Last Wednesday the anonymous British graffiti artist known as ‘Banksy’ sold a few prints at an auction in Paris. This is notable mainly because of what didn’t happen: the last time Banksy art was sold (earlier this month) it self-destructed only moments after the gavel went down on a bid of over a million British pounds. Banksy had installed a shredder inside the frame, which was remotely activated as soon as the sale was complete. It sounds a bit like the stuff of spy movies, and certainly was a first for the art world. Or was it?
The world is full of words, more than ever. Never have there been more news headlines clambering for clicks, advertisements designed to arrest our attention, or friends filling us in on everything they had for dinner. Somehow, we have to muddle around this mess with our infobese heads filled to popping with more messages than they can process, too worn out to care much about what is really true and what is deceptively false.
Yet into this deluge I submit words of my own. I take a deep breath and yell into the roaring waterfall: “There are not enough words!”
Because there aren’t.
Slow motion. A woman with her hair blowing in a light breeze walks confidently between library shelves packed with books. Where did the breeze come from? Nobody knows, but it doesn’t matter because the the camera has transported us to a laboratory, where a young man smiles to himself as he mixes chemicals. Is he remembering a joke from last night, or does he really enjoy chemistry that much? We can’t ask, because now we’re on the beach, and a well-dressed lady is picking up seaweed with some sort of oversized tweezers. She’s very happy about the seaweed. The music swells! Now we’re watching dirty men in jerseys fighting for victory. And then the happy people are gone, but not without leaving us with the distinct impression that going to a certain university will make every moment of every day nothing short of epic.
“You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs
But I look around me and I see it isn’t so
Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs
And what’s wrong with that?”
So sang Sir Paul McCartney, and all it takes is a few minutes listening to the radio to prove him right. Same goes for silly rom-coms and royal weddings. For some reason, we humans get a bit silly over love. No matter how scientific our philosophy or cold and calculated our theory of existence, there’s nearly always someone in our lives who holds a mysterious power to break through our rigid shell into the gooey centre of our humanity where love is the unrivalled (and often unruly) ruler.
This week our family boarded a plane to head home to Ireland after some weeks in America. The airports along the way were full of holiday-makers going this way or that, some just setting out, others returning sporting deeper tans and new sunglasses. Eventually, whenever they all get to wherever it is they call home, they’ll be met by a welcome party of work, school, and responsibilities that have been patiently awaiting them. As the tan lines fade and sunglasses collect dust, the desktop background picture of big smiles in the sand may seem increasingly like a taunt. Or maybe like an impossible invitation: “If only I could live there all the time, I would always be that happy!” The invitation seems to be proven more and more with every holiday.
The longest selfie stick in the history of humanity was 4 billion miles away from home when it took a picture of us. The photo is now famously known as “the pale blue dot”, because it happened to catch our planet as a point of brightness floating in a ray of sunlight. Astronomer Carl Sagan had suggested that NASA take the picture with their Voyager I probe, and he eloquently described the result:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilisation, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”