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Micro and Macro
Mykola Syadrysty is known for his “micro-miniatures” which he has been creating in the past fifty years or more. But in the interview that follows he emerges as a multi-faceted personality, not just a creator of curious things. Mr Syadrysty was interviewed by Yevhen Budko.
Mykola Syadrysty was born in the village of Kolisnykivka in the Land of Kharkivshchyna in 1937. He was educated at an art school and at the Agriculture Institute in Kharkiv.
In the late 1950s-early 1960s he gained an ever widening recognition for exceptionally small creations, which he called “micro-miniatures”, and which included portraits of prominent personalities made on cherry stones, apple and pear seeds, on grains and other tiny backgrounds; books that measured two by two millimeters and other amazing creations which required a microscope to see and appreciate. One of his masterpieces is a gold lock with a key that measures in microns rather than in millimeters.
The museum of his works is located in the territory of the Pechersk Lavra Monastery in Kyiv.
Thank you for finding time for this interview.
Be my guest, but frankly it is not that easy to find time for interviews. We’ve got a lot of visitors coming to see this museum (the interview took place right in the museum of Mr Syadrysty’s “micro-miniatures”). All sorts of people come to take a look, VIPs included. In the past few days we entertained the speaker of Cyprus’ parliament, an official delegation from Montenegro, a NATO delegation, Slovakia’s president and some other high-ranking officials.
On the bookshelves in this office I see a lot of books and evidently manuscripts and typescripts — are they all devoted to the art of making super small miniatures?
No, not at all. You see, it may be only one twentieth of my life that I have devoted to creating micro-miniatures. In the past forty-five years of my life I’ve been studying the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century. It’s a dramatic history, full of enormous tragedies and indescribable suffering. I wanted to get down to the roots and sources of totalitarianism, so I read not only works of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Hitler and others of the same ilk but also of the earlier thinkers and politicians who prepared the ground for totalitarian regimes. I’ve accumulated quite a library on this subject too. And a great many photographs and other materials… Take a look at this photograph, for example. This person here is Walter Ulbricht, the leader of the German communists who served as a Communist deputy in the Reichstag, the German parliament from 1928 to 1933, and this person sitting close by is Joseph Goebbels. Yes, it is the notorious Goebbels who later became the minister of propaganda of Nazi Germany. Ulbricht, who was instrumental in Bolshevizing the German communist party, rose high in Eastern Germany after the war to become the president of that country. But in the 1920s and 1930s, the German Nazis borrowed a lot from the Soviets.
I wanted to take apart Soviet myths — and I did.
Did you have any results of your research published?
I’ve got some articles published after Ukraine’s independence but in the Soviet times I had to keep my research quietly secret. I keep reading extensively and still keep making stunning discoveries.
How come than you have a portrait of Lenin exhibited in your museum? It’s made like a mosaic of tiniest pages with texts of Lenin’s works, isn’t it?
I made it fifty years ago when I was still, like so many millions of others in this country, a believer in Soviet and communist ideas. When my mother once told me that the famine that struck the Ukrainian countryside in the 1930s was “the legacy of Lenin”, my beliefs were somewhat shaken.
It was much later though that I learnt much more about the horrors of the Soviet regime. Stalin developed what Lenin had bequeathed. Unfortunately so much was kept hidden for so long that even now there are many people who reject the truth about the terrible crimes of the Soviets. Holodomor, the Great Famine of 1932–1933, for example, though fully documented, continues to be denied by many… it’s a shame but it’s true. It takes a great change in mentality to alter one’s attitude to the past.
What about the future? Does Ukraine, in your opinion, have a chance to become a prosperous, democratic country?
Ukraine is so richly endowed with mineral resources, amazingly fertile chernozem (black) soil, rivers and forests, it has access to the sea — it seems it has everything to be among the world leaders but we are lagging far behind the developed countries. Japan, the Netherlands and other countries which do not possess such a tremendous potential are nevertheless ahead of us.
We, Ukrainians, do have to make radical rethinking in so many things. Ukrainian thinkers and authors and cultural figures did write candidly and penetratingly about our problems. Taras Shevchenko, the great Ukrainian poet and prophet of the nineteenth century, wrote, for example, in one of his poems, “And we looked on but kept silent, scratching our heads in confusion — we are dumb, wretched slaves…”
Ukrainians, as a people, were peaceful land tillers, very much given to daydreaming, often disunited, finding themselves on the opposite sides of conflicts.
There is a sort of excuse though — Ukraine has been invaded too many times throughout its history, it has been the arena of too many wars and revolutions. We do have to change our attitudes to ourselves and to the world.
Does it mean that your view of the immediate future of Ukraine is pessimistic?
Not at all! Look. All the totalitarian regimes collapsed, the longest surviving was the Soviet Union — but it did fall apart too! In spite of the Communist Party that seemingly controlled everything, in spite of the KGB, the watchdog of the regime, in spite of the highly conservative Soviet military top brass, the Soviet Union collapsed.
Ukraine regained her independence — but those who were in power in the newly independent Ukraine proved to be faithful successors to the Soviet regime. Most of them were and are former party bosses of various ranks, and today we find ourselves in a country which is claimed by our rulers to be “democratic” and functioning as “a market economy.” But in fact, Ukraine remains a post-Soviet state with so many of the Soviet attitudes still in action. Proceeding from what I’ve learnt from my extensive studies of history, I can tell you that unless a completely new leader emerges who will win the trust of the people and lead us out of the present-day impasse and economic and political stagnation and corruption, the top power in this country is doomed. It will collapse as the Russian Empire collapsed, and share the fate of the Soviet Union and the Third Reich.
However, I must admit that my studies of history and the present-day political makeup and state of things even in the most developed “democracies” suggest that there is no such thing as “an ideal” or “complete democracy.” But it’s much better to have “an incomplete democracy” than to have none.
May we descend from the lofty subject of world and home politics to the wonderland of your “micro-miniatures”? How did your creative work begin? And it was you who offered the term “micro-miniature”, was it not?
It was. And it was my fascination with modern science and technology that must have triggered my desire to create something that would be at a cross of advanced technology and art. The penetration of science into the micro-world is a fairly recent development. However, it was a short story by the nineteenth-century Russian writer Nikolay Leskov. Not a scientific or technological discovery, that motivated me to try to do what this author describes in his story — a Russian craftsman from the middle of nowhere fits a mechanical flea made by foreign craftsmen with horseshoe to prove that Russian craftsmen are no less skilful than foreign ones. It was a challenge and I thought I’d give it a try to rise to it. I managed to do it, though my flea was a real insect, and horseshoeing that flea proved to be the starting point in my micro-miniature career. It was back in 1957. My first creations were simple enough and were technical achievements of sorts — but I felt I needed to give them some artistic dimension. And I did.
I had been educated at an art school, I had kept studying art and that helped me to introduce art into my super-tiny creations. It imbued them with a new meaning.
Do you know whether anyone has outdone you in creating more complex or smaller things?
As far as I know, no one has been able to do that though some wonderful creations have been produced. For every job I undertake I have to find technical means suited for that particular job. When, for example, I decided to make tiny chess pieces I had to develop special cutting tools and chisels — twenty seven of them, to create the smallest chess pieces in the world.
In addition to great patience, you have to have very special skills and a vivid imagination. And be honest too. I know of cases when a micro-miniature exhibited was claimed to have been done on a human hair, but in reality it was a glass tube inside of which the micro-object was placed. The tube was much thicker than a hair but the object inside looked visually smaller. If I do something on a hair, you can be hundred-percent sure it’s a hair.
What has been your most recent creation?
Well, as a matter of fact, my last piece was made as long in the past as three years ago. However, it’s not the first time that there’s been such a long break between my creations. It was a portrait of an Arab sheikh, the one who was the founder of the Arab Emirates. A great politician who turned desert into a garden and modern urban development…
I’ve got enough works for a permanent exhibition anywhere, and I had offers from many governments but I’d rather have most of my works exhibited at one place, say, in London or in Kuwait, where traditions of creating miniatures are probably the strongest.
Among all those creations of yours which ones you regard as the most difficult to make?
My windmills. They have so many parts and they had to be three-dimensional. Then comes a portrait of Rembrandt done on a seed of a blackthorn. And my mother’s portrait on glass. Glass is a particularly difficult material to handle in micro-miniature. And art critics were unanimous in praising its artistic qualities too.
But have you sold any of your works?
No, never. I have a lot of propositions from private individuals and government organizations, but I’ve never betrayed my principle of not selling my works.
So you have had other sources of income?
Of course! I used to work as an engineer, and now I’m retired and draw my pension. Plus, I’m the director and curator of this museum of mine.
Do you have any of your works exhibited anywhere abroad?
Oh yes — in Moscow, in Andorra and in Hungary. There have been quite a few exhibitions in several countries of the world. There were long lines of people lining up to see the exhibitions everywhere they were held.
So I assume you have traveled much too?
Yes, I have. One of the most impressive sites that I’ve seen was the Negev Desert in Israel. Absolutely amazing — it’s like powerful music made visual. But the place I really love is the Crimea.
Why aren’t you in the Guinness Book of World Records?
I really don’t care. I’ve made quite a few things that are the smallest in the world — an electric motor, a watch, chess pieces to mention but a few. But to write all those applications, to provide proofs — it’s too much trouble for me.
Is there a limit to how small you can go in creating micro-miniatures?
Probably there is, but the developments in science and technologies are pushing the limits all the time. However, it is the artistic qualities that are most important in micro-miniatures that I create. I would not care for merely a technical achievement, and requirements of art do put certain limits at how small you can go. I’ve sought to create things that would — how shall I put it — freeze the moment.
That sounds poetic.
Oh, I love poetry. In fact, I not only read a lot of poetry, I write poetry.
Poetry and technology do not usually go hand in hand, and your creations have required a lot of technical and technological sophistication.
My lyrical and poetic leanings and my technological endeavors are in different compartments of my psyche and they do not interfere with each other.
I hear the bells of the monastery churches tolling… May I ask whether you are a religious person?
I believe in God but I do not go to church regularly.
There is a lot of talk these days about the monastery demanding that all the secular museums be removed from its territory — where will you go with your museum if they go ahead and do it?
I’ve never been put under any pressure to move out, but if I have to, I’ll go to Jerusalem and have my works exhibited at the museum which is attached to one of the Orthodox churches in Jerusalem — I’ve been receiving invitations to do so for quite some time.
Windmill. A model of a windmill in the Museum of mills
Blossoms.Watercolor on an apple seed cut in two.
Time. The smallest electric watch in the world;
Jimmy Carter, former US President, at the exhibition
Ivan Gas¬parovic¬, President of Slovakia, on a visit to
Poetry. Gold in the eye of a needle;
Portrait of Mykola Syadrysty’s mother on glass (detail). 253 mm.
Metaphysics. The model of a brewery is made up of 137 parts.
Mykola Syadrysty’s autograph on a hair.
Swallows. Gold on a poppy seed cut in two.
Portrait of Taras Shevchenko (353 mm) on a blackthorn seed.
Life. The figure made of gold is 5 microns in length;
Frigate. 3,5 mm; riggings are 0,003 mm thin.
Caravan. Gold in the eye of a needle.
Chess pieces — the smallest in the world.
The smallest book in the world
Photos are from Mr Syadrysty’s archives.