I was watching this video the other day about the setup of a beautiful light show at Longwood Gardens near Philadelphia. It’s done in a stop-action time lapse style, with teams of people zooming around, disappearing and reappearing, their hands flying about as they stacked and wired lights as if by the power of their minds.
Something about the rapid, sustained movement allowed me to detach myself and draw back from the human-ness of the scene. I started looking at this herd as a biologist might watch a pack of wolves or an ant colony. What drive was causing this extraordinarily high level of cooperation? What benefit did the individuals or the group derive from this activity?
Most animal behavior can be attributed to a fairly short list of drives: food, sex, territory and occasionally social connection. I suppose you could assume there was at least one guy in there helping out because he thought it would give him a better chance with a girl. Certainly a few people in there earned some kind of money (eg food) from the design and construction of the display. But I doubt that an artist specializing in this kind of elaboration would see money as the primary goal. And it still wouldn’t explain the many volunteers helping to make one man’s vision a reality.
Then there was the beautiful orchestral music overlaid on the video. Spare a second of thought for the development and construction of all those instruments, the creation of the score, the training and practice…all to combine vibrations in a pleasing way, and all as a small detail of a larger project.
Every day, we spend our time manipulating objects. How many of our activities are several steps removed from our biological necessities: sex, food, protection, social connection? Or should I say, seemingly removed? Why do we plant flowers? Spend years honing the ability to pole vault? Learn how to embroider? Fix up old cars and have car shows with other people who have done the same thing? Or even spend hours taking photos and writing words for strangers on the internet whom we will probably never meet in real life?
Because, as my dog might say, we’re weird. And as we might add, in complex, confusing and often beautiful ways.