by Dave Bonta and Beth Adams
Whether because our culture is so relentlessly individualistic, or because, ever since the Industrial Revolution, we have rewarded artists for the single-minded pursuit of a deeply personal vision, creative thinkers rarely devote much attention to the ways of individuals in aggregate. Past qarrtsiluni issues such as Ekphrasis and Mutating the Signature have challenged the conception of artist as loner, but this time we asked individual contributors to think more deeply or broadly about “The crowd, the flock, the herd, the mob, the swarm, the tribe. … With the planet’s burgeoning human population threatening to exceed our ecological carrying capacity, and so many crises now requiring urgent collective action,” we wrote, “it seems imperative for artists and writers… to turn our attention to sociality in its most vital and basic form.”
The contributions we received in response were unexpectedly rich in seas, breasts and crows. The crowd at times appeared dangerous and at times joyful, even redemptive; fell prey to the winds of fashion or remained resolute with political purpose. We discovered that artists and photographers pay more attention to crowds than writers do, judging by the unusually high proportion of images to text submissions. Among the latter, a significant minority took a surrealist tack. A creature with a thousand mouths does interesting things to language, it seems. Senses are sharpened: tuned to each other, we see and hear much farther than we could alone. Tuning each other out, retreating into our private thoughts, we taste a loneliness altogether different from solitude. Welcome to the Crowd.
Hundspiele by Alan Hayes
The King’s Shilling by Clive Birnie
Left Behind by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
Simulation of Bacteria on the Floor After Mopping by Danny Pelletier
House Jumping Place by Brian Pike
A bird makes a crowd flaccid by June Nandy
The Incredible Corpse Dormitory by Donna Vorreyer
Mass by John Vick
View through police lines, anti-Iraq war demonstration by Jonathan Sa’adah
Building Our Houses Closer Together by Hannah Stephenson
(I Wish You To) Move by Gary Dubola Memi
Vegas Meditation by Tina Celio
Postcard from the migration by Steve Wing
In the still forest heard from far away by Alex Cigale
In the Lab by Maureen Jivani
The Sweet Community by Ann E. Michael
The Crowd — a drypoint by Marja-Leena Rathje
Acting Debut at the Roundhouse in London by Nancy Scott
The World Is Ugly and the People Are Sad by Karl Elder
Standing Room Only by Tony Press
Waiting to March by Monica Raymond
Balcony View of a Prairie Dog Colony by Scott Wiggerman
Sparrow’s, Poet’s Deaths by Christine Rhein
The Storm by Mark W. Kidd
Strays by Holly Anderson
No getting away by Nathalie Boisard-Beudin
Return to the Old Town by Rob Mackenzie
The Student Wars by James Toupin
Nikolaikirche by Dorothee Lang
Keating Road by Janice Pariat
On Seeing “Envy Barn” in the Real Estate Listings by Amy MacLennan
The Minor Leagues by James Brush
The Convert by Eric Burke
One of the Many by Julene Tripp Weaver
On Our Way by Tama Hochbaum
Commute by R.A. Dusenberry
The Suffering of Others by Kristen McHenry
Jesuit students, Évora, Portugal by Steve Wing
Or When the Police Come by Jenna Cardinale
My Brief History of Crowds by Lisken Van Pelt Dus
Gaining vantage point on Ulysses Grant Memorial, Obama Inauguration by Jonathan Sa’adah
Sea of Stars by Dick Jones
Control by John Vick
Nite TV by Caroline Beasley-Baker
Fashionista by Karen Greenbaum-Maya
Of Ten or More in a Room by Scott Owens
Moving Koi by Gordon Smith
what holds (us by Daniela Elza
Between the Notes by Wendy Vardaman
Face Recognition Collage by Lucy Kempton
A Mask Called Nothing by Amy Pence
Seating Arrangement by Cathryn Cofell
Flag Woman by Monica Raymond
The Loaves and the Fishes by Karl Elder
Waiting For Bolivar Ferry by Cynthia Cox
Les Sans Papiers 75 by Laura Genz
Sharing the Sea of Surround Sound by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
One Hundred White Pelicans by Robin Chapman
Demolition Derby by Alan Hayes
The Station by Hannah Stephenson
Stonewall by Julene Tripp Weaver
Revolution Day parade, Ticul, Yucatán by Steve Wing
Today my shower came from the heavens by Alex Cigale
Happy Hour by Lynda Fleet Perry
Crowd by Gordon Smith
Niggun for the Hand-Drum by Jane Rice
Seas Between Us by Donna Vorreyer
Crows of Still Creek by Robin Susanto
Night at the Interstate Diner by James Brush
Predicament: Memorial Day by Sarah Busse
Parade by Christopher Woods
Daily Commute, Beijing by Sarah Menkedick
Demonstrators standing on barricades by Jonathan Sa’adah
On the First Day of March Crows Begin To Search by Carol Berg
Black skimmers by Steve Wing
Notes on “Collateral Damage Noted” by Monica Raymond
The Crowd I — a monotype by Marja-Leena Rathje
Veils Suite: The Crowd I (1989)
first of a series of seven
monotype (oil-based inks)
57 x 76 cm. (22″ x 30″)
Marja-Leena Rathje (website) is a Finnish-Canadian artist specializing in printmaking and photography. She is crazy about weathered rocks, prehistoric art and the archaeology of past, present and future. She lives and works near the sea and the mountains of Vancouver and has exhibited widely, both internationally and in her local region.
On Memorial Day of 2005, I took part in a performance conceived by Tom Plsek at the large open plaza in front of Boston City Hall. “Collateral Damage Noted” was to be a sound meditation on the civilians killed in the Iraq war. The latest reliable figures place this total at almost 25,000, he wrote in his call.
Plsek’s idea was that musicians would stand in a circle and sound a note for perhaps ten or twelve seconds,then pause, averaging three to four long notes a minute. Each note was to represent the life and death of an Iraqi civilian. By his calculations, if a hundred musicians did this for an hour, we would have made enough notes to account for the Iraqi women, children, and non-combatant men killed till then.
I had signed up to participate, even though I was not, strictly speaking, a musician. In fact, in the fourth grade, I had been asked to just move my lips during “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” And more recently, the director of a play in which I was touring had barred me from a musical number — the history of Zionism set to the tune of Hava Nagila.
Was I just out of my mind, someone who had never set foot on ground steeper than a parking lot signing on for Annapurna? No, because in that same play, I’d had a solo — improvised wailing as I hung up banners with the names of massacres. Mournful wailing — there aren’t a lot of calls for it these days, and I’d just been hitting my stride when the tour ended. So when I saw Tom’s call for volunteers — voice, okay, he’d said — I jumped at the chance.
Plsek, a trombonist, had an elongated heron look, beaky nose, and eyes close-set behind pale glasses. Gradually, the musicians arrived. Most wore jeans, and looked well-worn and familiar, like travelers gathered in a hostel you’d met all your life in dreams. As we clustered in the center of the plaza, Tom read a quote from the Dalai Lama — basically that war is hell, and now that it’s automated, it’s even more hell. He wanted each note to be heartfelt, pure, beautiful, delivered with full attention, he said. After all, it was a human life.
We spread out in a large circle. To my left was a man whose wide wooden flute with conspicuous nodes was, he explained, a shakuhachi. His skirt, his shirt, his glistening closecut hair, the flute itself, all were the faint brownish golden tones of bamboo.
To my right was a tiny woman whose left arm was handless, ending at the elbow with a small curve, like a heel of French bread. She used it to support her instrument — a tiny trumpet with three stops. “A pocket trumpet,” she explained. Beyond her the musicians looked blurry and faint, as if seen across a chasm. Some listeners had settled onto blankets and towels at the center of the circle, as if the event were a beach party.
Now Plsek moved to the center, and the rustle of chatting ceased. He gave the signal to begin — raising his hands above his head, and then lowering them with a sharp flap, like a giant bird.
I began whooing away, counting the beats, Soon I became winded and breathless. Try as I could to make them even, each note seemed to come out differently. I thought of who they might have been — a short “ha” that ended unexpectedly quickly a five year old boy, the echoing ululation his mother, croak of a grandmother.
Tom walked around the circle holding a placard — we were a quarter of the way through. Across the concrete, I saw my old housemate Jen Bliss, with her Renaissance princess look, blowing her flute. Halfway round was Katt, small and compact, cap of dark hair bent over her violin. Sonorities of accordions, tiny Tibetan gongs — their concentric resonance filled the air. I closed my eyes and went back to sounding.
Now my breath lengthened. The sounds came out as “oh”s, keening and sorrowful. Sometimes the lives I signified were briefly real to me, the complex muscular length of a human body, a ghost image of a family sitting around a table, a father carrying his son on his back. Sometimes I threw my lot in with the shakuhachi, joining its cavernous unearthly tones. Other times I was just a machine for pumping sound, feeling underwater somehow, a whale or dolphin hooting through my blowhole.
I knew I was loud — I hoped not too loud. I opened my eyes to find Bob Raymond (no relation) staring back at me from inside the circle with his video camera. I guessed he had just shot footage of me, hair sticking up, eyes closed and diaphragm heaving. I felt stupid for not having realized this would be videotaped — Mobius Artists Group, of which Plsek is a member, documents everything. Behind Bob came Plsek with a placard — and I was surprised to learn that we had only ten minutes left to go. Rapt in the trance of my own sound, I’d somehow missed the midpoint.
These last notes came hardscrabble, fast and furious, like clambering up to the top of a small mountain. Eyes open now, I can see members of our circle blowing, bowing, gonging, chiming, as we try for the last few moments to embody the crowd of the faceless dead.
Plsek takes the center of the circle, and draws his arms down. Silence. For a second, it’s as if we have launched a huge invisible egg into the cosmos — we stand and watch it rise.
Then disheveled and somehow humble, like participants at a meditation retreat or a funeral, we mill about, touching each other’s instruments, The circle becomes fractal, like a coast full of inlets and crenellations, finally dispersing completely as we cross over to those we’ve recognized on the far side.
Monica Raymond won the Castillo Prize in political theater for her play The Owl Girl, which is about two families in an unnamed Middle Eastern country who both have keys to the same house. She was a Jerome Fellow for 2008-09 at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, among many other honors and awards. “Dreaming the World” was a prize-winner this fall in Caffeine Theater’s “Old Father William” Contest for poems influenced by Lewis Carroll.
by Steve Wing
Steve Wing (PBase gallery) is a visual artist and writer whose work reflects his appreciation for the extraordinary in ordinary days and places. He lives in Florida, where he takes dawn photos on his way to work in an academic institution. He’s a regular contributor to qarrtsiluni, as well as to BluePrintReview, where he has a bio page with links to some of his other publications.
by Carol Berg
based on the painting of the same name by Kay Sage
In October our minds connect
to the name of shadow. Wingtip
to wingtip we fold the dusk
over the movement of the earth.
The stillness of man
made structures with their crevices
and hives of windows—our minds
quiet over all. How some of our eyes squint
against the receding wave of summer.
How some of our eyes close
against the deathblow of sunset.
In March our minds connect
to the name of light. Even our folded
feathers imply movement.
Our minds rustle over all
the earth’s small creakings. We begin our naming.
The names drop into greens that tighten.
Greens that deepen. The wind
has begun its relentless thinking.
Now the red veins in the small burrowed
creatures begin their murmur.
How the urgency of this red spurts inside us.
Another eye wills itself open. Another eye roves.
Carol Berg has poems in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Pebble Lake Review, Rhino, Sweet, Melusine, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Stonecoast and an MA in English Literature.
New York City, February 2003 (click image to see a larger version)
Jonathan Sa’adah’s photographs often deal with people and political/social topics. His favorite places to photograph are streets and within shared lives.