The second of three children, Hagop Sandaldjian was born into a family of artists in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1931. As a child he showed little interest in music but he excelled in mathematics and had a remarkable capacity for throwing himself wholeheartedly into any activity he pursued.
It was not until his teenage years that Sandaldjian began playing the violin, discovering what was to be a lifelong love of music. Despite his inauspiciously late start, Hagop set his sights on becoming a virtuoso and compensated for his lack of experience with endless hours of practice.
His father, upset that his son seemed bent on pursuing an impractical career, went so far as to smash Hagop's first violin, but this attempt at dissuasion was to no avail.
Against his parent's wishes, Hagop later enrolled in Yerevan's Romanos Melikian Music College. After completing his studies in Yerevan, he immediately enrolled in the Ippolitov Ivan Music College in Moscow, from which he graduated in 1955. Eight years later he emerged from Moscow's celebrated Komitas State Conservatory with a masters degree in the performing arts.
Settling in Yerevan, Armenia with his wife, Venera, a conductor and teacher, and their two children, Siranush and Levon, Sandaldjian threw himself into the capital's lively music scene. Along with teaching at two music colleges and the state conservatory, Sandaldjian also became a highly regarded soloist with the national orchestra.
In the early 1960s Sandaldjian began to develop a technique for playing stringed instruments that drew from ergonomics, the study of efficient interaction between people and the tools they use. Sandaldjian came to believe that fluent, proficient performance resulted from the harmonious resolution of the internal force of muscle contraction against the external force of gravity. This could only be achieved by abandoning the standard teaching approaches, which focused on "correct" finger positions, for a method that accommodated the individual anatomy of each student.
At the same time, Sandaldjian was presented with a new opportunity to test his theory of ergonomics as well as a new medium in which to express his artistic commitment and intensity. In the early 1970's one of his viola students at the conservatory, Edward Ghazaryan, a renowned microminiaturist, introduced Sandaldjian to the imaginative world of microminiature sculpture.
A deep friendship blossomed between the two artists, and they arrived at a unique agreement by which each became the other's student. In microminiature sculpture, Sandaldjian found an art form analogous to music in its extremes of commitment, passion, and extravagance channeled into controlled, precise movement.
Mesrob Mashtotz - On a grain of rice is the portait of the creator of the Armenian alphabet
Born of obsessive devotion, an individual figure could take as many as fourteen months to finish. Each sculpted micron represented not only endless hours of toil, but exacting travail fraught with peril, as his work could so easily be destroyed or lost. An unexpected sneeze or misdirected breath could blow away a microminiature with hurricane force, while a casual movement could sabotage the work of months.
Bird - made on the sharp tip of a needle.
Since even a pulse in his fingers could cause an accident, Sandaldjian ultimately learned to apply his decisive strokes only between heartbeats thus maximizing his control of his fingers. Those who saw Sandaldjian at work said that they could not tell when his hands moved.
Wild Animals - On a strand of hair, twelve wild animals are seen in the
presence of a crowd. The strand of hair is coverd with glue.
Crucifix - The Cross consists of a bisection of a single strand of human hair.
The statue of the crucified Christ is made of gold.
Hagop and his family emmigrated to the United States in 1980, however, as a condition of his departure to the United States, customs officials forced Sandaldjian to leave behind his entire collection of eighteen microminiatures.
Broken Dreams - Unfinished portrait. Golden violin with broken neck.
Length is 1/32 of an inch.
Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck, on top of needles.
Disheartened by his inability to find work as a violinist or music teacher in California, he turned his attention to the less tangible world of microminiature, finding in its cozy dimensions a welcome sanctuary from the frustrations of his new life.
Habanera - In the eye on the needle is a sculpture of the Spanish dancer in a scarlet dress with her castanets
During the next decade, Sandaldjian produced a new collection of thirty three miniatures, displaying virtuosic control of space and color as well as graceful conceptual oppositions that reveal layers of human and artistic contradiction.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Sandaldjian's creations included a carving of Mount Ararat on a grain of rice; a crucifix in which a minute golden figure of Jesus hangs upon a cross made from a bisected strand of Sandaldjian's own hair; and recreations of Disney figures (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Mickey Mouse, for example) or historical figures (such as Napoleon or Pope John Paul II) presented in the eye or on the tip of a needle.
Pope John In the eye of the needle, on a large pedestal, stands the statue of John Paul II in full, colorful papal regalia.
The Golf Player
Inhabiting the margins between dream and reality, these figures of impossible dimensions appear at once banal and elusive, meticulously crafted and dreamily insubstantial. Each nearly weightless sculpture seems to hover between its slim hold on the material plane and the lucid and immeasurable reality of a mental image. Straddling the line between science, craft, art, and novelty, Sandaldjian's work befuddles our ability to make such distinctions, and in so doing, opens a space for wonder.
Eternal Symbol (Mount Ararat)
"On a grain of rice, my beloved mountain. From the times of Noah up to this day, 'you stand supreme and majestic.' "
May All Your Dreams Come True
Photos and information via Museum Of Jurassic Technology