Column | The scale determines what you can and cannot see

You look around and you do your best, really, to understand where you are right now. ‘Above the palace hall’ you can tell from the moderately informative signs. Low stones everywhere, a slippery floor here and there, crumbling walls – the high Mycenae with the wide streets that Homer tells about has become a puzzle that is difficult to grasp. Does this wall belong to the palace complex or to the building with the columns?

How wonderful it is to find a model in the museum. Overview! The ruins can be placed much better when reduced in size and then the imagination can also get to work much more easily. I look at it eagerly and think of a quote from Piet Meeuse, included in the book I’m reading at home and picked up immediately upon return: Unreal size by Nicholas Matsier. Meeuse writes: “The scale determines what you can and cannot see. And what you see hides what you don’t see.”

The latter is especially intriguing, but anyway the idea that seeing is mainly a matter of scale is a helpful one. Certainly in the case of vanished cities – there is much more to see in Corinth than in Mycenae, but also not much, because it is difficult to get an overview when the temples are as large as the Apollo temple there. That is not only due to the scale, the Romans built ruthlessly on the Greek bathhouse and the Byzantine church is again made of stones from earlier constructions.

Photo ANP

But about that book – what a wonderful book it is. You should especially not leaf through it because then you get too excited, at least I do, because then you would really like to read every piece immediately, the one about the Surinamese viewing cabinets of a certain Gerrit Schouten who artfully carved a ‘Party on the plantation’, or that about the staggering work of the Syrian sculptor Khaled Dawwa who made a model of a shot-up street in Damascus – it’s called ‘Voici mon coeur’. Your own heart breaks too when you see it. “Perhaps it is because of the amazing patience that this street wall-to-scale is more moving than any photograph,” writes Matsier. The strange thing is that a scale photo of that street wall is also more moving than a ‘real’ one.

The model of a shot-up street in Damascus is heartbreaking

The photo of the model with so-called ‘moonlight’ is almost impossible to see. ‘This is my heart’ – yes, that heart can never be whole again.

There are, of course, countless reasons to look at reductions (and sometimes enlargements) with amazement, but perhaps one of the most important is the illusion of understanding. Because even though what Meeuse writes is true, that the reduction also makes everything invisible, at the same time reduction gives an overview and then you suddenly understand how Mykene works. Of course, that’s how they walked to the palace and there was the entrance, now quickly go outside again and walk that road again and um, is this still the way or am I wandering through the ruins again?

Everything quickly becomes symbolic if you make things smaller or bigger. You would sometimes believe for a moment, looking at the reduced solar system of Eise Eisinga, at the ships in the bottles, or the gray debris of the street, that you got a grip on the whole, but at the same time you feel that overview is simplification and invisibility. And that the world is therefore immensely rich, and totally incomprehensible. Yet we find our way, as dwarfs or as giants.

Matter of scale.