Native land

I made this videopoem a few days ago as part of an on-going effort to explore how haiku might best be translated into film. In brief, though we think of a haiku as a three-line micropoem with 17 syllables, neither of these attributes is as fundamental as its asymmetrical, two-part structure: two related but often quite different images separated by a semantic break usually represented as a dash or colon in English. (I’m also of the school of thought that says that 17 syllables is too long compared to the amount of information that can be conveyed in 17 of the Japanese syllable-like sound units known as mora, but never mind that for now.) My insight in regards to videopoetry, helped along by a comment from Tom Konyves on an earlier post here, was that a brief shot could be substituted for one of the two parts — that the relationship between the two parts of a haiku is quite analogous to the relationship between text and imagery in a classic, Konyvesian videopoem. Experimenting with this approach, I made three videohaiku: flower with James Brush, court with Rachel Rawlins, and visitor.

The next step, I decided, was to make a proof-of-concept videorenga. Haiku, as we now call it, developed from a tradition of Japanese linked verse (renga), specifically haikai no renga or renku. These were multi-author, collaborative improvisions in which each two adjacent verses could be read as if they were two stanzas of a longer poem. Again displaying the Japanese aesthetic preference for asymmetry, verses of 17 mora alternate with verses of 14 mora. Native land attempts to do something vaguely similar, stitching together videohaiku of unequal lengths, with lines in intertitles completing a verse (videopoetic unit) begun with the preceding shot. But each line or couplet could also be read as the first part of a verse concluding with the shot that followed it. Realizing that this ambiguous connectivity might easily be lost on a first-time viewer, I decided to make two versions of the sequence, cleverly titled “obverse” and “reverse.”

Native land deviates from Japanese linked verse tradition in two significant ways: it doesn’t have multiple authors, and it’s too thematically unified. The second deviation might be a direct consequence of the first, actually. Had it been made by two or more people, it would be less likely to bear the stamp of a single poet’s didactic concerns. I would argue that it does contain a strong element of multi-authorship, though, inasmuch as I sourced the video footage from six different anonymous home movies in the Prelinger Archives, presumably shot by (at least) six different people. I also decided to make the invitation to remix implicit in my usual “copyleft”-style Creative Commons licence a bit more explicit, so that native land might become part of a larger exchange among videopoets. And much to my delight, the Australian multimedia artist Marie Craven took me up on it:

Her native land remix preserves and extends the reversibility of the videorenga in a novel way I find compelling. Instead of intertitles, she moved the text to subtitles below a split screen, in the process changing the juxtapositioning of text and imagery in a creative and thought-provoking way. The text feels a bit more fragmentary, but also liberated in a sense. She explained some of her thinking in an email:

My approach was similar to electronic music remixes I’ve been involved with, in which there are no rules or guidelines as to how the original be treated.

On viewing and reviewing your video many times over during the process of remixing, it became apparent how elegant the structure of your video is, with the linkages between the ‘verses’ being provided by following images. I like how it works like this in reverse too. I missed this on the first viewing but I think it may depend on knowing your intentions to ‘get’ this aspect of the video. I’m often thinking about general audiences in this way when making videos these days (most of mine seem very obscure to a lot of my net friends even still). My ideal is to strike a happy balance between accessibility and exploration.

And in native land remix, that last line about smallpox-infected blankets truly comes last and hits like a hammer. As a meditation on dispossession and genocide/ecocide, I told her I found her film more more powerful than my own. She responded,

The themes of the video are your own but I relate to them. As you would know, Australia has a terrible history of dispossession and genocide (including instances of poisoned blankets). It’s a frighteningly racist place to be right now too, especially seen in the horrendous treatment of asylum seekers arriving by boat and general hostility to Muslim people in the community.

So where to next? There are still logistical concerns to be worked out, but I’m thinking that videorenga co-authors might usefully imitate the old surrealist game of exquisite corpse, where each participant sees only the shot or line(s) contributed by the previous participant, except possibly for an over-all project coordinator or instigator. Stay tuned.

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