New Art Emerging: Notes from a Symposium on Videopoetry

Editors’ note: the symposium titled New Art Emerging: Two or Three Things One Should Know About Videopoetry took place on 5 November 2022 in Surrey, BC, Canada. It was convened by the renowned theorist of videopoetry, Tom Konyves, who also curated a related exhibition program, Poets with a Video Camera: Videopoetry 1980-2022. Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel H. Dugas were guest speakers at the symposium and kindly accepted our invitation to write an account to appear here at Moving Poems Magazine…

To start, instead of cutting the information down to fit, it might be easier to just start a new videopoetry blog. That is not a serious proposal, it is just that every videopoet holds the potential to write a book in a conversation and each videopoem is a complete story in itself. Writing a report from within is new for us and to begin, we admit that our comments must be somewhat biased.

The exhibition Poets with a Video Camera: Videopoetry 1980-2022 at the Surrey Art Gallery formed the base for the Symposium, as well as providing the impetus for Poems by Poetry Filmmakers, readings at Vancouver’s People’s Co-op Bookstore that were organized by Fiona Tinwei Lam, Vancouver’s Poet Laureate, 2022-2024 and the Symposium’s keynote speaker, Sarah Tremlett.

On Friday night, November 4, a major windstorm blew through the Lower Mainland with the City of Surrey being one of the hardest hit in the area. Large trees, weakened by months of drought, had been toppled, and on Saturday morning scores of BC Hydro customers were affected. Surrey was at the epicenter of the storm and the Gallery was without power but not powerless. Thanks to the quick action of Jordan Strom, Surrey Art Gallery’s Curator of Exhibitions and Collections, Rhys Edwards, Assistant Curator, and Zoe Yang, Curatorial Assistant, the symposium was efficiently moved to the Surrey Public Library, a stunning building in the City Centre. The schedule had to be retooled into a shorter program, but the room was packed and ready to see all the facets of this videopoetic diamond.

New Art Emerging 2022 - Audience
The symposium audience

To contextualize the place of the smposium it might be useful to have some information about the exhibition. From the gallery’s website:

Poets with a Video Camera presents the largest retrospective of videopoetry in Canada to date. The exhibition features over twenty-five works by some of the world’s leading practitioners. It is organized around five categories of videopoetry: kinetic text, visual text, sound text, performance, cin(e)poetry.

The title is a reference to Dziga Vertov’s 1929 film Man with a Movie Camera that has become iconic in experimental film discussions in advocating for a complete separation between the language of theatre and literature. Similarly, Konyves argues for videopoetry to be thought of as outside of poetry and video art. Instead, Konyves states that it is a form that is in its “early days . . . still in a process of redefining poetry for future generations.” This exhibition shows the humorous next to the serious, the experimental alongside the genre bending, the ironic with the sincere, and the timely together with the timeless expressions of this new form.

Jordan Strom opened the Symposium and introduced Guest Curator, Tom Konyves.

New Art Emerging 2022 - Tom Konyves
Tom Konyves

Tom stated his intention to provoke dialogue and to challenge perspectives. While developing a course in visual poetry for the University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford (2006), he had come to realize that he needed more sources for videopoetry than his own work. After contacting Heather Haley, she sent him 76 examples. From there, he came up with a definition of videopoetry that proposed a triptych of text, image, and sound in a poetic juxtaposition. He was able to further clarify his research findings in Buenos Aires when he met Argentinian artist Fernando García Delgado. Finally, Tom arrived at the idea that the role of the videopoet was that of juggler, visual artist, filmmaker, sound artist, and poet. He concluded that, within that mix, the videopoem as an art object, poetic experience, and metaphor, is created.

New Art Emerging 2022 - Sarah Tremlett
Sarah Tremlett

UK-based videopoet Sarah Tremlett delivered the symposium’s keynote speech in which she spoke about her definitive volume The Poetics of Poetry Film, as well as the importance of sound and subjectivity in an artist’s experimental audiovisual journey. Through her own work, as well as her contributions to the examination of poetry film, film poetry, and videopoetry, Sarah occupies a central place in the videopoetry world. While addressing the symposium, she also introduced her current work: research into a complex family history, spanning several centuries.

Heather Haley and Kurt Heintz spoke of their individual activities and collaborations in what is recognized as their history in the world of videopoetry. Their presentation, titled Entangled Threads: How One Canadian and One American Poet Took on Technology and Charted a Genre, proposed an engaging exchange on the shared commonality of early events linking not only poets in different geographic locations, but also text/voice to technologies. Among these commonalities was the early 1990’s Telepoetics project, a series of events using videophones to connect poets. As noted by Heather Haley on her website: “[…] before Skype or Zoom poets were using videophones to connect, to exchange verse, despite a myriad of limitations and challenges. […]”

New Art Emerging 2022 - Kurt Heintz and Heather Haley
Kurt Heintz and Heather Haley
New Art Emerging 2022 - Adeena Karasick
Adeena Karasick

Poet, performer, essayist, media artist, professor, thinker Adeena Karasick, and artist-programmer, visual poet and essayist Jim Andrews delivered a high-powered and mesmerizing performance of Checking In, a work about our insatiable appetite for information. Jim’s coding meshed seamlessly with Adeena’s texts and her high-level acrobatics of spoken word and movement. Through the fusing of voice, text, and image, Jim’s video, and Adeena’s recitations/movements, the two delivered a performance that never missed a beat!

Founder and Director of the VideoBardo Festival, Javier Robledo (in absentia), planted himself onto a sofa and placed a bird cage on his head to present a playful performance/poetry mix. Reminiscent of early 20th-century Dada performances, he closed the performance when he blew a whistle that mimicked a caged bird. In his video presentation, and speaking about his work P-O-E-S-I-A, Javier spoke about the importance of the performative gesture and its repercussions in articulating meanings.

New Art Emerging 2022 - Javier Robledo
Javier Robledo
New Art Emerging 2022 - Matt Mullins
Matt Mullins

As Matt Mullins was also in absentia from the symposium, Tom provided an introduction to his work in the exhibition, as well as Matt’s own pre-recorded intervention about his creative process and the decisions made in the making of the three videos: Our Bodies (A Sinner’s Prayer), 2012; Semi Automatic Pantoum, a collaboration between Mullins and the Poetic Justice League of Chicago, 2019; and america, (i wanted to make you something beautiful but i failed), 2022.

When we spoke with Annie Frazier Henry a few days following the Symposium, she felt energized by taking part in the event. She is a writer with roots in theatre, music and film. In her presentation, she mentioned the influence that E. Pauline Johnson had on her growth. She generously expressed that the warm and safe space created by the meeting was about all of us. Grounded in her perspective, Annie talked about encouragement and relevancy. The words from her 1995 poem Visions resonate forward to the contemporary platform of videopoetry:

I don’t want to see stars in my eyes
I want to see stars in the sky,
Where they belong

When you enter a room
There’s invisible war paint on your face
And it looks good

New Art Emerging 2022 - Annie Frazier Henry
Annie Frazier Henry

Fiona Tinwei Lam, the Vancouver Poet Laureate (2022-2024), presented The Plasticity of Poetry, a series of videopoems based on the dilemma of plastic pollution and its dizzying accumulation. Many of Fiona’s works are collaborative endeavours with animators. She also screened the work Neighborhood by Pamela Falkenberg and Jack Cochran which they state “is a look at modern life in the suburbs as the world courts climate disaster.” Neighborhood juxtaposes a poem by Fiona over live-action and animated scenes of suburbia. At the root of all of these works resides a deep desire to make a difference in the world.

New Art Emerging 2022 - Fiona Tinwei Lam
Fiona Tinwei Lam

As for us, we presented Rust Never Sleeps: Nuances in Collaborative Creation, a talk on collaborations and the diverse ways that we have collaborated while continuing to each work on our own individual projects. Collaboration begins with a discussion, and that exchange frames the outcome of any project. It is a shared authorship and to work in such a way, one must be ready to let go of preconceived ideas and to be ready for whatever might arise.

New Art Emerging 2022 - Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel Dugas
Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel H. Dugas

Conclusions

To accommodate the time frame for the venue afforded by the library, the Q&A was pushed to the end of the day. One member of the audience, Surrey-based poet Brian Mohr, has a story worth mentioning. When he showed up at the gallery to see the exhibition on Saturday morning after the storm, he was redirected to the library. He knew about the exhibition but not about the symposium. Brian, who is in the process of making his first videopoem, went with the flow and ended up participating in the event. He had a question for the panel about using video games as source locations for videopoetry. Several presenters addressed his question and according to discussions we had with him later, the symposium gathering was of utmost importance to his development as a videopoet.

Just as Jordan Strom finished his closing remarks, a loudspeaker announcement resonated through the building: “The library will be closing in five minutes!” Videopoetry is all about timing, and so was the conclusion of the symposium.

A symposium is designed to bring together, a group of people with common interests. When they come away from the meeting, they should have learned something new, made new connections, and should have possibly established the grounds for future collaborations. The Surrey Symposium made visible a complex web of relations and affinities between videopoets. It revealed the contour of a community of artists/poets, and affirmed that we are not isolated, that we are not living in a vacuum; that we have a place in the world. This sentiment was echoed in a comment that Kurt Heintz wrote on an email thread after the Symposium:

While I have long been aware that I’m not the only person doing what I do, I’ve often felt quite solitary. And so, one of the biggest takeaways for me is simply having experienced a critical mass of minds, if only for a weekend. Certainly, we’re all very different people with different perspectives on the art we make and/or study. Our critical languages often differ. And we’re far-flung; the exhibit plainly speaks to the international origins for poetry in cinematic form. And yet, that very mix is what actually pointed to a body politic.

This symposium answered some questions surrounding the creation of videopoetry. It also made it clear that videopoetry operates on many different levels of consciousness. The event accomplished its mission, and if there might be an idea to improve upon the gatherings, it might be to increase the meeting to a full day, which would allow more time for Q&A as well as informal discussions. A dream would be to have a bi-annual videopoetry symposium.

From the art gallery to the library, this symposium managed to bridge two of the fundamental sites of videopoetry: visuals and words. The voices that we heard on that afternoon were the third element — a perfect poetic juxtaposition.

New Art Emerging 2022 - Speakers
Seated left to right: Adeena Karasick, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Jim Andrews, Annie Frazier Henry, Jordan Strom
Second row: Kurt Heintz, Sarah Tremlett, Heather Haley, Valerie LeBlanc, Daniel H. Dugas, Tom Konyves

Photos: Pardeep Singh

3 Comments

  1. Reply
    Heather Haley 19 November, 2022

    Thank you Valerie, it was an honour to have participated, to meet you and Daniel. So inspiring!

  2. Reply
    Adam E. Stone 20 November, 2022

    Great article! Thank you for sharing this!

  3. Reply

    […] and Daniel have given a great account of the day and the work, with accompanying gallery photos see here: New Art Emerging: Notes from a Symposium on […]

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