~ collage ~

Make America Great Again (Slogan) by David Hahn

A video collage by multi-media artist, Donna Kuhn, set to composer David Hahn‘s piece, “Make America Great Again”, addressing the contemporary political and cultural landscape of the USA, while alluding to historical ideologies of identity that have led to its present condition.

In a rhythm reminiscent of beat poetry, Hahn voices his own text in a rapid stream of hackneyed national slogans, turned upside-down and inside-out to powerfully convey the deranged zeitgeist experienced by so many US residents, and by masses around the world. His feverish mantras climax in the distilled and obsessive chant, “America, America, again, again, again, America, again, again”.

The video is made up of a kinetic array of visual elements including animated text, digitally-drawn art, abstracted numerical sequences, cartoon images, and superimposition of iconic movie clips with footage from World War II.

Hahn has been composing for 30 years, beginning as a performer on lute, guitar, and mandolin with groups such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony and Opera Orchestras, Boston Musica Viva, the Seattle Symphony, Musica Nel Chiostro in Florence, and the City of London Festival. He served on the faculty at the New England Conservatory, where he co-founded the Boston Renaissance Ensemble, which toured extensively in the US and Europe.

Donna Kuhn’s experimental videos have exhibited internationally since 2004 at film festivals, museums, art galleries and online on literary and poetry sites.

The title of the piece is given on its Vimeo page as “Make America Great Again”, with the titles on the video itself suggesting the alternative name, “Slogan”.

Some thoughts on collage videopoetry

Over at Via Negativa, I shared a new videopoem I made on a whim last night. This morning I added some process notes, which led to a few further reflections of possible interest to writers and poetry teachers looking for an easy way to get into videopoeming. First, the video:

Watch on Vimeo.

I made this videopoem entirely out of found text and footage from American television commercials of the late 1940s and early 50s. I’ve been intrigued by the possibilities of collage in videopoetry ever since I saw what Matt Mullins did with a sermon by Oral Roberts in Our Bodies (A Sinner’s Prayer). This doesn’t rise quite to that level, either technically or conceptually, but it was a fun experiment. Thanks to the Prelinger Archives for the material, all in the public domain.

Process notes: I’ve been downloading compilations of old television commercials for possible use in videos for poems from the new chapbook. While making poetry videos for pre-existing texts is fun, it’s easy to get sidetracked by a wealth of good material, and yesterday I decided to give in to the temptation. I went through one of the compilations, writing down all the good lines in a text document, in order as they appeared so I could re-find them easily. Then I wrote a rough draft with some of the most interesting lines, loaded the source material into Windows Movie Maker and began to cut and paste the snippets containing the lines I’d liked into the order I’d put them in the written draft. Once I had fully assembled the first rough draft of a videopoem, however, I found the words went by rather too quickly. I had the idea of using wordless or nearly wordless segments from a single ad both to give space to the lines of found poetry and to act as a sort of refrain.

At this stage, the working title was “Industry at Work” (taken from a clip that I subsequently removed). However, after a couple of hours of trimming and moving things around, it became clear that the refrain segments just weren’t gelling, and the video overall seemed too scattered and miscellaneous. I began looking at another compilation, and the very first ad in it — a commercial for Budweiser — had lots of wordless footage that I liked. It was only after pasting some of those segments into the draft project that I got the idea of using the first half of Budweiser’s then-slogan, “Where there’s life, there’s Bud,” as title and refrain.

I go into all this (hopefully not too boring) detail simply to show that the process of composition doesn’t differ all that wildly from the way regular poems are made. If I were teaching poetry, this is the sort of thing I’d make beginning students do. Of all the possible approaches to videopoetry, found-poem collage with public-domain (or otherwise free-to-use) footage has the lowest barrier to entry. All you really need is a computer with a DSL or faster connection and whatever video editing software the operating system came with. Moreover, this way of making videopoems comes much closer than the typical poetry video to Tom Konyves’ conception of videopoety as

the Duchampian “assisted readymade”. Consider the recorded image as the readymade; the function of the videopoet is to discover whether there exists something significant, yet still incomplete, a collaborative property beneath the surface of the present moment.