As members of the audience squinted to examine the screen more closely, David Wilson cycled through photographs of microscopic sculptures carved out of individual human hairs.
In one, Napoleon stood at attention, his hat and boots clearly distinguishable, along with the buttons on his coat. Photographed through a microscope, the figure stands in the eye of a sewing needle.
The curator of Southern California’s enigmatic Museum of Jurassic Technology, Wilson presented photographs of works sculpted by Hagop Sandaldjian, an Armenian born artist whose works now reside in Wilson’s museum. The hand crafted sculptures, nearly invisible to the naked eye, were crafted with miniscule tools, and painted using a sharpened human hair as a brush. Wilson said that to get the precision needed to paint the tiny objects, Sandaldjian painted between heartbeats. Rapid bloodflow through his fingertips could cause sufficient movement to destroy the miniature.
A former Armenian revolutionary, Sandaldjian came to the United States from what is now the former Soviet Union in 1980. Before his death in 1990 he sculpted Snow White and the seven dwarves on a pinhead and a sculpture of a football team inside a hollowed out human hair. Because of the precision, Wilson said each sculpture took about fourteen months to complete.
Wilson said Friday’s convocation address, titled “The eye of the needle” was meant to bring to a larger audience the evidence of human artistry and ingenuity on the microscopic level. The evidence for some students, though, was not entirely convincing.
“As I was sitting there I was thinking, no way is this stuff real,” Carrie DeBacker ’08 said. “The types of objects seemed impossible.”
Wilson displayed images of works by another artist, a Ukranian, Nikolai Syadristy. The head of Syadristy’s dragonfly model has a width of a bundle of seven human hairs, yet according to Wilson is a full functioning clock.
“The question of validity of what he is saying never seems to go away,” Assistant Professor of Art David Lefkowitz said, “I don’t think it’s a scam, but I don’t neccecarily believe everything I see.
Lefkowitz said he sees Wilson’s museum as both an homage and a parody of natural history museums, and uses the authority of that presentation to call into question how we question the world.
The plausibility of a handmade functioning clock the size of a bundle of hairs, or as Wilson later claimed, a microscopic television, left some students questioning the legitimacy of Wilson’s convocation.
“I can understand sentiment that some are offended that these questions need to be asked of a speaker at an academic institution,” Lefkowitz said, “nobody likes to feel deceived…part of his message is acknowledging questions that cannot be answered.”
Wilson’s museum, which he and his wife founded in 1989 started as a traveling exhibition out of a trailer. Today the museum is located in Los Angels, California and boasts about 6,000 visitors annually.
At Friday’s convocation Wilson played classical music off his laptop as he displayed each image. Combined with his soft-spoken explanations, the presentation had a high culture museum atmosphere.
“It’s almost as cool to think that people are being fooled into thinking they are seeing something that small,” DeBacker said, “the man is a genius for his audacity to challenge people like that.”