Visual Poetry Through the Lens of the Long Poem : folio
My hypothesis is that someone making visual poetry who is repeatedly centering a particular element: theme, concept, repeated pattern, response to a certain work is working in long poem or poem series/sequences. There are some commonalities between the long visual poem or poem series and the long prose or stanza based poem / series. I like this quote from Rachel Zucker’s article, An Anatomy of the Long Poem: “Long poems are extreme. They're too bold, too ordinary, too self-centered, too expansive, too grand, too banal, too weird, too much.” She says other things that seem more related to stanza and prose-based long poems but she also says that long poems are about process and highlight process, and I think that’s something that visual long poems and poem series can do as well.
In the case of Earl, Knight, Tullett, Robinson, Siklosi, and Shankar, the work is a response to long works of others: the Bible, Songs of Innocence and Experience, Divine Comedy, The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Famous Men and Great Events of the 19th Century, Dr. Faustus, The Vicar of Wakefield and The Time Machine. Other work such as that by Winborn, Borsuk and Witek, Mayoora and Reid has materiality as a common element. Many of the works, such as Archer’s Mother’s Milk which places the titles of the works at the end of the book, disrupt the concepts of writing and reading, foreground language over story, with repeated elements becoming a kind of grammar.
Our conversation turned from the visual long poem to many other topics, such as the role of faith, ways of looking, slow stitching, the use of rubber stamps and the hierarchies of art to feminist practices of ephemerality and fragility.
“The problem for the writer of the contemporary long poem is to honour our disbelief in belief–that is, to recognize and explore our distrust of system, of grid, of monisms, of cosmologies perhaps, certainly of inherited story–and at the same time write a long work that has some kind of (under erasure) unity.
And yet the long poem, by its very length, allows the exploration of the failure of the system and grid. The poem of that failure is a long poem.”
Kroetsch, “For Play and Entrance,”
The Lovely Treachery of Words: Essays Selected and New.
Oxford University Press, 1989.
I think this is as applicable to visual poetry long works as it is to prose and stanza based long poems. Looking at visual poetry through the lens of the long poem or poem series was a way of exploring and inspiring conversation that we might not otherwise have had.
Thanks to all participants for this engaging conversation and thank you to rob mclennan for inviting me to organize this round table.
Introduction of Participants
Sacha Archer (CA), ReVerse Butcher (AUS), Amaranth Borsuk / Terri Witek (USA), Amanda Earl (CA), Helen Hajnoczky (CA), James Knight (UK), Dona Mayoora (USA), Imogen Reid (UK), Ben Robinson (CA), Shloka Shankar (IND), Kate Siklosi (CA), Barrie Tullett (UK), Nicola Winborn (UK)
Sacha Archer: I wouldn’t say that the work in Mother’s Milk (Timglaset, 2020) really fits into the category of the long poem, be it visual or otherwise—or no more than any collection of work that forms a series. Probably most, if not all, writers’ and artists’ oeuvres can be considered as long works because there is a narrative arc there despite the individual projects, and precisely because those individual projects or series inevitably are in dialogue with each other. Certainly, Mother’s Milk keeps to a theme and a style, but there is no intentional narrative (which seems like it might be the glue to the idea of the long poem). A book of rubber-stamped concrete poems, Mother’s Milk rose out of the tensions of domestic, family life, the body in the electricity of relationships focused between walls.
Amaranth Borsuk and Terri Witek: W/\SH is a speculative poetics manuscript that grapples with climate catastrophe through a series of transmissions sent between women on two worlds—one beset by torrential rains and the other by extensive drought—two very real futures of climate change. A long 2-sided poem published by above/ground press, Initial Contact, comprises the first section. The second section, Transmissions, alternates origin myths in lyric prose blocks with appropriated visual text-rainbursts: sources for the latter are Apollinaire's downdrafting, iconic "Il Pleut" and pages of touchstone books matching our 2 cities' yearly average rainfalls (38"/56"): a group of these appeared in the Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review. In the third section (selections from which appear in Interim: Black The [Or] Y: Praxis, Sum Unknown, edited by Ronaldo V. Wilson) the women press paper into the raw materials of their worlds—dust and rain—sending maps and sound transmissions to slip past the censors. In these attempts, the women of W/ \SH seek to understand what has brought them to this point and to balance out their two realities in the hopes that something will allow them to course-correct for the sake of their children, who will inherit these derelict worlds. Maybe these offspring have already met in another future. Or maybe they too will miss/missive each other in sound, image, text or whatever double-tongued-winged-thing comes next.
ReVerse Butcher: Kaleidoscopic Erasures (Steel Incisors UK, Feb 2022) is a new collection of experimental erasure poems. I started them in 2020 as a circuit-breaker for the mind—they are simple to make but with profound results. I use a mix of traditional & digital methods to make them—hand dyed vintage paper & found texts, pens, paints & ink, cameras & an iPad Pro. I had recently finished a long-form unique Artists Book called On The Rod, which took 4 years to transform 322 pages by hand using acrylic paint, ink, collaged images, text, paper, photographs, glue, coloured pencil, and cut-up & erasure poetry techniques. Around the same time, I’d also been making 3D art & spatial poems sculpted by hand using Virtual Reality (VR) for theatrical performance & videopoems (Incomplete Infinities, with Kylie Supski, 2019, There are Some Things Only the Moon has Seen, with Kylie Supski (2019); Edit Collective Reality Now, (2021); Luminescence (2020)). On The Rod was essential to developing a method of non-linear reading/writing. VR has been essential to (re)mapping & expanding that non-linear reading/writing method onto 3D space. Kaleidoscopic Erasures is essentially spatial poetry in a 2D presentation. The texts whorl around, twisting themselves into literary mandalas; sensical and surreal, flicking multiple meanings & visual puns off into all directions. They take the next logical leap between On The Rod, Incomplete Infinities, & my ongoing Circle Series. Both Incomplete Infinities & Circle Series independently involve cyclical & spatial textual investigations in different ways, but each are affected by loops, spirals, & permutations across a range of linked traditional & digital medias including (but not limited to): physical performance, visual projections, cinematics, award-winning Augmented Reality artworks, Virtual Reality or other immersive experiences, videopoems, illustrations, paintings, performance, spatial &/or visual poetry, & soundscapes.
Amanda Earl: The Vispo Bible is a life’s work to translate the entire Bible (King James Version) into visual poetry. I began in 2015 and have completed over 350 pages thus far. I work in the long poem format in my stanza and prose-based poetry as well, so it isn’t unusual for me to work on projects for multiple years, but this is the biggest project I have ever tackled. I don’t expect to finish it in my lifetime. Excerpts have been exhibited in several countries, published as chapbooks and broadsides and in numerous print and online journals. More information is available here.
Helen Hajnoczky: My book Magyarázni is an abecedarian of the Hungarian alphabet with each letter framed with Hungarian folk art. The letters are paired with written poems that explore my experience of growing up with my father who came to Canada as a refugee following the Hungarian revolution in 1956. The word “magyarazni” means “to explain,” but translated literally it means “to make Hungarian,” and the book considers how growing up with my dad and in the Hungarian community “made me Hungarian.”
Aside from the visual consistency across the project and the abecedarian nature of the book, I’d consider this a long poem because the visual poems are part of the book’s themes of memory and looking back and forward through time. I’ve also made a stop-motion movie with the visual poems dancing around. Lately I’ve been thinking about why I was originally drawn to visual poetry, and I think growing up in a multilingual household, speaking both English and Hungarian at home as well as going to French language school all while not having a great flare for language and being a terrible speller by nature, gave words and letters the aura of artistic forms rather than seeing them primarily as units of communication.
The experience of learning to read and write in all three languages has progressed and regressed for me at different paces, and my relationship to these languages therefore seems bonded to my experience of time, both personal and intergenerational. As a visual artist, I find myself not considering time the way I do when I write just based on my personal interests, but I find that sense of time as a theme present in my visual poetry.
Though I’ll occasionally write a one-off poem here and there I more strongly tend towards long poems and projects, and instinctively this is where visual poetry fits in my mind. The sustained movement from page to page, and the way the pieces from page to page build on each other lends this sense of visual poems being a long poem for me.
Another project called “Alphaseltzer” is an English abecedarian of pieces made with watercolour pencil spritzed with water so they dripped down the page, and the alphabet is surrounded on both sides by pages with many letters or punctuation marks made the same way. The poem begins with the pieces dripping down, then flips as though the letters are plunging into something rather than melting down, then at the end the orientation flips back again. The work is made up of fifty five works that build on each other, moving through the English alphabet and also through the visual language of the pieces. The flips back and forth (hopefully) have a striking feeling, and give the work a narrative and emotional progression through time. Rather than each piece being a stand-alone static work, they accumulate movement and meaning as the reader moves through time with the pieces.
James Knight: The majority of the visual poems I make are components of series or long visual poem; I rarely make stand-alone visual poems. My longest and most ambitious visual poem in multiple panels is (dis/re)membered, a narrative poem exploring the human body’s constant flux as it grows and ages, and the relationship between memory and reality. Each panel is a digital collage presenting images from an anatomy app designed for medical students, in combination with shimmering, volatile domestic and urban settings and exploding words. Initially, 21 panels track our journey from the moments before conception to death, and then the reader goes through the looking glass and experiences radical remixes of each of the 21 panels, in reverse order. Each remix is a fragmented memory or reimagining of the original; our memories, as mental constructs, are real to us in the moment they are imagined, even if their relationship to objective events is tenuous. The 42 panel poem as a whole reverberates with echoes, allusions, word play and phantoms. A source of inspiration was William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience; each poem or panel has its altered counterpart, taking us in a darker but perhaps more life-affirming direction: the sequence ends as conception is about to take place again. The book also contains a separate section of 24 further remixes, and here the narrative is much looser and more intuitive. If you buy an album of remixes you may get the same one remixed a couple of times, and the song order of the original album is necessarily changed. I should add that the remixes owe a debt to the work of Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails; I’m fascinated by reworkings that in some way wreck the original and reconstitute it with fresh colour and bold new lines. Finally, (dis/re)membered has a quieter coda, a long visual poem in 16 panels called The Sea as a Metaphor for Death, a sort of lyrical vanitas.
Dona Mayoora aka Donmay Donamayoora: Listening To Red is a long poem, and Language Lines & Poetry is a visual poem series. My interest is in the area where language and art come together to form visual languages. Both in LTR and LL&P I wanted to combine Abstract Calligraphy, Minimalism, Bauhaus and Experientialism together on the canvas of Visual language. The challenge (self-imposed) was to work on a minimal palette by warily utilizing the colors Red and Black for interpreting different metaphors used in the series. In LTR and LL&P I used various types of Red and Black Ink on 300 gsm watercolor paper. My ongoing projects are also visual poetry series. 'Time, space and continuum' explores the politics of the body by placing canvas of visual language on my face. Series progresses (around 300+ images so far) as digital self-portraits taken by standing in the same room, almost at the same position every day, wearing the same hooded top, facing towards a light source (Floor Lamp).
Imogen Reid: Text(ile) (Timglaset, 2021) is part of an ongoing series of visual work that draws text and textile together in order to explore notions of readability. Each image is made utilizing chance interventions such as misprints and misalignments, together with techniques such as overprinting, cutting, turning, erasing, and repeating, as a means by which to rearrange the components of a printed page of writing. Individual letters, punctuation marks, white spaces, gaps, and numerical digits, as well as marks made during human interaction with a text, are manipulated, colour and scale are changed, the residual fragments are then “woven” into printed patterns, of the kind you might find on decorative cloth, so that a once legible text is gradually pushed towards illegibility. In resisting Western European conventions of writing from left to right, each image aims to yield an alternative physical, tactile kind of readability within which the eye can move freely and in multiple directions at once.
Without Form (The Blasted Tree &
knife|fork|book, 2021) is an erasure of the King James Version of the Bible
that leaves only the verse and chapter notation. In some ways I am more sure
about calling the work “long” than calling it a “poem.” In the introduction to
this conversation, Amanda mentioned Rachel Zucker’s idea that long poems are
about process and highlight process. Unlike Amanda’s more patient approach to The Vispo Bible, this project was
completed over the course of about a month last summer while I was working from
home. Perhaps a more technologically savvy writer might have been able to
automate the process entirely, but I settled on a bit of a halfway approach –
an “Advanced Find and Replace” plug-in for Google
Drive which allowed me to white out an entire book and then individually bring
back the numbers from 1-0 by changing the font colour to black. As I finished
each individual book, I would scan over the document to ensure I hadn’t missed
anything. I felt both like the scribes, their fingers running over the lines,
reading aloud to themselves to find the spaces between the words but also like
a data entry clerk.
Shloka Shankar: reflect light in little doses (2019) started off as an experimental, rather random project, inspired by the size of a mini journal I received as a complimentary gift from one of my online purchases. Slightly smaller in size than an Artist Trading Card (ATC), this was the first time I began working in a journal. I am used to creating digital art and working on loose sheets of paper for the most part. I started out by collaging the right-hand side pages with scraps of paper, including patterns, magazine images, painted papers, and the like. Then I went back and repeated the process on the left-hand side pages of the book. As a lover of collage, visual poetry, and found text, my next logical step was to find stray phrases and lines to add to each page, loosely forming a narrative. For this, I chose three source texts: Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe, The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith, and The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. There was a natural arc that I tried to maintain throughout, but this process was highly intuitive and I had no idea how it would read as a whole. I finished this mini glue book in time for New Year 2020, after working on it for a little longer than a month. In hindsight, the title seems significantly more symbolic given the madness of the past two years we have all had to collectively endure.
Kate Siklosi: I love Sacha’s idea above of the “narrative arc” and think that applies well to my work in terms of how I think of carrying or sustaining an idea through several works. For me, I keep coming back to the same couple of source texts in my visual poetry, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and The Famous Men and Great Events of the 19th Century (1899) 1) because they are exemplary of patriarchal and colonial narratives, and 2) I really really like ripping those narratives apart and seeing what other stories emerge. I also love putting those fragments in conversation with natural decaying objects (leaves, bark, stalks, etc) to murmur the edges between landscape and language and to surface stories from the fragmented heap of others. Those two texts were pretty central to my experimentations in leavings (Timglaset, 2021) as well as subsequent projects including conjure, a recent series of petri dish poems using fragments of text, india ink, and water (paper view books). So for me, the long poem isn’t necessarily about a single project, but continually refracting materials and seeing what manifests.
Barrie Tullett: The Typographic Dante began as my Final Major Project when I was a 3rd year student at the Chelsea School of Art (in 1989). As one does, I’d decided to produce a series of typographic illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy. One Letterpress image for each Canto of the Inferno, then, as the project developed, Typewriter Art illustrations for Purgatory and Letraset for Paradise. The images for each book to be created with a different, commercially ‘obsolete’, technology (I’ve worked on it for so long, I could have used QuarkXpress, Freehand, and Hypercard Stacks and still been true to my vision). Over the last 30 years or so I have produced over 100 illustrations, completing the Divine Comedy, in theory, but I’ve since decided to work on a second, and perhaps third set of images for each Canto. Although it’s as slow going as always. It’s not my lifes’ work, just a project that has taken me a very long time amongst all the other things I’ve done. I’ve been a full time academic, teaching Graphic Design at the Edinburgh College of Art, Glasgow School of Art, and the University of Lincoln, I’ve continued working as a freelance Graphic Designer and I am co-founder of an Artists’ Book Collective called The Caseroom Press. The Typographic Dante has been exhibited at the National Museum for Print, Dublin, The Poetry Library, London, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh and The National Centre for Craft & Design.
Nicola Winborn: The series of 9 works which make up my January 2022 exhibition - ‘Tidal’ - on Marsh Flower Gallery, are my first attempt at remixing my analogue textiles into digital form. I have borrowed the terms ‘remix’ and ‘remixing’ from the world of music for many different reasons, one being because I often feel that my art is a type of music manifesting in visual form. My decision to show ‘Tidal’ was a last minute change of plan: I had originally intended to exhibit some new analogue Slow Stitch pieces, however, a few days before my launch date I began to experiment with glitching technology and apps. Marsh Flower Gallery is one of my own electronic platforms, so I wasn’t letting anyone down through my eleventh hour alterations. I therefore decided to take myself out of my comfort zone and exhibit the glitched textiles rather than my more usual ‘traditional’ stitching. Since launching ‘Tidal’, I have continued to explore remixing my analogue creations with glitching: I now have well over 200 new works, most of which haven’t been published or shared yet. Overall, I see this body of work as a linked series of songs, remixes or chapters in a vast novel. I am an ex-Biochemist and I feel that glitching is something like the electron microscope in Biology, in that it allows us to continually look, look again, look deeper, look sharper, zoom in and zoom out in never-ending configurations. It’s a process which never ceases to amaze me and which constantly reveals new structures and shapes. You can see all 9 images from ‘Tidal’ at: https://m.facebook.com/MarshFlowerGallery/
Barrie Tullett: Amanda Earl
I was going to ask you what drew you to your particular text – especially as you knew, before you even started it, that it was going to be beyond a lifetime's work.
After I’d presented my work in a symposium (I’m only using that word because it makes me sound like I’m the kind of person who often gets invited to symposiums), I was asked about my faith and how it drew me to Dante – as the member of the audience who was asking, couldn't see why I would choose that text without faith, but for me, it was just a story to illustrate. I have no faith.
I wondered if that was the same for you, or is there a deeper spiritual connection.
And does it matter?
I chose to work with the Bible because it is freely available online to copy and paste and has no copyright issues. I began visual poetry like many do, working with individual letters, then I moved to things like song titles and quotes because I found I liked the way I could manipulate and play with blocks of text in Photoshop and Illustrator, and I enjoyed the resulting accidental shapes and distortions. The Bible is the moby dick of vispo sources. Hey, Moby Dick would be another great source!
Since 2007 I have been writing long poems and earlier than that poem series. I prefer to work in the long form. I seldom do one off things, except flings. I needed a text that would never run out. I didn’t know whether I would stay committed to it for a lifetime, and I’m not even sure I will, but I wanted something I could always return to, a bit like a friend with benefits. We haven’t promised each other anything, but we offer moments of joy when we can.
I have faith, but the only religion I adhere to is love. I do see a connection between my work and the Bible. As a child, living with a volatile and handsy father, and no one doing anything about it, I used to wonder if good people actually existed, if there were safe places at all. The Vicar of the United Church across the street from my house gave me an illustrated Bible. I was too young to read, but I loved the art. I remember sitting out on the grass in front of my house, past the wrought iron gate when it was about to get dark. I had the Bible with me and my back to the house where I could hear the crashing of dishes and yelling. I looked at the illustrations and made up my own stories. I went to the occasional Sunday School class and what I loved best were the stories – the parables especially – the ones about Jesus doing good work or being understanding and loving.
I had a near-death health crisis in 2009 and when I was out of ICU and on the ward, I was still in a lot of pain. I didn’t know it at the time, but there was still a chance I might not make it. I prayed for one moment without pain, and I prayed that I would survive. This is a secret I didn’t even reveal to my husband at the time. I don’t recall ever praying before, but it happened then.
I subscribe to a newsletter by a bad-ass tattooed preacher, Nadia Bolz-Weber. Her last sermon was entitled “Between Exhaustion and The Deep: a sermon on simple faith in shitty times.” If ever there was a time for faith, this is it.
The Vispo Bible is something of a ritual for me, like counting beads on a rosary perhaps. There is a spiritual connection there, coupled with incomprehension and anger that hate exists and that the Bible is the justification for many people and always has been. I think of reading – literalism and mistranslations, of politics and power. The Bible contains everything, and I wanted to make a visual poetry of everything, a macrocosm.
Barrie Tullett: Ben Robinson
My question for you is really the same as that for Amanda; what drew you to the Bible as the source material for Without Form? I suppose I wonder if it was faith, convenience or copyright… And why the King James Version in particular?
Ben Robinson: Faith, convenience and copyright – the holy trinity of erasure. Probably some mix of all three of these, Barrie.
I guess the first reason I chose the King James Version is my complete incomprehension of Hebrew, Greek or Latin. So the KJV was a compromise between finding a text that was accessible in full-text online but was also one of the first English versions to introduce the verse and chapter notation. Also, as a poet, I’m attracted to the language of the KJV over some of the more contemporary translations.
As for faith, I grew up in one of those United Churches that Amanda mentioned and continue to live in some proximity to the Church. Part of this project is an attempt to work through my relationship to faith. Like Amanda, I feel a strong draw to the Biblical language and images that I was raised on, the indecipherable parables that refuse absolutism in their very form. And yet, there is all of Church history to reckon with, which is full of every kind of evil imaginable.
Having spent some time with the book now, I think Without Form is part of my searching for how the Bible has shaped me and become part of my superstructure. And then, from there, the question becomes, what in the Bible is still useful to me? I wrote a short introduction for the work titled “Star Charts for a New Cosmology,” and I think the book is part of my questioning how I might take these inherited forms and craft a new relationship to them that is neither full acceptance nor rejection. I’m not sure if that is faith, but I’m still engaged with the text in both its content and form.
Imogen Reid: Nicola Winborn
I love the idea of looking and looking again. Please forgive me if I’m going off on a tangent here but it seems to me the activity of re-looking invites the kind seeing experience that I associate with haptic vision, a tactile kind of looking in close-up, as if through a microscope, where colours and fibres behave in a different way merging and dispersing. Does the idea of a tactile eye resonate with you?
I’m fascinated by the idea of slow stitching. This kind of so-called craft-based repetitive work, of which I do a lot, is often referred to as women’s work, or manual labour. Are you keen to raise the profile of this kind of work?
For me, this focus on repetition is almost hypnotic, it encourages an intense concentration combined with a sort of disconnection that allows my mind to drift elsewhere during the activity of making, to forge unexpected connections between things, practices and ideas etc., How does this drawn-out time feed into your work? Perhaps you are thoroughly immersed and time skips by in an instant?
Thank you so much for your questions Imogen Reid! Yes, the idea of a tactile eye definitely resonates with me. And I also like what you say about fibres and colours behaving differently in close up. I feel that when I digitally remix my work, the shapes, form, lines and colours take on a new life. Colours often become more intense; colours also seem to form new shades and hues unique to digital landscapes. I would also say that the remixed forms are more tactile in that they seem more sculptural once they are reworked electronically, like my eye could travel across their exaggerated textures sensing each peak and trough. I guess this is key - exaggeration. Digital reworkings seem to exaggerate or enlarge what already exists in an analogue piece; these reinventions also reveal entirely new perspectives within the analogue work from the zooming in or glitching processes.
Sometimes I feel like it’s the Hubble Telescope in reverse: as the Hubble travels outward into the Universe to look and look again, our digital devices delve deeper into the microcosms around us, revealing tactile infinities. However, for me, screen-based technology can often seem very remote too, in that it can seem anti-touch, i.e. too bright, too flat, too distant. I have a difficult relationship with tech, in that it can often make me feel very disembodied from the physical world. There’s a paradox here for me: on the one hand digital remixing opens up my world revealing what can feel like tactile spaces; alternatively, screens can also make me feel that I am drowning in a world which is too buzzy, too ‘on’, too fast. This is one of the many reasons why I will never stop making analogue art as well as exploring digital options.
Yes, I absolutely want to raise the profile of craft-based art and particularly the fibre arts. I get really fed up with the dismissal of textiles, it’s just not on! Plus, the suppression of our craft is linked to wider control of our genders, sexualities, bodies etc. So getting textiles taken seriously is of such huge importance on multiple fronts. Also, stitching is one of my greatest joys in life. It is wonderful to sit and sew, to touch and feel our chosen materials, to spend time dwelling with needle, fabric, thread. It feels to me that not valuing the fibre arts is also linked to wider fears around fun, sensuality, love, nurturing and slowness (it takes time to create embroidery, weaving etc., and our speed-obsessed world wants everything tomorrow, it doesn’t want to you to stop, to sit and to sew, to somehow disengage from the fast track of life).
I absolutely love the way that art involving sewing, stitching, weaving alters our sense of time and our experiences of consciousness within time. Yes, I do become hypnotised, meditative, disconnected, loose. These are all beautiful sensations and one of the reasons I often can’t put down the textiles I am working on.
I also like to listen to music once I am engaged with the labour of textiles: like you say, the repetitive nature of this means that we can ‘switch off’ to an extent and rely on our ability to remember what we are doing without conscious effort. Our minds can then roam, play. I feel like the music allows me an even deeper connection, not only with the materials I am using - the yarns, threads, fabrics - but also with myself, with my own inner world, with my imagination. As I sew and listen to my favourite tunes, new worlds open up inside me, new visions, new bodily sensations. The rhythms of the music fuse with the rhythms of my hand stitching and I become a different version of myself - one that feels lighter, less anxious to find myself in this troubled world. My belly and my heart feel full of the colours and textures of the materials I am using. It is like my fingertips have melted and that me and the fibres are one.
It’s been a great experience thinking my answers through here - thank you Imogen!
Barrie Tullett: Imogen Reid
Your work is beautiful – and it looks to be seriously time-intensive. You talk about including misprints, mistakes and errors into the pieces, so I guess that my question is, what draws you to a process that is so time consuming and technically so complex? And… if you made a perfect piece, with no misprints, or misalignments, would you be happy with it?
Imogen Reid: Barrie Tullett
Thank you for your kind words and for your perceptive questions, I’ve done my best to form some vaguely coherent answers to them!
I think I’ve probably always been drawn to time intensive repetitive activity in one way or another, even as a child I would spend hours lost in detail at the expense of the supposedly “bigger picture.” I find this kind of time thoroughly immersive, it’s a time within which I’m able to lose myself. As I said in my question to Nicola Winborn, for me this kind of time is almost hypnotic, my mind tends to drift into and out of an image as I’m working on it, this combination of intense focus and disconnection is compelling to me because, during this time, all sorts of unexpected things flood my mind, involuntary memories, daydreams, things I’ve read, seen, or done, things that might initially seem entirely unrelated.
My passion for repetition extends to film, Chantal Akerman and Robert Bresson, as well as literature, Nouveau Roman writers such as Alain Robbe-Grillet and Michel Butor, as well Samuel Beckett, writers that use permutation, combination, and repetition to disorientate the reader. Cross contamination between my written and visual practice is important to me, and it’s often while I am immersed in time intensive activity that these practices begin to feed into one another. Getting a little lost and disoriented in this kind of time is irresistible because it potentially opens up new possibilities, a space for new unexpected connections to be made.
I utilize mistakes and misprints for similar reasons, they hijack my thoughts and intentions, I try to use them in the way that William Burroughs’ used the cut-up technique, as a means by which to think differently, it doesn’t always work, I can spend days, even weeks, getting nowhere. I’m not sure that I know what a perfect piece of work would be, but I do know that process is as important to me as product, so I suspect that, without the use of misprints and misalignments, I would feel that there was something missing.
Which leads me to a question for you, Barrie Tullett, I imagine that your beautiful typewriter art is incredibly time intensive, more so than mine I should think! I wonder how repetition time works for you? How does the physical act of hitting the key and the sound it makes as it hits the paper feed into your practice? If you make a “mistake”, do you start again? Or do you find a way to incorporate it into the piece of work that you are making?
Barrie Tullet: Imogen Reid, thank you for your response to my question – and thank you for yours in return.
All the processes for the Typographic Dante are quite time consuming in their own ways, and even my digitally based work tends to be text heavy with a fair few hours of corrections, so I think that ‘being in it for the long haul’ is a given in some ways. Action Painting and the immediacy of the ‘Heroic Mark’ is not for me. Even the more immediate artists’ books I make still require some serious production and making time.
I do think there is a moment when you are working – and you ‘find yourself in yourself’ – a moment where there’s nothing else but you in that moment, a moment where you are happy, or complete. The artist Gordon Brennan once said that ‘making art doesn’t make you happy, but not making art makes you sad’, and I think there’s a great deal of truth in that – and I think that making art brings you back to yourself in some way.
That might be a spiritual thing for some people, or a Zen thing perhaps. I remember, years ago, someone who had faith telling me that he thought I was searching for something and if I knew what it was, I replied in a rather cavalier manner, that I was, and it was more wine (which was true), but it haunted me ever since, the fact that I was searching for something, and that I still am, but I don’t know what it is. I think that being in the moment of making ‘art’ is the closest I’ve yet come to it.
I think the repetition of actions – particularly with the typewriter – can help with that, especially with layered texts where you know that you could work out how many keystrokes you need to hit in order to complete this particular bit/colour/layer of the work you’re doing. You have no choice but to surrender to the time it’s going to take you to complete. Or have a different idea.
There are some works where you can’t hide the mistakes, and other that are composed in such a way that they can accommodate mistakes without anyone knowing (hopefully) and there’s always Tippex if it’s really bad.
It is really frustrating when the machines let you down – a tab will move, or a character will skip just because the typewriter is old. Which is a different kind of frustration to that of my own very human error. I’ve printed editions of pieces in several layers and colours over several days and then noticed a glaring spelling mistake. I’ve had ideas that work well in my head, or as a rough sketch, but that I just can’t manage to bring to life when I start working with the Letterpress type, or the typewriter or whatever.
And I want to make more work than I actually do. I worry that I’ll never find the time to get them out there and then, suddenly, it’ll be too late.
I’m not sure that the long answer really answered your question. So here’s a short answer – I think that learning to touch type would have made me a much better, and much quicker, typewriter artist.
Ben Robinson: Amaranth Borsuk and Terri Witek
I'm interested in the way your work uses a variety of writing strategies – poetry, lyric prose, visual text and images. My sense is that the world of visual poetry is sometimes conceived in opposition to lyric poetry, and so perhaps one of the more shocking things for an experimental writer to include in their work is traditional poetry and/or prose. Can you speak(write) a bit about how you arrived at this structure for W/\SH and whether you felt any hesitation about bringing the various forms together? Does it feel like a single long poem to you despite the varied forms?
Thanks for this fine question, Ben, and for your work. Fascinating to think of a plug-in that lets you erase and bring back: biblical resurrection made literal!
You know, I now just think of all my work as lyric (associative), and pretty much dismiss oppositional discussions: would rather link differences the way metaphors do. That unlike things lie down together is just sensible to me. Plus I would never drop something from a possible skillset for genre arguments–why cut off limbs? There might be ethical reasons for me not to write/read/see in a certain way, but not genre reasons.
To me all W/\ SH is visual/verbal. The page positioning of elements matters. That said, it’s interesting that Amaranth and I began by translating sound files into the two-sided pages that look more like conventional lyric poems and moved into a second section pairing ‘prose’ (though we totally care about the line endings and I def consider meter in order to avoid too much sonic repetition, so who cares how far the lines go on the page? ) and Amaranth’s wonderful vertical rainbursts to a final section that’s images plus titles and re-translations from the sound files. So we definitely move toward pressing images into actual world material (rain/dirt) and less type-pressing. It may be that as these women try to reach each other from their different worlds, ‘words’ are a less possible way. I did think about that as we put together different strategies to double our/their tongues/wings/eyes and become maybe necessarily strange in an unknown future. Yes, to me one long work with 3 transmission movements/attempts.
To Terri’s answer I would add that I feel most aware of the lyric/visual distinction when it comes to sharing the project. The melding of styles has meant it is harder to know where to send the work—who would publish something like this? I do see W/\SH as one long work, as Terri says, and one surprise for me is that I assumed it would be easy to excerpt the visual poems and difficult to excerpt the lyric sections (other than the epistles, which stand alone pretty well), but in practice all of it is very hard to break into smaller pieces because of how much the meaning inheres in juxtaposition and accumulation. I’m never quite sure what a 10-page visual-lyric hybrid can convey of the ideas behind the piece.
Kate Siklosi: ReVerse Butcher: writing about your work above, you state, “VR has been essential to (re)mapping & expanding that non-linear reading/writing method onto 3D space. Kaleidoscopic Erasures is essentially spatial poetry in a 2D presentation.” I’m fascinated by the multi-dimensionality of your work (my own work also is invested in the poem’s kinetic objectness, and in the performance of making), and was curious if you could speak more on how you consider / factor in things like spatiality, acoustics, environments, and subjectivities when creating these works….both in the form and content of them? Big question, I know!
ReVerse Butcher: The experience of reading/writing for me was totally altered by getting a VR headset at the end of 2018. With it, I started to bring in 2D VISPO works into a 3D space. My first experiments included importing hand-altered book pages and building environments with them. I’ve always known that language creates our reality, but in this case, I could build a wall with a word, a floor made from pages. With my hands I could then further augment the works with glowing beams of light—and there was something beautifully private about it all. No one could see it but me. I was building something 5 stories tall in my small home-studio. When you change the size of a work of art, you can often change its gravitas—it becomes overwhelming and insistent just because of its sheer size. It’s also entirely ephemeral. You stitch something together with light and code, and your eyes see it clearly, your mind processes it, but you cannot connect your hands with it. I find the idea of these digital hauntings very compelling.
In the VR painting/sculpting app Tilt Brush, you can move your viewpoint/body around in space in ways that are simply impossible in real life. The only other experience like it I’ve found comparable, is when wildly hallucinating. I have found that after several hours working in VR, that your body can feel somewhat disembodied—certainly in those early days of experimentation. I’d find myself hoisting myself 5 stories up a word wall, painting some text & I’d look down and feel suddenly like I was going to fall. You do build up a tolerance, but with that tolerance to VR space, you find new boundaries you can push—both digital and physical. Creating in 3D space can allow for a free-association state to occur somewhere in your subconscious—there is still a lot of skill to develop, and there is definitely labour (automation is a myth—I work by sculpting all those lines, letters and shapes by hand, like a sculptor), there is still structure and limits. It just allows your brain to look at text, poetry, meaning from another angle entirely, one that is usually completely unreachable in waking/real life.
My experience with those early experiments of bringing text into a 3D immersive environment made me think a lot about the structure of wor(l)ds. The next challenge was to bring it out of the private niche arena of VR artworks, and how to share the experience with an audience.
You asked me about acoustics—spatial sound is a quickly developing creative possibility. However, I usually collaborate with musicians to explore that zone. I have 3 or 4 favourites that I return to across different kinds of projects that I have built working relationships with. They are all specialists in different things, but most of them are experimental and have either got a background in theatre, immersive installation work, or academia (or all of the above). I prefer to work with musicians who are thinking critically about what they are composing, and who are not afraid to take risks.
In Dec 2019, I directed and produced a first attempt at a live realisation of one of these spatial poems, called “Incomplete Infinities”. The text was written by Kylie Supski, parts of it were altered/cut up by myself, I made the visual projections in VR, and Roger Alsop made the soundtrack. Alsop used an 8-channel speaker system to create a spatial effect, Kylie’s live performance was fed into it in real-time and the sound was made to move around the room. There was a baseline audio track that also ensured that wherever the audience was standing, sitting or moving, everyone heard something different based on their location in the space. No one performance could be replicated exactly. The visual projections were 2D video of course, but I tried to mimic the experience of sensory overwhelm by projecting them as large in the space as possible. We were limited by the size of the room, but of course as a first experimental run—it struck me that if one was to project it on a domed surface, or on walls, floor and ceiling, I think the feeling would be comparable to what it is like in VR. We had a larger version and plans to tour that show in 2020, but the rest is sadly history.
Kylie Supski performing live against visual projections made by ReVerse Butcher in ‘Incomplete Infinities’, Dec 2019.
I pivoted to using VR/3D spaces to realise some of these ideas in ways that didn’t involve large physical gatherings of people or travel. The added benefit to working in purely digital form is that you're not limited by the size of the physical space. You’re not limited by the time of day, or lighting. If one needs to move a light on stage, there are ladders and safety protocols. In a VR space, you simply… move the sun. I launched The Kaleidoscopic Erasures VR Art Gallery in VRChat as part of the virtual/digital book launch events for Kaleidoscopic Erasures this February. If one has access to PC-VR, one can go and look at the immersive exhibition online here: https://vrchat.com/home/launch?worldId=wrld_f590de04-f73f-40aa-99de-537071c7c5b1
Or watch a guided video tour here: https://youtu.be/gVlhowGIa8k
But to return to your question about kinetics, if one makes a traditionally physical sculptural VISPO work, in order to publish or present it—most likely it involves some kind of photography to make democratic multiples of it. This in effect is a remix, or even a compromise—and doesn’t allow for every reader to physically touch or experience the artwork. Likewise, 3D/VR artworks are currently in the same position. Still images exported from 3D environments, or videos, or gifs, or any number of clever ways of sharing the idea/concept/experience are being used by practitioners. In fact, I saw a creative-tech company (Adobe) using the term ‘Virtual Photography’ in respect to one of their new 3D apps (Stager), which is an app I do use. It really makes you think—there are so many digital variables, but they do include things like lens type, aperture, and other options that appear on physical cameras. How an audience member can interact with a physical or ephemeral work often relies on a proxy for publication, be it photography, video, or other kinds of production intermediaries that allow the work to be duplicated/distributed.
Until VR and immersive technology becomes more widely used, there will always be some kind of compromise made to the experience in order to make it reproducible and accessible in some form. And until it is safer, more sensible, and viable to think about live performance elements in any kind of creative work, I’m going to be focussing on remote digital/virtual opportunities—luckily of which there are many. I am excited though about quickly moving opportunities as tech develops and becomes more mainstream. I’m proud and excited to be an early-adopter!
ReVerse Butcher: James Knight
I’ve noticed that you often remix your own VISPO works as part of your creative process. Considering the works are experimental and often use cut up or asemic qualities, as well as experimental content & form in your more linear writings (like Void Voices)—when do you consider a work ‘finished’? When we consider the ‘epic poem’, and then the capacity for remixing sections to create new, but linked works—how do you map out the branches of a work, and what inspires you to create a remix? Does a remix ever become so distantly related that you consider it a fully new work? I am specifically interested as I am also an artist who uses creative remixing to create loops and hauntings—can you tell us about your process/intention, and your thoughts about remixing one’s own work?
James Knight: These are excellent questions! Very often I get to a stage where I consider a project complete, only to return to it later and add fresh components, which are responses to or remixes of the original material. For example, my cycle Chimera (inspired by simple computer-generated biomorphs used by Richard Dawkins to illustrate evolutionary processes in The Blind Watchmaker) originally comprised 18 monochrome visual poems. When Penteract Press accepted the project for publication we discussed expanding it and adding colour. This resulted in the creation of new visual poems representing intermediary stages in the development from one vispo to another; evolution as a process of remixing. It also prompted me to revisit some of the original vispos and add colour, which then went on its own developmental journey through the cycle: we start with monochrome, and after a while there is a splash of red, which then bleeds and mutates into other colours.
A similar thing happened with (dis/re)membered. The sequence began as 21 visual poems and stayed that way for a while, until some idle mucking about with filters and fresh layers prompted me to make a huge quantity of remixes, dismantling and reconstituting the originals. I enjoy wrecking and subverting my own work! I realised pretty quickly that I should select just 21 of the remixes, each based on a different poem from the original series, and run them in reverse order, to give an elegantly palindromic structure to an otherwise anarchic project.
Overarching structures always interest me, and after the spontaneity and playfulness of making remixes (an antidote to the often difficult and time-consuming process of making original vispos), I like to bring the new arrivals to heel and make them an integral part of the cycle, rather than an add-on. On reflection, many of the most successful visual poems I’ve made have been remixes. I think this is because they are the result of both careful premeditation (in generation of the original) and careless, speedy application of a range of disruptive elements. Needless to say, working in this way invariably affords me the pleasure of surprise. The remixes are never shackled to my intentions, but in their own way the successful ones intuit and express my deeper concerns.
I should add that the processes of making and remixing (or the way I do it, at least) are made possible by electronic resources: an iPad, a stylus, a range of apps. Electronic means of production are often looked down upon (for a range of reasons, which I intend to write about one day), but the fact is that smartphones and tablets have democratised the production of visual poetry. Anyone who owns such a device has some incredibly powerful tools that can be used to make vispos, film poems, sound art, etc, whereas not everyone has easy access to suitable physical materials or a space in which to work with them. As Lautréamont said, “Poetry should be made by all.” I would extend that to visual poetry, and add, “by any means necessary.” The world is big enough for both physical and digital visual poetry.
Terri Witek: Dona Mayoora
Dona, I’d love to hear about how you “Listen” to colour. The auditory is something I often wonder about in visual poems: are you thinking of these your beautiful works as, say, playable scores? When the work is “on” your face digitally, is this about touch?
Would love to hear your take on sensory combos as subject (if they are).
Terri, I approach (listen to) color in terms of sound and silence. I look at what meaning and feeling it depicts by its varying shades, shapes, where its places in the VISPO etc… One color can carry different meanings depending on how/where it's arranged in the VISPOs. In a way it’s an art of encoding what I ‘listened to’ in the form of VISPO. So there definitely is an art of decoding, i.e. reading/listening to it as playable scores. I believe a musician, an experimental poet, or a sound poet could definitely play/read out loud the Visual poems published in ‘Language, Lines & Poetry’.
Most of the time VISPO on my face is a political/protest statement, a placard, being the voice for the voiceless and so-forth, and also addresses body politics. Sometimes it's also about touch, longing, love etc… The important thing about visual poetry to me is that it is visualized for everyone’s voice. Writing with and writing on my body is a political statement, especially when we are living in a world where people are still practicing untouchability, discrimination, willful ignorance etc…
Creating/sitting with visual poetry is kind of an everyday(I’m very miserable when I’m not productive) ritual for me, even though I’m not a religious person. Placing VISPO on my body or vice versa eliminates the barrier between poet and VISPO even after finishing the work. People get to see the poet as poetry. Sensory combinations help me be productive on an everyday-basis (even each one of the hair follicles in my body might be acting as receptors).
Imogen Reid: Sacha Archer
It seems to me that the narrative arc you speak of is a vastly edited affair and that the connections already made between works can be broken and remade endlessly. Perhaps the disconnections between works you have made leave gaps and spaces wherein the viewer/reader is able to forge their own connections, create their own narrative arc revolving around the tensions of domestic life. Do you think that Mother’s Milk offers an alternative exciting way to think of the long poem, possibly in terms of the fragment? In other words, perhaps it could be the viewer/reader who creates the narrative arc in the gaps and spaces between works rather than the artist?
The long poem in terms of the fragment—isn't this the experience (and joy) of reading an author's collected works? The unintentional communications that become evident in the space between. Absolutely in Mother's Milk narrative is the job of the reader, if they want it. But I feel that it is hazardous for a reader to build up too much of a narrative and impose too much meaning on the work in Mother's Milk which is not about meaning at all. The pieces are not intended to be deciphered, but are rather there on the page as experiences. And I think that speaks to your thought, Imogen, of the fragment being a possible form of a long poem. But dialogue over narrative which is made possible by the gaps between which you mentioned. Impressions of experiences as passing through room after room, psychic pulses that call back and forth to each other in the house of a book. It seems to me that this speaks less to the idea of narrative or the long poem per se and more to the roles a visual poet inhabits when putting together a book. That is to say not only does the poet need to create the individual pieces but of equal importance is curation. This is true of a book of verse also, but I would argue to a lesser degree. It is, in essence, the conscious creation of a path which the reader/perceiver will follow and in the case that words are left behind for the concrete life of letters the shifts between our experiences of the individual visual poems is of the utmost importance. I mean, can the idea of the long poem be avoided in such a case? In a book of verse individual poems begin and end emphatically. I would say this is much less the case in visual poetics generally, and visual poetry in the form of a book specifically. There is always a bleeding into the next regardless of intent.
Nicola Winborn: Shloka Shankar
I remember really enjoying seeing your social media posts about reflect light in small doses when you had just completed this beautiful journal! I am really intrigued and would love to know more about why you chose those particular 3 source texts (Doctor Faustus, The Vicar of Wakefield and The Time Machine) for this project. Please could you tell me more - thank you.
Also, what do you feel you learnt about your own art practice from this journal project?
And finally, do you have any plans for more long journal projects like this in the future?
Thank you Shloka! I’ve really enjoyed reading your description of your project and I’m looking forward to your answers.
Thank you for your question, Nicola. You are correct in remembering that I first shared the video on New Year’s Day in 2020. Can’t believe this project is over two years old! The journal’s compact size attracted me the most and, as a self-taught artist, I was excited to try an actual “gluebook.” As for the source texts I used, I didn’t have a set intention at first but just grabbed a couple of old books from my university days. I have always loved the interplay of text and collage, and by using three very distinct voices as my sources, I wanted to see how they would meld and, ultimately, become my voice. Which is the hallmark of all found/collage poems. This mini-gluebook project certainly helped me understand what kind of shapes and patterns I was drawn to, the composition possibilities on each tiny page, and made me embrace the minimalist in me. I have been meaning to start another series and will hopefully get to it soon as part of the 100-day project.
Nicola Winborn: Sacha Archer
I love that you have used Rubber Stamps (one of my favourite ways to make art) to create the concrete poems in Mother’s Milk. This got me reflecting on how Rubber Stamps are often dismissed by the dominant mainstream art world as ‘inconsequential’. This is a view I don’t share: for me, Rubber Stamps are ‘epic’, just like the long poem or narrative poem is seen as ‘epic’. What do you feel Rubber Stamps can teach us about notions of what’s seen as ‘important’ in visual poetry, particularly in long visual poetry?
To begin thinking about how to answer your question, Nicola, I am first drawn to reflect on the exchange Barrie and you had stemming from this same question which explored a hierarchy of materials. This notion of a hierarchy of materials is something I haven't thought about much before but if I had to hazard a guess as to why rubber stamps are dismissed by the art industry it seems to be rooted in the apparently inescapable cult of originality—despite Duchamp, minimalism, conceptualism, etc. While one can make their own stamps, they can and often are bought, so they're pre-existing images not related to the creator’s imaginative output (artist rather than manufacturer). And then, of course, it takes no effort to apply them and they can be repeated endlessly. Obviously, none of this raises flags in concrete poetics because it's absolutely in line with the nature of the alphabet, hence why no one bats an eye at typewriter, rubber stamp, digital or letraset visual poetics. But then the art industry isn't particularly concerned with concrete/visual poetry in general.
So, to get to your question, what can rubber stamps teach us about what is seen as important in visual poetry, it is not necessarily the originality or mastery of technique, of the mark made, but rather an emphasis on composition. Visual poetry is most often a question of arranging, much like a standard literary work, which might answer the question that has often bugged me about why writers are not considered Artists—why writing is a 'craft’. It looks like visual poetry has inherited that, as well as many of the materials used to make it. There is the problem of music which isn't considered a craft but which is also ultimately arranging, but that's for another day.
Now, perhaps this is tangential, but the great difference between rubber stamps and, say, the typewriter (and much can be said to the contrary,) is the immediate connection to the body. There is a sense of dance in using rubber stamps because of the necessary mobility of the body. So, for me, using rubber stamps transcends the alphabet and becomes directly connected to the expression of the body. Does this speak to what is perceived as important in visual poetics? I'm not sure. Certainly my own practice. What is unique about visual poetics is that baseline of the alphabet, though it can be discarded, in a sense it's shadow is always there, for instance how one regards the drawn line and the relationships between marks is quite different than in much of the plastic arts because there is always the echo of the literary text proper. I feel I’ve circled around the question rather than answer it, but there you go.
Imogen Reid: Kate Siklosi
It strikes me, and I’m sure many other people, that your work is incredibly delicate and fragile. Could you say a little about why this is important to you? Would you ever try to treat and preserve a piece of work, or is it crucial that it might eventually disintegrate and disappear? How would you feel if a piece of your work was conserved by a museum or gallery?
Thanks for the question, Imogen Reid! I would say that working with delicate materials keeps me humble in my poetic practice. With the type of media I work with--whether it be natural objects, or Letraset--you have to give up some authorial control because the thing often has a mind of its own. The materials don’t allow you to be exact or in total control; rather, they keep you mindful and present and open to the process as it unfolds.
I keep a fragile archive of some pieces I’ve made, but as you can imagine they are very hard to preserve--and I kind of like it that way! These works are fleeting and transient. They belong to the world and as such, are subject to disintegration. I tend to take images of my work to “preserve” it; I’ve never thought of properly preserving the object in a gallery or museum. I guess I wouldn’t be opposed to it, and it would be neat to see how they change and decay over time.
12. Movement and the Cinematic
Imogen Reid: Helen Hajnoczky
I love the way you talk about moving back and forth in time, memory, language, and place. The language you use seems very cinematic to me, it brings to mind silent movies, flip books, Zoetropes, Magic Lantern Shadow Shows, the kind of visual images that may well have been accompanied by oral, rather than written, stories; stories that are not fixed on paper. The stop-frame film you’ve made sounds fascinating, but the way you describe your painting is also filled with movement, you use words like melting, flip, and plunge, for example. Do you feel that a sense of movement is crucial to your work? And do you think that filmmaking, whether it be stop frame animation or shadow play etc., could play an important role again for you in the future?
Helen Hajnoczky: Imogen Reid
Thanks for the question! It’s made me realize that yes - I think movement is an important element to me in all mediums. In written writing I really love a propulsive sense of rhythm or progression, in visual poetry that movement is equally interesting to me, and for film - definitely. I’m not a very still person so I think this movement is in keeping with my personality generally! I’m hoping to do more work in film soon - yes. I love hiking and have been filming various hikes in the mountains and badlands, and hope to get those into shape to share in the next few months. I plan to have the nature scenes followed by a clip of me making an artwork inspired by the adventure, and plan to have all of it set to music by my partner https://soundcloud.com/zetaiireticuli I’ve been filming and musing about it for some time now, so hopefully I’ll get on that soon. I’ve also been writing poems to go with the hikes one of which is actually called zoetrope, and is about the light flashing through the lodgepole pines so - you’ve really called it!
13. Physical Experience of Time
Helen Hajnoczky: Nicola Winborn and Imogen Reid
I’m so interested in your discussion a few pages back about the hypnotic element of textiles and visual poetry. I weave as well and find it super hard to step away from before the piece is done for that reason. Indeed, I often end up sitting at the loom too long, and end up stiff and sore! I was wondering - what is your physical experience of the time spent on your work?
I am very like you Helen in that I find it hard to step away from my sewing. I will sit and stitch for way too long sometimes, and I end up over-hungry, over-thirsty, stiff and sore. Sometimes my neck and shoulders will crack as I finally pull back from my textiles! And I can get aches in my fingers too both from holding the cloth and holding the needle and thread. On the other hand, if I don’t stitch for too long, it’s actually really good for stretching and mobility in my hands. I have the early stages of arthritis in my body and so hand created textiles can be good for bending, stretching and moving my fingers and palms. My key challenge is that I don’t know when to stop - I will keep stitching well past bed time, as it were.
Imogen Reid: Helen Hajnoczky
Thank you for answering my question, I am now excited to read your Zoetrope piece, it sounds wonderful. Thank you also for the music link, I found it mesmeric, and very atmospheric.
I’m not sure that I have much to add here, it seems that our physical experience of working is quite similar, which is good to know. I often work late into the night, fully immersed with no distractions. I feel the strain in my eyes, blurred vision, as well as my hands and shoulders, and, like Nicola, I often forget to eat and drink. I occasionally realise that I haven’t blinked for a while, (which could account for the eye strain), all of which doesn’t stop me from continuing on in the same vein the following day. My day job is also craft-based, repetitive, detailed, and labour intensive, so I guess I am drawn to, and into, hypnotic work in general.
Helen Hajnoczky: Kate Siklosi
Have you ever crushed any of the leaf or nature pieces you make as you’re working, or does that happen to you regularly? If yes, do you try to repurpose them or work around any cracks, or does the whole process have to unfold perfectly for the pieces to work? What is that experience like for you, making them?
So much of this work involves a wing and a prayer! ;) I’ve definitely broken / ripped pieces beyond repair, or maybe I’ve thought I could actually Letraset on a certain object surface but it resists it, but I’ve also kept a lot of my mistakes intact because imperfection is a critical part of my creative practice (and the objects resist perfection in their very fragility!). So the “process unfolding perfectly” doesn’t ever happen - there’s always challenges / mistakes / unforeseen new directions when doing this work, and I try to be open to how the process unfolds as opposed to controlling it. The unpredictability and serendipity of the process is humbling and therapeutic; I like the co-authorship that organically happens when working with objects that are tentative and whose very materiality resists “editing” andor control.
Helen Hajnoczky: Nicola Winborn
I took creative writing in university and ended up totally blocked for a while too - I think it made me afraid to make things because my sense of criticism became more developed than my original, innate enthusiasm to make stuff. For me delving into Magyarázni a few years later helped me get over that because the topic was so different than anything I did in school, and more generally that criticism/anxiety-fueled block just faded over time. What helped you to get back to creating after ten years?
I got back into visual art by joining a night class. I was a full time teacher and was finding my job stressful and draining. I remember reflecting that I needed to do something away from my working role that was creative and just for me. I joined the night class because it made me have a regular routine around my creative time. It was just up the road from where I lived and it was an affordable class. I was lucky in that the teacher we had was really open-minded and encouraging, so I was able to be in an environment where I could let my own artistic style shine. Once I had been at the class a few weeks, I found that I started to also create at weekends. This made me so happy because it meant that my creative time was expanding and taking up more space in my life. The next thing that turbo charged my creativity was my pursuit of Reiki and Japanese Culture. Practicing Reiki and Tai Chi has brought my intuition to the forefront of my life: these highly focused practices definitely fire creative flow for me - I feel humbled by the intense effects this kind of holistic work has had on my life as a visual artist.
16. Final Form of an Incomplete Work
James Knight: Amanda Earl
Are there any books in the Bible you regard with trepidation, when you think about how you might transform them into visual poems? You said that you do not expect to complete the project: is its inevitable incompleteness perhaps part of its value, something that adds to its specialness? And (how) do you envisage a final published form of the (in)complete work?
Amanda Earl: I don’t think I’m familiar enough with the Bible to have trepidation. I definitely felt squicky about the misogyny, xenophobia and homophobia but it felt satisfying to pervert it. I hadn’t thought of incompleteness as adding any value. I was just feeling overwhelmed by the massiveness of it, and gave myself an out. I’ve toyed with the idea of a selected, but I'd like an editor for that, someone who would choose work and write about it. I’m not in a hurry. I’d like to see more individual books published first. I’d love it if it was possible to make 3-D models of these pieces, but they are super complex, so I doubt that is even remotely possible. A girl can dream.
17. Social Media and Form of Publication
Sacha Archer: Dona Mayoora
Dona, I've been following your work for quite a while now and it has always challenged and intrigued me. I first encountered your work online via social media and I remember first seeing the poems which would eventually be published in print as Listening to Red posted on Facebook. When LTR was published in print it made sense to see the pieces which make it up on the printed page and bound rather than online. Now, I and many others are encountering your selfie works and following their progression as you post them online. While it is true that you have recently published a little of that work in your chapbook collaboration with Gary Barwin through Gap Riot Press, Punctum—and unsurprisingly it does not fail to deliver that challenge and thoughtfulness which I have found with all your work—I find it more difficult to imagine a longer print collection of these selfie works. Do you imagine them collected in print or do you feel that this series’ natural habitat is online/social media? Also, do you think social media can be conceived of as not only a publishing platform, but also as some strange form of book, if a very broken/fragmented one?
Sacha, thanks! I was writing poems in the traditional way before. Then it branched out towards taking interdisciplinary form. In most of my VISPO there is also a process involved where I ask myself ‘How do I translate this text to visual’, using colors, lines, shapes, abstract calligraphy etc… I carry an idea around for any number of days before I compose that image. My thoughts recapitulate that idea, exploring numerous styles and logics. This helps me to visualize a clear cut image even before I sit down to draw, perform, or create digitally. I always approach a series as a full length poetry book. I plan ahead on the number of visuals, how it should progress, what colors to use etc…and was using various kinds of inks and watercolor on watercolor paper up until recently. During the pandemic I almost switched completely to a digital medium. But still, the idea of printed books remains intact. Recently I’ve been exploring options for presenting VISPOs on large digital screens/video formats at galleries and other feasible places(especially with the selfie works). Having around 300 color images printed as a book doesn’t seem practical for now, unless there is a publisher out there who is willing to take up that commitment. ‘Long con magazine’ is publishing a full color chapbook soon, a collaboration Gary and I completed last year.
I choose social media mostly because of my introverted character. I find it hard to interact with people one on one. But ever since I started using social media my written and visual works got ‘visibility’. My works got space in print and online magazines, international exhibits and anthologies. Social media gave me an opportunity to see and experience works of amazing artists, and collaborate with some of brilliant visual poets like Terri Witek and Gary Barwin. My written Malayalam Language poems got selected in the academic syllabus of Universities in Kerala, India. My series Listening To Red found its way to Timglaset Editions, Sweden through social media. It’s easy for me to access social media through an app, post my work, and vanish to my attic to create another VISPO. But it doesn’t always mean that all I need is a user ID! And social media is of course not the final destination for my work. I like to keep the channel open through social media, and believe that my work gets chances to appear elsewhere from there.
I can see Instagram as a digital book. As of now no other social media platform can provide that nuance, especially if we can maintain an Instagram handle for each series.
Amaranth Borsuk: Ben Robinson
The title Without Form alludes to the moments prior to creation in the Hebrew Bible—where the world exists but is formless, in utter tumult. Language and creation are closely linked in both the old and new testaments (both of which you have erased)—whether you think of Adam naming the living creatures or the gospel of John, which opens “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Your choice to remove all the words, leaving chapters and verse numbers as a silent score, could look tumultuous to one reader and rigidly ordered to another. It could evoke the naming of things through their orderly array and the evacuation of names. I’m intrigued by the duality of this gesture. It would seem that your long poem is a kind of anti-poem in its refusal of language—one that requires readers to rethink their reading practices in order to approach it.
I have two questions about the conceptual gesture at the heart of this project:
1) You could have erased a single page or even just Genesis. Is there something that an extended engagement facilitates or changes for you? In an erasure project, what happens when you commit to erasing the whole thing?
2) I was drawn to your description of feeling simultaneously like a scribe and a data entry clerk! When you undertook this project, were you aware of or in dialogue with other erasure works / poets also interested in the remove of language, particularly at the juncture of print and digital technologies?
I like what you’ve said about the duality of the gesture, Amaranth, as I think that was something that drew me to the idea in the first place, that there wasn’t one obvious way to interpret the work.
To answer your first question, I started, as you suggest, with just one page and then just Genesis before eventually working my way up to the entire Bible. My motivations were more practical. This project began as a failed entry for The Mitchell Prize, and in preparing for that contest, I made some .gif poems that animated various aspects of Genesis 1. Unfortunately, the contest was not prepared to accept .gif files, so I decided to run with the notation idea and applied it to the whole book of Genesis as a proof of concept. It wasn’t until The Blasted Tree showed some interest in publishing the project that I committed to erasing the whole Bible. Interestingly, the first publication of the project consisted of a single chapbook edition of each Biblical book, breaking the traditional canon apart, whereas the second publication collected all the Biblical books under one cover.
I think each of the manifestations of the project has its own appeal. The single page is stark. Doing individual Biblical books builds nicely on the starkness while also highlighting the unique structure of each book. And then, doing the entire Bible was most attractive when it came time to decide on a physical form for the project, the kind of book object we wanted to make. For me, the most pleasurable way to experience the project is still scrolling quickly through the 800+ page PDF and watching the numbers scroll across the page. That’s when I feel the size of the original text and the vastness of the tradition.
As for your second question, I’m not so sure how many models I had. Honestly, erasure is not a form that I have read very widely in. Perhaps the one text that I was conscious of was derek beaulieu’s a, A Novel which takes a similar approach to Andy Warhol’s original text. I’m sure others have taken this sort of (minimalist? maximalist?) approach to erasure, but I am sadly unaware of them.
I’m also not sure I thought of the project as an erasure right away. In the early stages, I was thinking about it as perhaps a kind of translation. There are seemingly endless translations of the Bible, including bizarre contemporary versions, so I felt some leeway to approach the text in that direction – with Without Form as a kind of New Wordless Version.
Amaranth Borsuk: Shloka Shankar
I was really drawn to your description of the creative process for Reflect Light in Small Doses as “intuitive.” The text has so many fun resonances across each spread and from page to page. There is humor, beauty, introspection. And the book is intimate in size, inviting, even a bit quiet in spite of the colorful and buoyant collages. Watching the video and reading your description, I wondered about the process you outlined. Why did you work on the recto sides first and then switch to the verso? Does it have to do with the binding and gluing/collage process? And do you think that separating the right and left sides of the page affected the way you approached the assembly of the text? Did you pre-determine the text or find its order and arrangement gradually over the course of the month you worked on this project?
Thank you for your question, Amaranth. As a person living with a disability (muscular dystrophy), I’ve always preferred working on a smaller scale because they are faster to fill up and less intimidating. I had a whole bunch of collage fodder that was ready to be put to good use and I had always wanted to make a gluebook. Initially, I had no intention of covering up the left-hand side pages, but then I decided to go for it only because I had a massive pile of odds and ends after completing the pages on the right. It took a little fiddling because of the binding and the size of the book but it was a challenge I greatly enjoyed. Regarding the text, I love cut-ups and the idea of remixing various pieces to form a cohesive whole. I tore pages from all three books at random and scanned them for phrases that spoke to me. I didn’t pre-determine where they would be added but just stuck them down page after page, subconsciously forming a narrative.
Barrie Tullett to all
We are all hugely invested in our creative work, we couldn’t make it otherwise – and I have found that it has brought me great joy on occasion, and great disappointment too… So, the question for everyone is ‘What's the greatest achievement that your work has brought you – and what's the greatest disappointment?’...
The greatest achievement of the Vispo Bible is that it has been published by a lot of different publishers, all who have made it their own with various designs. I was disappointed but not particularly surprised at the misogyny & tokenism I experienced, having to do with exhibiting the work, but I’ve tried to overcome it by doing constructive curation, such as editing Judith: Women Making Visual Poetry, which feels like a great achievement to me, helping to bring that book into the world, & dispelling the myth that few women make visual poetry. The greatest disappointment for me is that women & other systematically excluded groups continue to be underrepresented in concrete & visual poetry anthologies today. Lots of excuses, including the old superiority routine.
I hope you will answer this question too, Barrie. I will start with a disappointment (of which there are many) because in a way it is also a strength. Despite the fact that I read everything I write aloud to myself, I struggle to speak in public, tongue-tied, knees knocking, sweat drenched, the lot! My achievement is in finding ways to turn a problem such as this around, to use what might be seen as a weakness as a positive, productive constraint.
I think the great joys of making art are often deferred, unknown, or distant. I try to focus on making the work itself, and what that means to me first. Public opinion is fickle, changes quickly, and often. One will also never know the majority of ways that a work is perceived after it’s released into the world. I have, however, been surprised both ways by the reactions and when readers have reached out before. While I was making “On The Rod”, I placed 1500+ postcards in books in various libraries by stealth. Wearing wigs and costumes, and enlisting a select few others in various cities, I slipped collaged/poetry postcards into books. There was a system. They were books that people should either be rewarded for reading, or books that if they were being read, the readers DESPERATELY needed poetry (they just didn’t know it). I never expected people to hunt me down online and want to talk about what or where they found a particular poem/collage/postcard. I used my pseudonym, some people found me anyway. The project was a quiet rebellion against feeling excluded, locked out, discriminated against, and stuck. I thought, “I’ll never have one of my artists’ books bought by this library, the books I publish in will never be stocked in this library, everything I make will eventually be unread dust, there is no way past any of these gatekeepers…” (the interest in my work largely comes from overseas markets). But if the desired outcome was to have my work in that library, it occurred to me that this was actually very easy to do myself. In the end, my most beloved library wound up absorbing some of the cards the librarians found into their permanent ephemera collection. “On The Rod” was a feminist project, and they still have me marked in their catalogue as an unknown male artist interacting directly with their collections, but I’m not very well going to correct them, now am I? The last few postcards were placed in books in 2015-2016. Earlier this year in 2022, I received an enthusiastic DM about a postcard someone found that was marked 2014. Art is a long-game. One day they’ll figure it out. Or they won’t.
One of my favorite solo making moments was leaving out a scrap of paper with a fragment of text and watching 2 warblers drag it into their nest. The greater thrill was watching them do the same with hair from my comb. Because the nest was constructed on the shelf of a hose cart, the minute the painters arrived the nest was a goner. But then unseen warblers in the loquat tree. This to say the moment hubris vanishes and the world continues is the best part of making for me.
In Amaranth’s and my collab, the achievement beyond the ms as ongoing artifact was continued surprise in what happened . Sometimes I forgot who did what–whose paper? whose hair? And the greater one was keeping our friendship humming through a strange few years and maybe the beginning of the end of the world. I’m not much of a hang out and chat person–to me making something together is the deal. When I ran out in the rain (at first I typed rain out in the rain) and pressed paper into the ground for the book, knowing the future held a beautiful answer in dust-press from Amaranth was a great joy.
To me things like market disappointments are real, but they’re small bites: if one doesn’t scratch they heal and go. Besides, why wait for love from mom/dad/et al? I’ve been frustrated when I can’t do something technical (like draw) but refuse disappointment. Make the work, drop it somewhere (as ReVerse so beautifully proves) and someone will find it or not. The unclassifiable edges are the places that haven’t hardened yet, and that’s the sweet spot in spring’s tipsy hose cart.. Who knows what or who will transpire (in the sense of crossed breaths) with you? I must confess to astonishment when I was invited into 2021’s two lovely visual poetics anthologies bc of my cryptic social media drops.
My greatest disappointment in my art endeavours was going to formal art college in the late 1990s. I expected it to be amazing because I had really enjoyed my Art Foundation year and couldn’t wait to get to university to delve deeper into my chosen area of Fine Art Painting. Instead, I ended up blocked creatively, disillusioned and clinically depressed. I switched my degree studies to English Language and Literature and didn’t make any art again for well over 10 years.
My greatest achievement has been rediscovering my creative self in recent years, reclaiming her and finding that she has enormous power which hasn’t been touched one iota by the disappointments of the 90s. She is alive, well and can’t stop making art. Moreover, she is not alone. Across the last 4 to 5 years I have connected with and worked with a whole international community of artists who are all on fire creatively. One of my proudest achievements within this community has been editing, writing and contributing to the WAAVe Global Gallery 2021 with Hysterical Books, Florida, USA. This anthology showcases Women Asemic Artists and Visual Poets from across the world: I feel honoured to be a part of this.
I know that it’s a strange question to ask really – as the benchmarks for the success and failure of our work are entirely at our own invention – and as everyone says – the greatest achievement in making work is the making of the work in the first place. And the greatest disappointment is when one doesn't make work (my academic life means that I’m often not making or doing, and my various projects mean that I’m working on collaborative things that take me away from the Dante work, or from my own individual projects). And now, with the advent of Social Media, there’s another disappointment, in seeing everyone else be creative, but not me.
In terms of the benchmarks of my own making – The Caseroom Press and the Typographic Dante have given me opportunities that I couldn’t never have imagined when I began them. It’s led to me being here and writing this for example. It has led to a body of work that encompasses Graphic Design, Performance Poetry, Vispo, Concrete Poetry, Art, Pattern Poetry, Teaching and Writing…
I think the ‘me’ that started the project when I was at Chelsea would be amazed by all it’s achieved.
However, when I began the Typographic Dante project, I always imagined that it would be published as a book – ideally by a Thames and Hudson or a Phaidon or whoever – and no matter what it achieves in other ways, I’m always disappointed that it’s never made that leap into what my own head says is that specific success.
The biggest disappointment of all though, is that I don’t make more art.
The greatest achievement my work has brought me… I suppose is the various encounters with the unexpected. On one level it is the constant surprise that I can make anything at all which I feel is worth publishing, every poem which I regard as successful delivers this surprise and joy. But beyond the making of the work, the unexpected has come in the form of people, people who pick up the work and are moved by it–and who communicate that to me; people who have visited me unexpectedly because of my publishing–and the great joy of making connections with people who share a love of this kind of work, friendships that never would have been initiated without the bridge of the work. As to disappointments, the most poignant comes from the same place as the unexpected joys of creating–the thick scepticism of my own work which knocks it all down.
At the risk of seeming trite, I don’t tend to think of my work in achievements / successes and disappointments / failures. I think if I were to think like that about the work, I wouldn’t do it. There are far too many aspects of my life that are measured according to those dichotomies. Poetry allows me to just play, not take the thing too seriously, and enjoy the process. Those aspects of the work are quite sacred to me.
That being said, I am quite proud of my debut full-length collection, leavings, that came out in November with Timglaset. The work was composed over many years, and much of it in lockdown, so it felt lovely to come out of that experience with an archive of creations. I find it difficult to write / create full-length works--likely because I love jumping around too much. I love moving from one experiment to another and finding new modes of working, new objects to work with. So creating a full-length edition felt like an “achievement” for me.
Barrie Tullett: Kate Siklosi
Hi Kate, it’s not trite at all. I’m acutely aware that the only measure of achievements/successes and disappointments/failures are the ones we impose upon ourselves. And I totally agree there is an enjoyment in the making of work which is a unique ‘high’. Nothing else feels like it, and the making of work in and of itself is something wonderful, no matter what that piece of work goes to do.
I think the greatest achievement is the sense of peace and self-actualization I get from being a writer. I was so enamoured with writing even before I could write (I’d scribble on papers and then seal them with my dad’s business seal which is a bit vispo-y, ha!) and I think that having a writing and art practice is the greatest gift and achievement - I get to be who I am when I am writing or making art, and it’s led me to meet people who share my interests and have become good friends. I think writing and art are full of little disappointments here and there - a poem that just doesn’t feel right no matter how many times I rewrite it, a painting I thought would look cook but sort of looks like barf instead, a large visual poem ruined hours of work by a blotty leaky Sharpie Paint marker come to mind… but these are mostly unremarkable when compared to the joy I get from being a writer and artist more generally.
Every published cycle of visual poems feels, for a very short time, like my greatest achievement, becoming soon afterwards a powerful disappointment, the only antidote to which is the next cycle, which has to be radically different in content and aesthetic. And so on.
For me, the greatest achievement of my work has been how it has brought me into community with like-minded people – as Sacha said above, “friendships that never would have been initiated without the bridge of the work.” As an introverted person, publication has been a kind of signal to send to the outside world that these are the kinds of things I enjoy thinking about that might not readily come up in conversation otherwise, and because of that, I’ve met so many fascinating people and had great, longstanding conversations (not unlike this one).
As far as disappointments, like others have said here, at my best, I try not to let myself frame things that way. At times, I can get frustrated by the timescale of the literary world, with things feeling like they’re moving slow, but in the long run, it’s probably a good check against my more rushed tendencies. I had no expectations for this project because it felt so unusual. The fact that it got published in a beautiful hardcover edition is more than I could have imagined. I still see the brick of a book on my shelf sometimes and can’t quite believe it exists.
My goal is to try to be productive everyday; if I’m not, I’m disappointing myself. Every piece of visual I create is an achievement to me.
Barrie Tullett to all
This isn’t a question – just an observation about Nicola and Sacha’s use of Rubber Stamps, and the comment Nicola made about the process often being dismissed by the dominant mainstream art world as ‘inconsequential’. I’d totally agree with that, and that there is an absolute hierarchy of ‘print’. Etching is at the top of the tree, then stone based Litho, then Screenprinting (even though it had such commercial uses for such a long time), and so on, down to the ‘lowest of the low’, which seem to be Lino-cuts and rubber stamping.
Is this simply because they are universal processes that can be taught at school and used by anyone? It rather does away with the notion that some processes are ‘special’ (requiring a lot of equipment and opportunities) and therefore the Artist is ‘special’by association. Whereas Linocutting and Rubber Stamping are fairly universal processes. Ones where we can all be ‘special’.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Stephen Fowler (his book on rubber stamping is wonderful), and when he runs workshops, the examples he shows of the creative potential of rubberstamping is just breathtaking– as are the results he gets from students who are completely new to the medium.
I love your comments/observations about Rubber Stamping Barrie Tullett, and I agree with you totally! Yes, the idea of a hierarchy of printmaking techniques is, unfortunately, very dominant in our world. It resembles the hierarchy in painting as well, with oils at the top, acrylics in the middle and watercolours at the bottom of the pile. These pyramids of value infuriate me on so many levels: for instance, I am a Neurodivergent Artist and I have various ND-based sensitivities which restrict how I can practice. I can’t for example use oil paints because the toxic fumes in them make me so ill that I become debilitated. So this assumption that we all have equal access and equal feelings about the hierarchy of materials is an ableist one and has no grain of truth in it.
I think that what you say about ‘universality’ does relate to the undervaluing of Rubber Stamps. There is a ‘democracy’ to them, I feel, as an art form: they are highly accessible to many people. They are also a big part of the popular/commercial art and crafts scene, so they tend to get seen as daft, too cutesy and of zero intellectual value. Elitist art worlds seem to have knee jerk allergic reactions towards anything which is popular, democratic or accessible, and so they will set out to denounce any artistic method of this kind. However, like you say, the work of artists like Stephen Fowler shows the world that Rubber Stamping has huge potential when married to the imagination of a creative practitioner. I am of the belief that the full potential of Rubber Stamp Art is still in its infancy, that the field is wide open for new directions. For me, it’s such an exciting genre of art, one with infinite possibilities.
Helen Hajnoczky: Nicola Winborn; Sacha Archer; Barrie Tullet; Kate Siklosi
Super interesting discussion! I love working with rubber stamps - I have a stash of Letraset but I’m often afraid to use it in case I run out (which I won’t, because I’m too afraid of using it up…), but since stamps are reusable they carry none of this anxiety for me. Using stamps to me feels so free and engrossing - I think it brings back the feeling of making things when I was a kid. Which makes me wonder - how did you come to the mediums you use to make visual poetry? My dad was a drafter/welder/small business owner, which is why we had so much Letraset available, and my sister went through a scrapbooking phase back when that was popular, which is what led to me having a stamp collection and collection of scrapbooking letter stickers. This collection of lettery things often makes me contemplate why some of them are more elevated and popular in visual poetry than others. Part of it might be a throwback thing - that’s what concrete poets of the 60s/70s used as things like Letraset and typewriters were contemporary mediums to them, and even though they’re not such quotidian supplies now people continue to use them anyway as a nod to the past and tradition. However, I sometimes suspect that that stamps might be less in vogue than Letraset and typewriters because they have a connotation of being children’s or women’s things for fun and domestic use like decorating a photo album or making cards, while Letraset and typewriters might carry more masculine, industrial connotations, used in workplaces and public spaces. There’s also the coolness of mid-century modern design when it comes to Letrast and many typewriters which I know I’m absolutely seduced by, and the cheesiness of the scrapbooking materials which I can find off-putting. I have some stamps with type that I like and use over and over, and some stamps in cursive that I don’t use because I find them corny! I’m not sure I know of any visual poet who uses big, colourful, scrapbooking sticker letters in their work - they’re practically retro at this point, but their design is pretty saccharine. So - I’m clearly mired in a high/low cool/not cool perception of the materials I have in my drawer…
When I was a kid, I had a rubber stamp set of tiny letters that you used tweezers to arrange in a small tray to make the words and messages that you wanted. I adored this toy and would spend hours upon hours printing with it. I have never forgotten how much pleasure this gave me and I would say that these memories were really important when I got back into rubber stamps around 2008. I was in a local bookstore and in the gift section they had an alphabet rubber stamp set with ink pads for sale. Straight away I was reminded of my set from childhood and so I purchased this newer alphabet and got creating with it at home. The next big development for me in terms of rubber stamps was discovering Picasso Gaglione’s and Darlene Domel’s ‘Stampzine’ - an international assembling zine devoted to the rubber stamp genre. This blew my mind and I have been exploring stamping like a fiend ever since! I really like what you say Helen about the whole ‘masculine’/‘feminine’ perception around typewriters/Letraset and rubber stamps: I think that these assumptions definitely play into how these tools are valued or devalued. One of the many reasons I love ‘Stampzine’ so much is that it combines ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ characteristics so perfectly. It plays with such constructs through a Dadaist sensibility: there is something quite punk rock about ‘Stampzine’ that I find absolutely joyous - it has a humour and rebelliousness to it.
Barrie Tullett: Helen Hajnoczky
You raise so many interesting points here.
Although one is limited typographically when using letterpress, typewriters, rubber stamps, stencils or letraset (you can only work with the fonts you have), only that last process is a finite one. All the other methods of ‘typesetting’ allow for a relatively unending use of the letterforms, whereas Letraset is a one-off. You use it and it’s gone, so like you say, there is a ‘fear factor’ and almost a regret every time it is used as it can only ever be used once, and how can you be sure that the ‘once’ was the best use for it. With the other methods, there’s always a do-over. Another go if it goes wrong. Even when Letraset was commercially available, it was quite expensive and the option to keep buying more if you weren’t happy with the result wasn’t really an option for most of us (I’m aware that the purchase of a Letterpress Workshop of one’s own would have been even more dauntingly expensive, but Letterpress facilities were, at one time, ubiquitous in art schools).
And as Nicola said – certain processes are often dismissed by the dominant mainstream art world as ‘inconsequential’ due to the fact that they are simply not elitist. Rubber-stamping, lino-cutting, scrapbooking stickers, so there is an imposed cultural hierarchy of those print processes – which always places Etching at the top of the pile.
I also think that the point you make about typewriters carrying a more masculine, industrial connotation raises its own questions – historically it could be argued to be the exact opposite. The invention of the typewriter allowed a whole new area of employment to open up for women, and liberated women from the roles of ‘mother or maid’ (teaching being reserved as an occupation for those ‘better educated’). It created a new level of independence and opportunity, so it’s interesting that at some point men came to ‘own’ it again. Is it because the historical narrative of visual poetry has, like so many other aspects of art and design, been focused on white men – so they therefore come to ‘own’ the methods of typographic reproduction, whether that be typewriters or Letraset?
This is worth a read:
Helen Hajnoczky: Barrie Tullett
Oh yeah good point about the typewriter and gender! I think the image that I had in mind was from recent movies - movies of tortured male writers labouring over typewriters!
Kate Siklosi: Helen Hajnoczky
Samesies! My dad was an electrician and drafter, and also a huge perfectionist (his garage organization game is the stuff of legends) so we had a ton of Letraset hanging around when I was a kid and I played around with it a lot. I used to marvel at the dry transfer magic! And of course, this was pre-computers, so aside from the typewriter and label-makers, there wasn’t anything that would print font so perfectly and be so usable in different contexts!
There’s a really great early Letraset ad that proclaims: “No talent needed, just rub it down … and you can practically print on anything!” So I’ve always kinda liked the DIY amateurism of Letraset and the accessibility of it (outside of the cost, of course).
My primary medium is Photoshop. I began making visual poetry “officially” (when I knew its name) in 2005/6. MS Paint was on my computer. I played around with it for a bit and then Microsoft stopped including it with their software. Charles, my husband, was already working with Photoshop for his photography, so I started to play with it and found I could apply the tools used for photo editing to text in a strange and fun way. I was hooked. It’s frustrating due to all the constant updating, but I still enjoy working with Photoshop most. I do some analog work now and again, but all of the Vispo Bible is done via Adobe, either Photoshop or Illustrator, the latter being great for individual letters, the former being better for transforming huge blocks of text at once. Many of the routines I do for the Vispo Bible could be automated as some kind of macro set of routines, but I haven’t figured that out yet.
It seems that these mediums being passed down through family is a pretty reliable theme here. My grandfather was a surveyor and an amatuer hoarder. When he passed away there were loads of interesting things that we were confronted with in his basement. Much of it I was already well acquainted with from my boyhood, antique toys, a broken pinball machine, what once was a large functioning train set & miniature village, his collection of cameras, mountains of cords, boxes and boxes of stuff–but all I took with me after he passed were a few odds and ends–and most importantly, a rubber stamp set which may have been connected to his profession as a surveyor, but could just as well not have been. It is old and showing its age, though many of the letters were unused when I found it, which is why I am hesitant to confidently connect it with his work. Regardless of how he used it or why he owned it, it is interesting vis-à-vis the gendering of materials that previously everyone has placed rubber stamps in the frame of the feminine because this was not my impression when I “inherited” said set. It seems to be a rather more recent association, rubber stamps with scrapbooking and childhood play. Of course I had different kinds of stamps when I was a child, as my children do now, but encountering my grandfather’s set, ‘feminine’ would be the last word to come to mind. On the contrary, everything about the set, intentionally so, asserts the masculine: professional, serious, austere, which, assuming the set was manufactured at the latest in the 70’s, but likely earlier, certainly connoted the masculine. Looking at the set I can’t find any date, but have just noticed, after all this time of my possessing it, that on the inside of the lid my grandfather had stamped BEAUJOLAIS which reminds me that he made his own wine for a spell and opens up the uncertainty of why my grandfather had the set even further.
All that said, I relate to what Helen wrote about the off-puttingness of the cheesy aura of scrapbooking materials. Unsurprisingly, I did not encounter this feeling with my grandfather’s rubber stamp set, but I certainly have when purchasing stamps at craft stores like Michaels. The products I’ve bought there target just that craft culture which, personally, I can’t stand. So it was much more difficult to use those new stamps that, in a sense, resisted my aesthetic direction. In using them I had the sense of détournement. There is an aesthetic to our tools that is very important. We work with or against them.