Monday, October 10, 2011

Cubism, the Human Microphone, and Beginning to See Fragments as a Whole

A couple of weeks ago, my sweetheart and I went to visit a Picasso exhibit at the DeYoung Museum. We walked slowly through each room, taking time to look closely at many artworks, often sitting down to rest or to look even longer. Early in the exhibit, we talked about a sketch that seemed to capture the potential for movement in the knees and arms and torso, more than what I expect a body to look like. The room that had cubist paintings (which I had never quite “gotten”) did not have a bench. So we went on to the next room and sat there, taking a break from seeing so much, and talked about other things for a while.

At one point, I looked back towards the cubist paintings, five or six yards away. One of them had an overall shape that reminded me of the Tower of Babel, with a band of light across one of its stories near the top. Curious, we walked back to it for a closer look. Its title was Man with a Guitar. Standing a few feet away, we could clearly see a face at the top, and a body at about the scale of our own bodies. The band of light was where the arms would be, and maybe the neck of the guitar. I began to see in it the potential for movement I had seen in the earlier sketch, almost a spiritual possibility for what the person in the painting could express. Where before I would have tried to pick out single fragments, comparing them to my own picture of whether they looked realistic, I was opened to see quite differently, to feel a powerful energy that wasn’t bound to a particular moment but could keep growing as the light shone through.

A week after that museum visit, I spent a few hours at the Federal Reserve Bank with Occupy San Francisco. I had seen videos of Occupy Wall Street, and had been very impressed with the human microphone, by which the people close enough to hear a speaker repeat his or her words, phrase by phrase, so the rest of the crowd can hear. Some people claim that this slows down the process, with everything being said twice. (My experience of many other meetings is that things get said much more than twice.)

I find a great deal that is positive in this practice. (I use the “we” pronoun in the next few sentences not to speak for others, but to express my own sense of being part of something larger than myself.) The human microphone gives space for each person to be heard. In repeating the words of others, we listen attentively, not turning to what we would say next before really taking them in. In considering our own words, we can ask ourselves what bears repeating, and what our own statements add to what has already been said. The need to be heard is partly satisfied by having voiced others’ thoughts and feelings. What is spoken becomes collective, rather than an individual fragment that has to be identified with one person’s point of view.

I find myself opened by taking the time to see and hear shapes and voices, which I once perceived as disparate small pieces, gathered together into a larger whole. These experiences move me beyond previous expectations of what appeared realistic and possible.