The risk that all of these artists take—and take pains to circumvent and manipulate—is that of their work being fetishized, or not taken seriously, for being small. As Santiago’s work, for instance, gains more traction—it is currently on view in solo shows at New York’s Rachel Uffner Gallery and Philadelphia’s Lord Ludd—he is looking for ways to minimize these reductive reactions. “It will be the last boat I do, because these can become fetish objects, especially in an art market where my work is now being collected by people with a lot of wealth,” he says regarding Deluge. “The last thing I want to do, if I’m talking about slavery, for instance, is make a fetish object—something you look at for a moment, then close it and that’s the end of it.”
Santiago has also made the decision to remove figures from his most recent work. “Hopefully the absence of a figure makes your understanding of the situation a little more serious.” he explains. “If you’re looking at a slave market, and you just see the slave auction stone with a chain and an empty wagon—and there’s nobody around—it enhances the sense of tragedy.” Looking down at the scene from “god mode,” it indeed sent shivers down this writer’s spine.
“The cleverer I am at miniaturizing the world, the better I possess it,” French philosopher Gaston Bachelard wrote in The Poetics of Space (1958), a meditation on the ability of creative output of all kinds to shift our perception of the world. “But in doing this, it must be understood that values become condensed and enriched in miniature.” He, like these artists, understood the conceptual, eye-opening power of smallness.