire nervous system.” The slightest misdirected movement could blow away a figure with a hurricane force, destroying the work of months.

The cancer started as a rash. Contained, under one breast.

3. “Cio-Cio San” by Hagop Sandaldjian. Description: The figure of a woman sculpted on a strand of the artist’s white hair.

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Born of obsessive devotion, a single figure could take Sandaldjian up to fourteen months to complete. He stared at each sculpted micron for years at end.

I watched Momma in the bathroom after her double mastectomy, even though she didn’t want anyone to see her body. How painful it was to be graceful. Small things, like putting on blush, presented a big challenge. I stood behind the bathroom door, ready to come in if she needed me to help lift up her shirt or lean her weight on my arm so that she could take a shower.

Through the crack in the bathroom door, I watched her shrinking. Her hair had fallen out and her shoulders had thinned. She was down to one hundred pounds. A sneeze could blow her away.

4. “The Golf Player” by Hagop Sandaldjian. Description: On a green pedestal in the eye of the needle stands the statue of the gold player.

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Two nights before she died, Momma was in her hospice bed and high on morphine. My dad, sisters, and I were seated around her bed. We had been sitting in silence for an hour.

Then, Momma broke it. She sat up a little bit in bed and pointed to a stuffed animal that was on the floor across from her, next to my dad’s golf clubs. “Girls,” she said, still pointing, “What are those little dot shoes? Whose shoes are those?”

She was delirious, but after a few minutes, we realized she was talking about the shoes on the stuffed animal. She had mistaken the inch-long stuffed shoes for a pair of human shoes.

“Such tiny feet,” she repeated, giggling, and her giggle turned into a guffaw, and the laughter seeped out of her and crept into the bellies of my family and me, and soon we were on the floor, laughing with hurricane force, laughing and crying and laughing again until our stomachs hurt, releasing years of tension that we had kept inside for her sake.

5. “Dancer on a Fig Seed” by Hagop Sandaldjian.

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In the course of his labors, Sandaldjian lost numerous pieces, including a graceful ballerina he refused to reattempt. Early on in his career, he would spend hours hunting for these missing children, going over every inch of floor space in his study.

But eventually he realized that such searching was futile; once a piece was lost, it was lost for good.

6. “Eternal Symbol (Mount Ararat)” by Hagop Sandaldjian.

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Momma looked small in her casket. Any trace of her fight with cancer was erased in the embalming. Germs are invisible to the eye.

When I thought no one was looking, I took my index finger and wiped off some of her blush, the last time I touched her.

7. “Etude 2” by Hagop Sandaldjian. Description: Unfinished portrait. On a grain of rice.

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I remember small things about death. Its smell: the alcohol that we used to wipe her wounds, floral perfume mixed with the metallic smell of blood, the caramel of Mrs. Butterworth’s candies mixing with the urine from the catheter bag.

Momma, you danced on a fig seed.

Works Cited

Sandaldjian, Hagop. Autosculpture. Digital image. The Museum of Jurassic Technology. Web.

Sandaldjian, Hagop. Cio-Cio San. Digital image. The Museum of Jurassic Technology. Web.

Sandaldjian, Hagop. Dancer on a Fig Seed. Digital image. The Museum of Jurassic Technology. Web.

Sandaldjian, Hagop. Eternal Symbol (Mount Ararat). Digital image. The Museum of Jurassic Technology. Web.

Sandaldjian, Hagop. Etude 2. Digital image. The Museum of Jurassic Technology. Web.

Sandaldjian, Hagop. The Golf Player. Digital image. The Museum of Jurassic Technology. Web.

Sandaldjian, Hagop. Wild Animals. Digital image. The Museum of Jurassic Technology. Web.

Caitlin Garvey is a Chicago-based writer and a student of creative nonfiction in Northwestern University’s MFA program. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Post Road Magazine, Apeiron Review, Doll Hospital Journal, Foliate Oak, and others.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of this series?

    “Microminiatures” started as a much bigger piece. Initially I wanted to capture as much as I could about my mother’s illness, but in the process of writing multiple pages, I realized that capturing everything would be impossible. I returned to smallness, conveying the impact of her loss through blank space.

    I have admired Sandaldjian’s work since I first saw it in the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles in 2011. I’m most fascinated by his use of hair. He reveals beauty in tiny, everyday things, and as strange as it sounds, his “Autosculpture”–his head on a single strand of hair–made me think about my mom’s hair shedding from chemo. A whole head can be attached to a strand of hair.

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