Free and open to the public

Closed for reinstallation

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Miniature Marvels: Natural History through the Looking Glass

A magnifying glass held over a green plant

**New date—rescheduled from May 26 due to rain**

This open-air screening invites viewers to immerse themselves in a world of miniature marvels drawn from the realm of natural history. Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Unsettled Ground: Art and Environment from the Smart Museum Collection, the films featured in the program approach the cinematic medium as a looking glass that opens onto the strange and wondrous worlds hidden in the smallest and most humble of things.  

The program begins with the scientific filmmaker Jean Painlevé’s Crabes et Crevettes (1929), a frame enlargement of which is currently on view at the Smart Museum. Capitalizing on the camera’s capacity for magnification, the film offers a surrealist anatomy lesson that is equal parts whimsical and unsettling. A series of shorts by contemporary experimental filmmaker Charlotte Pryce—presented here on 16mm—employ a variety of lenses, lighting effects, and optical distortions to blur the boundary between natural and artificial forms, finding works of art on the forest floor and insects in the pages of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass (1871). The intricacy of nature and is matched with the intricate work of animation in Stacey Steers’ Edge of Alchemy, which revives two stars of the silent screen—along with a host of early scientific films—to act out the parts of ‘the scientist’ and ‘the creature’ in a feminist reinvention of Frankenstein set on a strange and forlorn planet populated by flittering bees and mysterious vegetation, set in motion by the animator’s craft.  

Enjoy the films beneath the stars and rustling leaves on the Campus North Quad. 


  • Crabes et crevettes (Jean Painlevé, 1929, digital)
  • Discoveries on the Forest Floor (Charlotte Pryce, 2006, 16mm)
  • Parable of the Tulip Painter and the Fly (Charlotte Pryce, 2008, 16mm)
  • Looking Glass Insects (Charlotte Pryce, 2012, 16mm)
  • Pwdre Ser: The Rot of the Stars (Charlotte Pryce, 2018, digital)
  • Edge of Alchemy (Stacey Steers, 2017, digital)

FREE, open to all. The films will be projected onto the façade of the Smart Museum. Please bring your own blanket or chair and set up on the grassy area between the Smart Museum and Henry Crown Field House.

This film program is curated by Katerina Korola and presented by the Smart Museum of Art. Films have been provided by the Archives Jean Painlevé, LightCone, and Canyon Cinema (with special thanks to Stacey Steers). Technical support and equipment is provided by the Chicago Film Society and Enjoy the Film.

Image: Stacey Steers, detail still from Edge of Alchemy, 2017.