Walking around Pink Espace gallery on St. Jacques Montreal for the new Alain James Martin exhibition, I find myself perplexed by the subjects of the drawings and the quote from Don DeLillo’s Mao II: “The future belongs to crowds” which is used on the invitations.
After getting myself a glass of red, I find the artist and ask him about the inspiration behind the work. Mr Martin pleasantly refers to the Don DeLillo quote and states that with the ever growing popularity of social media and internet, it seemed probable the crowd will indeed hold the upper hand in the future.
The works are all close ups of different sections from a 1940 photograph titled “Crowd at Coney Island” depicting a beach scene where, as stated, a crowd of spectators cheer and wave at the camera in their swimming attire.
The drawings are amazingly detailed and precise in their portrayal. The gallery has supplied a copy of the original photograph, along with a magnifier for close inspection of the specifics. However, the main question which remains lingering is not that of the artist’s skills, but the notion of the crowd and future.
Before digging deeper into that question, I would like to express my emotions when standing in front of these works. I felt exhilarated, joyous and important. My gaze was being returned by a crowd of happy and smiling onlookers, almost cheering me on, and it elated my mood. I felt as if I was being welcomed into a scene where everybody appreciated me; and believe me, it is much to the credit of the artist, because making the viewer feel important is no easy feat.
Many in the 20th century believed in crowds, and the power they possess in changing the way we shall live. Socialism, Communism, even Democracy is based on majority and the fact that they allegedly know what is best for a nation, or even the world at large.
However, more and more, we see majority getting it wrong in terms of consequences and harm done to humanity; because, well, not everyone is of the same education, intellect, or emotional stability; so people can be, and are being manipulated by propaganda, scare tactics, and individuals who are willing to lie through their teeth to grab and stay in power.
Studying history, we see majorities leading humanity astray. We put to death Socrates; burn down Acropolis and Persepolis; allow churches to rule in fear of an imaginary being; behead Louis XVI and countless others in the name of revolution; become a Nazi nation; bomb defenseless villages like Guernica; go to war over oil; carryout torture; cheer and chant when our enemies are executed.
However, one can say all these mistakes are due to ignorance, division between people, society and cultures, and in the future we won’t be making the same mistakes because we will have complete utter unity. International language; homogenized phenotypes; standard and controlled reproduction methods; global identity; regulated and universal clothing; no monetary units; no educational competition; immunization to all diseases; and no need for leadership.
In short, human beings will reach total equality in every sense. Well, if that is true, then by all accounts, decisions for all aspects of our lives will be made collectively, and the idea of “crowds” being the future is conceivable.
Even though this scenario sounds ideal, I do fear it, simply because gradually we will be losing our individuality and unique identity. As an artist who believes in self-expression I cannot help feeling apprehensive about the day mankind ceases to be creative because he is suppressing it in fears of becoming an outcast.
If we all believed in the same thing, and lived as dictated by a global doctrine, then we surely cease to appreciate the arts. Why would a youngster pick up an instrument if he does not feel the need to seek independence? Why would a poet write poetry if we do away with love, sorrow, joy and all other emotions? Why would we need fashion if we all wore the same garment? Why would we need artists inspiring us to find beauty?
If the future belongs to crowds, why would we need creativity? And, if creativity is to be controlled, is that anything to boast about?
Alain James Martin exhibition will be at Pink Espace, 1399 rue St.Jacques, Montreal, until September 2012.