I’m certainly entering new terrain as an artist with SCRO. In earlier projects I’ve experimented with visual poetry and with handwriting, and worked on the threshold of legibility, but I’ve always been bound to the page, 8.5 x 11, and to the still image. The only sound I’ve brought to bear has been my own reading voice occasionally. In SCRO, projecting images on a surface, I work with the relation between embodiment (the movements that make the writing and the rocking that creates the distortion) and disembodiment (so many photons on a wall). Putting those images in motion, I have a whole new language in which to think and feel through time and change. Conjoining images with sounds, scriptural marks with audio tracks of household noise, I can create juxtapositions that are not narrative or expository but lyrical, syncretic, and happenstance. The relation of image to sound is a bit like the relation between the singing voice and the played instrument that was once the mainstay of lyric poetry: complementary and complicating. Except here the singing voice is visual, and maybe a bit ’pataphysical, a nonce botanic script.
SCRO is for me a lyric poem. If it advances artistic practice, it does so by testing the range of what’s possible or admissible in the lyric. It goes to the edge of illegibility, then pulls back a step, so its words get to mean by fits and starts – what, it asks, is the feeling tone of that? It takes chance operations, grown cold in the hands of some conceptual poets, and brings them to bear on emotionally hot material – family trauma, the degradations of old age. Can it be a conceptual poem even if (pace Goldsmith) it demands to be read? Can it be a lyric poem even when there’s really no “reading” it? The poem has no coherent “I” to hold it together; he dissolved early in the process of distorting the memoir. Can the 16:9 frame in which nameless shapes come and go do the work of an “I” – be attention, be sentience? If so, is that the acme of lyric experience, or its abolition? I don’t have answers to these questions, just instincts and biases, but faithful attention to SCRO might raise them in some viewers.
Attended this evening, with two dear friends, the opening of the Bellingham National 2017 exhibit at the Whatcom Museum. An excerpt from my video poem SCRO is in a show on the theme of “Drawing Practice.” The curator, Catharina Manchanda of the Seattle Art Museum, has gone past the usual sense of drawing – an implement marking a markable surface – to investigate all the senses of the verb. What’s it to be drawn on? to be drawn to? to be drawn out? to be drawn into?
There are drawings there in the usual sense. Also torn canvases, their matter physically drawn out.
And sheets of paper drawn across abrasive surfaces. And one video I loved drawing the lens over road lines at traffic speed. Another video watched light draw on water it appeared raw crude had blotched.
What all my favourites (here’s another
) had in common was a quality of absorption. I was drawn in. There was a mind there, its evidence made it over to my mind, and drew it in closer.
My own piece was caringly placed, in a nook of its own, with – am I imagining this? – a bench to sit on and watch.
I feel a bit of an imposter in a gallery, identify as a poet not a video artist, but I guess I do because it suits me to. “Oh I just stumbled into this by accident, I don’t really know what I’m doing …”
Gimme a break. No one knows what they’re doing. It’s no excuse.
Seven one-minute vids are up. Check ’em out if you’re in town. And, fourteen still to make, so let me know what you think, if you feel so moved.
Link to the exhibition, and the pieces by Yamahira and Lynch, here.
I’m thrilled to have a bit of SCRO in this upcoming exhibit at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Case you’re somewhere round Minneapolis, the deets:
Asemic Writing: Offline & In the Gallery
March 10, 2017 – May 28, 2017
MCBA Main Gallery
Opening reception Friday, March 10; 6-9pm
Asemic writing is a wordless semantic form that often has the appearance of abstract calligraphy. It allows writers to present visual narratives that move beyond language and are open to interpretation, relying on the viewer for context and meaning. Beyond works on paper, asemic writing enjoys a growing presence online and continues to evolve with new performance-based explorations and animated films.
Asemic Writing: Offline & In the Gallery, curated by Michael Jacobson, is the first large-scale exhibition of asemic art in the United States, featuring the work of over 50 international artists who together create an eclectic assemblage of inventing, designing, and dreaming.
Saturday, March 25; 7-9pm
Free and open to the public
Join us for a special reading by various asemic artists and scholars, and music by Ghostband. This event is sponsored by Rain Taxi.
A few screen shots from my sequence, SCRO 9am, 10am, 12pm.
My first sub to a gallery’s call for entries. Writ with the help of a mist friend.
SCRO begins with a handwritten text about my relationship with my aging father. A single paragraph over 24 pages, one for each hour of the day. I manipulate the text on a photocopier, scan the resultant distorted images, and crop those to compose short video poems, 24 of them, each a minute long. The length of each frame determined by chance. The text distressed for my fear of his mental decline. Also for how hard it is for son to know father, or father son, or either one himself. The heart of the practice is my distortion of the ascenders, descenders, bowls and cross-strokes of my written hand. Visual forms, latent in the text, are literally drawn out of it as the words are composted—broken down and let re-flower in proto-signs, pseudo-glyphs, half-made faces and botanic forms. The soundtrack is ambient noise in and around the house for which my father co-signed the loan. He’s made me able to live, here. SCRO, the overlap of “scrotum” and “escrow,” both derived from words for to cut.
SCRO began after a visit to my father, 84 years old, in California. I wrote many pages in my journal, worries and fears about his health and state of mind, thoughts on our relationship, childhood memories of him. In time I arrived at a base text of 24 handwritten pages, one page for each hour of the day. To the right is the first. Wandering in time and space, thought and feeling, the text comes home time and again to my little house, which my father, co-signing a loan, made me able to buy. “SCRO,” a truncated form of escrow. Also of scroll – one form the poem will take. And the title can’t fail to call to mind scrotum. The poem’s a study of father and son, and whatever manhood is, and continuity and rupture. Scroll and escrow both derive from a Germanic root meaning “shred.”
Next I distort the handwriting on the photocopier, rocking it up and down as the scan bar moves underneath, gathering in data, losing information, abandoning and reforming context. Poet Tim Gaze coined the term asemic, one a, for unreadable writing that calls your sense-making apparatus into play without letting it resolve on any given meaning. Steinian indeterminacy on the level of the grapheme. I’ve in turn coined the term aasemic, two a’s, the negative negated, for writing you neither can nor cannot read. I want for these texts to hang on the threshold between signal and noise. Why threshold. Because I’m afraid my father’s going to where he’ll be unreachable; unreadable. Because of how hard it is to know each other at the best of times. Because how of hard it is to read yourself, what you even feel, at same. Most of a given moment’s unintelligible. And, something happens when the mind somehow eases anyway into that state of things, just not getting it. These are experiments toward such ease.
SCRO will have two lives, at least. One, a scroll built of 24 aasemic panels like the one above, flown seamlessly together. That will take some time; the base text is written, but the asemic pages need to be re-generated, most or all of them. Then I need to build a mock-up scroll before I begin to approach publishers.
The other is a series of 24 one-minute video-poems. I start with close-up stills from the aasemic panels described above.
While the panels, as wholes, are to be flown into a scroll, the close-up stills drawn from them are enlisted in brief, meditative animations. Chance operations dictate the length of each clip. Why chance. Because letting in the accidents – patterns not of my choosing; patterns I inherit, my father’s karma, my father’s genes – not my choosing or his. And so, given 60 seconds to fill, I take the factors of 60, excepting 1 and 60, which are 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, and 30, and choose at random from that sequence how long each still will last. If a given choice pushes my total over 60 seconds, I throw that choice out and I select again. For instance, the stills for 6:00 am are 2, 3, 15, 3, 6, 6, 2, 2, 15, 2, and 4 seconds long. Made this way, each one-minute video gets to a rhythm I’d not have on my own. The world is rhythmic I find if I let it.
I use two freeware programs, GIMP and Audacity, for image and audio editing, and iMovie to compose the video. The last is limited but its limits guide me the way her rhyme scheme does a poet prone to sonnets. The audio track is quiet but integral: ambient sound, household or neighbourly, recorded the hour of the day the asemic page was made.
How will these video poems find a public. Easy to shove them around online of course. But I want to throw them big and severally on gallery walls, let them be embodied again, with persons in their bodies moving among, stopping between a projector and a receiving wall to interrupt my images, occlude my words, to intercede – for what, for whom? From whatever I thought to mean. To join in the play on the edge between real and ideal, material and im.
I picture a large or warrened gallery space, each of the videos set separate, a big one here, small one there. Each cast on its bit of wall, far enough from others for its companion sound to adhere to it. As you move round the space the sounds mix up. Soundtracks spare enough for the mix not to muddy. The effect would be like that on the mind in meditation – relaxing into the hereness of a shape, sound, texture, mixture thereof you have no name for as it passes.
Right so where were we. SCRO will have a life as ink on paper, another as light in the air. That’s what I imagine right now anyway. Both start from a shaken aasemic journal page like this.
The black wavy areas are my fingers (to the left) and wrists (to the right) where they press the paper to the glass. (“Are”?) This one came out unusually white on the left because of how afternoon sunlight had soaked my study just then. The checker pattern on the right’s what my scanner does with a grey that hovers, to its this-or-that B&W mind, discomfitingly between.
The first one to come out white like this was a shock. Shitty shit, I thought, I just got this toner cartridge, I hate going to Office Depot. Then I waited for a cloud, tried again, the scan came out black, I thought aha, oho.
I’d already planned 24 pages, for dailiness, the quotidian, now I saw I needed to do the pages one an hour over the course of a single day. When a learned a week or two later about the Poetry Marathon, I knew what day it would be.
The printed form, if I can find a chapbook publisher willing and able to take this on, will be a continuous scroll of these pages, looking something like this.
Just a mockup, assembled by X-acto knife and scotch tape …
I’ll be starting at 6 am, around sunrise. If the day’s sunny, I should get the brightest backings in mid-afternoon, when my south and west windows take in the sun. From there it will go, as the poet said, into the dark.
The other life I imagine for this – patterns of dark and light cast on a wall.
I opened up iMovie, thinking I’d mess around there for a bit, then learn some real video editing software. But as I hit the program’s limitations, I started to feel they were a help to me – limits I could make constraints on the poem. Plus, holding myself to ordinary means (Sharpie, home-office photocopier, iPhone voice-notes app) suits this project, which is all about nothing special.
Working quickly, not deliberating much, I cropped some 16:9 stills from the page I’d scanned. (At 1200 dpi, the highest res I can. Some kinds of data loss I love. Not pixellation. And if I want these images on the big screen one day.) Here are a few.
Some grabbed me because their language did what it meant.
Here I love Mr. Moustachio. The back-and-forth between him and “angry” feels equally weighted. And the horizontal distortion bar pleases me.
This might be my favourite. A leaf beetle bearing or born of the word “leaf.”
This one’s mostly abstract – I’m keen on the way markings call our language faculty into play without allowing it to resolve in a determinate meaning – but “city” resonated well with the audio clip I had by this point found.
Cuz I’d also begun grabbing clips of ambient sound with my iPhone’s voice-notes app. At first thought I was just practicing for when I could borrow real recording gear. But after a few test clips I found the homemadeness of the sound suited me just fine. Also the sounds of me recording or abiding – shifting in my seat, clinking my coffee cup on the tile coaster.
The audio for the clip I posted yesterday – chainsaw crew next door taking out my neighbour’s lilac, in preparation for raising a new fence – me closing my study window – clink of said coffee cup.
How to put it together? It’s about letting the accidents in – patterns not of my choosing. Including patterns I inherit, my father’s karma, my father’s genes. (Not my choosing or his.) Each page of the scroll takes about a minute to read aloud and I know I might want, in some iterations, to read the poem aloud in company of the moving images.
First decision, each of 24 passages gets a minute each.
So I’m in the realm of number, 24 passages, 60 seconds each. If each still is Phoenician, in a wildering course that never travels wholly out of view of phonetic charactery, for their sequencing in time I’ll go to Babylon, where our minutes and seconds, our degrees and zodiacal houses come from.
I did some reading about 60. It’s a cool number. A unitary perfect number, one of only five known, being the sum of its unitary divisors. A highly composite number, having more factors than any smaller number. An abundant number, the sum of its divisors greater than itself.
Count the joints on the fingers of one hand, once through, thumb doing the counting, you get 12 – that’s a day. Do it with both hands – that’s 24, a day and a night. Do it five times, you get 60. So much for the inevitability of base 10 systems.
Sixty also has a sweet number of factors: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30, 60.
Decided, each clip will be x seconds long, where x is one of the first ten divisors of 60, randomly generated.
If x yields a sum longer than 60 seconds, discard and generate a new x (as in darts when you’re playing to 300). So clips will tend to accelerate at the end. Whoosh.
The results for x in this clip
were 5, 20, 12, 5, 3, 2, 3, 3, 1, 1, 5. I got to decide what clips in what order. Also how slow or quick the transition between two clips. One set I set in motion.
Overlaid the soundtrack with no effort to coordinate it to the clips. That the window slides closed just as one black blade glides over another is just good luck.
That so many things are tuned to their neighbours – without any assertion on my part – seems to me more than luck.
One more for ya, different page, sprocket hole study.
If you’ve made it this far. The cross-fade and the “Ken Burns effect” in iMovie can both be cheesy very easily. Have I avoided cheese entirely? Comments section, be honest, I need to know. And thank you for reading.