Pretty How Town

The above video is an initial exploration of the poem by e.e. cummings, read here by the author. Animation by me.

Pretty How Town

an installation with live performances

Concept and Meaning

Pretty How Town is a multimedia installation with an associated programme. The artist Carel Kuitenbrouwer has designed a multimedia art project in which he wants to collaborate with fellow artists, musicians and poets. This artwork is an experience, in which visitors are invited to participate and reflect.

The project takes the poem anyone lived in a pretty how town van E.E. Cummings. Cummings beschrijft in dit gedicht even scherp als liefdevol de wereld van ‘de gewone man’ (& vrouw), ook wel de ‘kleine man’ genoemd.

 by e.e. cummings as its theme. In this poem, cummings gives a sharp but affectionate description of the ‘ordinary man’ (and woman), aka the ‘little man’.

He compares the eternal cycle of the seasons with the lives of these people, who make up most of humanity and are born, grow up, marry, raise children, die and are buried in relative obscurity. In itself that’s a very common, familiar metaphor. But cummings has turned it into an enchanting poem. He puts quite ordinary words in unusual sequences, turning making the workaday into something special and magical. Cummings takes the insignificant and unremarkable and creates something that is poignant, exceptional and moving.

The installation Pretty How Town is a structure of walls and roofs, partly transparent and partly semi-transparent, made from expandable wire mesh. The simple geometry refers to the archetypes of the house, the street, the factory. One source of inspiration for me was the Utrecht of my childhood: the gallery-access flats between the Douwe Egberts factory and the dyke with the railway line, the neat terraced houses with their front gardens and net curtains.

Various video projectors project moving images onto the installation and there is a soundscape. Language plays a role through typography and the human voice. Images and sound play in a loop lasting about 20 minutes.

Visitors walk through the installation casting shadows, touch the screens and sit down on a bench to study the installation from a slight distance.


 sketch model of the installation


When I first heard the poem anyone lived in a pretty how town, I felt a shock of recognition. Cummings’ penetrating but tender picture describes the world I grew up in and from which I struggled to free myself. Cummings has reconciled me with that world; he sees the beauty in it and, in a masterly fashion, has transformed it into an ode that is both prosaic and romantic.

Cummings sings the praises of the winsome petit bourgeoisie in sleepy provincial towns, where ordinary people lead their ordinary lives, as enduring as the seasons. The events in their lives are just as eternal as the rain, sun, moon and stars.

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

I wanted to be different. But there was always that sneering sound, as if you are pronouncing a soft “ch” while your mouth is shut tight in a grin so that the air escapes through your nose. This is what I had to arm myself against.

But that struggle did give me the power and will to use my imagination. My imagination tells me that all is fair in art, as in love and war. That nothing is too small, too inconsequential to be portrayed. That precisely the small and the trifling have meaning.

I want to send my imagination soaring—and the visitor’s imagination too—so that I can make something wonderfully beautiful from grey, inconsequential mediocrity. To make the ordinary into something exceptional through my use of the imagination, to show the exceptional in the ordinary.

The specifics

Specifically, Pretty How Town consists of different layers and elements:

  1. An Environment, constructed from metres-high, semi-transparent planes
    1. onto which videos are projected
      1. more or less recognizable images
      2. typography: the text of the poem
    2. where the general public (and the performers when there)
      1. can wander around
      2. and sit on the benches surrounding the structure
  2. A Soundscape, which I have created in partnership with the jazz musician Ab Baars
    1. Poetry by cummings, in particular the titular poem
    2. Sounds, both natural and edited, in interplay/dialogue with the poetry
  3. Live Performances 
    1. At set times, depending on the installation location
    2. Solos or combos
    3. Standing still, or moving in amongst the audience

The performers will be selected based on the affinity in their language and their ability to achieve a powerful expressiveness using simple means. Of course I will also look for an engagement with the subject matter: the desire to expand on the theme of the exceptional in the little people and the ordinary. The performances will be created through discussions and a collaborative process on an equal footing, as artistic input in the process and the result.

Above: Video with a simulation of the installation


Potential audience

Pretty How Town is suitable for many different locations. The general public could access the installation in a gallery, in a theatre hall or on site at a festival. There is a cycle of sound and images lasting about 20 minutes. Visitors can wander around the installation and sit down for a moment on one of the benches in the space. 

Musicians, singers and other performers will be invited to put on performances at certain times in the weekends or evenings, whether directed, in combination or solo, in sessions lasting 45 to 60 minutes.

Visitors will be immersed in the work in an experience that is pervasive, moving and at times confrontational. My installation can be a meeting point for artists and audience. It reduces the divide between the creators and the viewers: both are participants.

The installations I create offer venues and those in charge of programming a mix of fine art and theatre, and an innovative alternative approach to engaging the general public. They also offer organizers and festival and events programmers the opportunity to get even more benefit from the artists who will be attending anyway.

My work can serve as a laboratory and forum, a site for encounters, experimentation and debate involving not just artists, musicians, dancers and technical staff but also theatre-makers and event programming staff.

I also want my work to be a facility for amateur performers, young people and other target groups who can benefit from the shared experience and becoming involved in my art.

My work forms a tight cohesive whole both thematically and formally, and it touches people in an original way.

Which target groups could my work be relevant for?

In general: 

  • Fans of this multidisciplinary form of experience and installation art.

In particular:

  • Visitors to the venue, whether or not they come specifically for the installation.
  • Visitors who have come specifically for the performances.
  • Professionals, students and amateurs in theatre, music, dance, mime, poetry and poetry readings.
  • My own network and fan base (see too the section on social media).
  • The networks of the musicians, dancers, dramatists, technical staff and other people involved in the work.

Setting it up and access

The installation Pretty How Town, designed and created by me, will have a good ‘return on investment’, both financially and in terms of production, because it can be used multiple times. The project can be set up for a longer period and can be displayed in various different locations and on various different occasions.

The installation is suitable for a variety of contexts. The installation itself is light and transportable. The equipment it uses is available in most theatres, or alternatively can be hired. No major investments are needed, nor does the installation take long to assemble and disassemble.

The installation’s lifespan is several years at least, and it can be modified to take account of the specific location and circumstances. It is also well suited for use at sites other than established theatres — for example, festivals, warehouses, school buildings and other public spaces.

With the right supervision, the installation can be used for a variety of different types of participant and target groups.

The complete poem:

anyone lived in a pretty how town

(with up so floating many bells down)

spring summer autumn winter

he sang his didn’t he danced his did.


Women and men(both little and small)

cared for anyone not at all

they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same

sun moon stars rain


children guessed(but only a few

and down they forgot as up they grew

autumn winter spring summer)

that noone loved him more by more


when by now and tree by leaf

she laughed his joy she cried his grief

bird by snow and stir by still

anyone’s any was all to her


someones married their everyones

laughed their cryings and did their dance

(sleep wake hope and then)they

said their nevers they slept their dream


stars rain sun moon

(and only the snow can begin to explain

how children are apt to forget to remember

with up so floating many bells down)


one day anyone died i guess

(and noone stooped to kiss his face)

busy folk buried them side by side

little by little and was by was


all by all and deep by deep

and more by more they dream their sleep

noone and anyone earth by april

wish by spirit and if by yes.


Women and men(both dong and ding)

summer autumn winter spring

reaped their sowing and went their came

sun moon stars rain