Address to VideoBardo 2104: Ocho Videopoemas

(Para leer la traducción en español, consulte la versión bilingüe de este trabajo en academia.edu.)

I hope that my selection of these Spanish-language works for VideoBardo 2014 will demonstrate that a successful videopoem will always transcend language and cultural boundaries; these eight artists are universal artists, well-versed in the art forms that have emerged with the technological advancements of our time; as well, they all possess the profound, innate understanding of what I often refer to in this genre as poetic juxtaposition.

At its best, videopoetry frames the fragmentary nature of our contemporary lives. It does not illustrate this vision as the happy encounter of words, images and music; it does not exploit or celebrate the technology that enables it to be experienced; videopoetry, as I see it, is a form of aesthetic expression that only reveres its elements – the word, the image, the sound – when each brings to the work what the others lack. For each of these elements, I believe, are inherently incomplete before brought into juxtaposition with the other two. Once juxtaposed, these incomplete elements acquire an entirely new function – what may have originated with a well-meaning text, a seemingly unrelated image or a captivating soundtrack, is found to present a new meaning, an unanticipated revelation, a videopoem.

 

Javier Robledo, POESIA (2007)
Ileana Andrea Gómez Gavinoser, COSMOS EN FORMACION (2006)
Alejandro Thornton, O (2014)
Dave Bonta, LAS OYES CÓMO PIDEN REALIDADES (2009)
Oscar Berrio, VERTIGO (2010)
Dier, TODOS ESOS MOMENTOS SE PERDERAN (2011)
Azucena Losana, LoCo PAPARAZZI III (2009)
Lola López-Cózar, EL ETERNO RETORNO (2013)

 

Javier Robledo’s 2007 performance-poem is structured in 3 parts. In the first, the poet/artist follows a magical “bulging” that is occurring along a typical cobblestone street. He discovers one perfect 6-sided cobblestone; painted on each of its 6 faces is a letter that, when held and turned by the hand of the artist reveals its new identity – the word, P-O-E-T-R-Y. Like throwing dice, the stone is thrown by the artist, picked up and examined (lovingly, I might add) then thrown again.

What comes to mind is Stéphane Mallarmé’s visual poem, “A Throw of the Dice”. Robledo is thus associating POETRY with both chance and play.

In the second part, the magical aspect of “poetry” is emphasized by reversed motion film: the stone appears to be rolling back to the hand that had thrown it. Text (the word POETRY painted and spelled out on the stone) and image (the stone rolling forward, then rolling backward) are integrated to produce a poetic experience.

In the third part, the stone is shown exhibited on a pedestal pushed back into a corner of an art gallery or a museum; it has become an object to be experienced at a distance, by a public whose presence is only implied by chattering voices heard on the soundtrack. Robledo’s comment suggests that poetry – living poetry – is exemplified by action, by chance, by play. It does not belong in a museum with other dead objects. It must be experienced in our everyday lives, in our streets, in our hands.

 

In Ileana Gavinoser’s Cosmos en Formacion three techniques of art-making – painting, collage and animation – are presented as a visual metaphor for the formation of the universe. What completes or fixes this work in the rectangular frame of the screen is the ingenious addition of a reverberating effect to the narration of an androgynous creator – in the “form” of two overlapping voices (male and female) – rendering this version of the creation myth as if delivered from “outer” space.

 

One distinction I have observed between a pure videopoem and most “poetry videos” is the presence of self-referentiality. Nowhere is this aspect better exemplified than in Alejandro Thornton’s minimally titled work, O. It opens on a locked-off shot of a moving landscape stamped at the centre with a gigantic letter O. After 12 seconds, the frame containing the image slowly begins to rotate. In its revolution about the fixed sign of the letter O, the moving landscape is reduced to a demystified representation of any image displaced from our screen. This videopoem not only performs the function of a traditional concrete poem (presenting meaning by its physical shape), it demonstrates the collaborative property of the image. Self-referentiality removes the narrative propensity of the work; the moving landscape loses its original meaning in favour of the word (in this case the letter O representing the world, or at least circularity).

 

It is becoming evident that one of the primary sources for the text element is a previously published/written poem. Dave Bonta’s adaptation of a Pedro Salinas poem presents what I am seeing as a critical question for the genre of videopoetry. If the poem written-for-the-page was perfect, the best words in their best order, so to speak, was the motivation to appropriate the poem based on the notion that a new platform/medium was in order to disseminate the work? Alternately, using the poetic juxtaposition of visual and sound elements, did the filmmaker discern a specific attribute or collaborative property of the poem that could be subsumed in the new, original work? I think Las oyes cómo piden realidades was a result of the latter. In this videopoem, the image of a nest of snakes provides a constrained visual metaphor for each reference to “they” “these” and “them” in Salinas’ reading: “these wild and dishevelled ones” “they beg” “they can’t go on living” “help them” etc. One lasting impression that differentiates a “pure” videopoem from any other “poetry video” is that you will always associate the text you read (or hear) with the image(s) and the soundtrack it was created with. After viewing this work, how can we not help but associate this poem by Pedro Salinas with a nest of garden snakes?

 

Oscar Barrio’s Vertigo opens with the sound of two blasts of a train’s whistle and the footsteps of a man walking. What follows is the rapid-fire voiced repetition of the word “abismo” (abyss) interjected with fragmented phrases, a virtual torrent of words. Juxtaposed with the fast-paced soundtrack is the silhouette of a man walking from left to right across the screen superimposed on an over-exposed color-saturated image of train cars speeding in the opposite direction. For me, this 73-second work best exemplifies the function of a videopoem – “to demonstrate the process of thought …”

If one were to search for meaning in the fragmented phrases of this veritable stream-of-consciousness, it could be found in the nutshell of Nietzsche’s Aphorism No. 146, “When you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”

 

I have written extensively of the Madrid-based graffiti artist Dier’s videopoem, All These Moments Will Be Lost. Appropriating what at least one contemporary philosopher referred to as “perhaps the most moving death soliloquy in cinematic history”, Dier makes a case for interpreting graffiti and its removal as the loss of memory among the disenfranchised in the world. It is also a case for an indirect form of narrative storytelling, juxtaposing images of the real world with the sorrow expressed in fiction; in this videopoem, Dier suggests that truth and fiction are not only equal in their strangeness but also partners in the struggle for change.

 

Between 1930 and 1933, the Surrealists published 6 issues of the periodical “Surrealism in the Service of the Revolution”, marking a significant transformation of the movement that began with the introduction of the irrational to the art practices of writing, painting, sculpture, performance and film. Political and social activism became the focus of many artists who shared the movement’s methodology as well as its expanded ideology. Asucena Losana is no stranger to political and social activism. Appropriating Bolivian poet Oscar Alfaro’s famous poem-fable, The Revolutionary Bird, for its soundtrack, this videopoem illuminates the poem’s allegorical meaning in a singular image of a homeless man sitting against the wall of his sidewalk, surrounded by his belongings stuffed in plastic and burlap bags, the focalized subject whose animated loco gestures appear to blend with and inevitably articulate the impassioned reading of the poem. Associating the gesticulations with the voice on the soundtrack exemplifies Andre Breton’s statement, that “Bringing together two things into a previously untried juxtaposition is the surest way of developing new vision.”

 

To conclude this program of 8 Spanish videopoets, I selected el eterno retorno from the prolific Lola Lopez-Cozar. Breton’s “new vision” is here exemplified by the juxtaposition of a slow relentless ascent of words with a dark score of orchestral and choral music. Simultaneously, we witness as rain falls, its hundreds of hard-hitting drops mimicking the punctuated end of each sentence that is moving in the opposite direction. Each line of text presents a new attempt to name the unnamable meaning of time and loss. It is a relentless list of attempts, punctuating the end of every attempt with a period. The repeated refrains of the choir invoke an epic moment – the return of the king in a classical fairy tale – but the orchestral treatment also speaks to another return, the cyclical myth-concept of the “eternal return”; this title, the subject of the work, is viewed through the doubled image of hard rain falling, text rising with the rhythm of the chant – all enveloped in the viewfinder of a video camera, flashing its record button to remind us that, after all, this is a work limited by its own time, the time it takes to experience a videopoem.

Tom Konyves

Born in Budapest, based in Montreal until 1983, Tom Konyves is one of the original seven poets dubbed The Vehicule Poets; his work is distinguished by Dadaist/Surrealist/experimental writings, performance works and “videopoems”.

In 1978, he coined the term videopoetry to describe his multimedia work, and is considered to be one of the original pioneers of the form. He is the author of “Videopoetry: A Manifesto”, published on Sept. 6, 2011.

As one of the leading theorists of the genre of videopoetry – his Manifesto was reposted in numerous blogs, including W.J.T. Mitchell’s Critical Inquiry, and to date has been accessed by readers in 51 countries – he has been invited to address festivals, conferences and symposia in Buenos Aires, Berlin, New York, London and Amsterdam, among others.

Since 2006, he has been teaching screenwriting, video production, journalism and creative visual writing courses at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

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