Thursday, December 19, 2013

To Find Stars in Another Language: poetry and the video art of ice.

At this time of year, when we have reached Winter Solstice, the great turning and return of the light, a time of year when, in the midst of the darkest days in the Northern Hemisphere, there are so many celebrations of light, it seems fitting to share with you two creative collaborations about the interplay of light and ice, the interplay between word and image.

Collaboration with the natural world, collaboration with other artists: to me, this is key to growing creativity. Poet Elizabeth Bradfield and video artist Demet Taşpınar teamed up to create three powerful word and moving image creations: To Find Stars in Another Language, Travel of the Light 
and Deliquescence

So, take a look: watch Demet's film and listen to Liz's poems in the two videos below. And read my interview with Liz, who was beyond generous in describing their collaborative creative process. Then learn more about both artists through the links in their bios at the end of this post.

Happy Winter Solstice.

Marybeth:  What sparked the idea for a collaboration between you and Demet?

Liz:  We were working together on a ship in the Antarctic -- maybe it was the first day, in Chile, when we were checking guests in to the ship and I noticed she had amazing purple streaks in her dark hair which seemed unusual for a ship's doctor, which was her position, and we struck up a conversation and she mentioned she was an artist and I was curious. We talked loosely about the weirdness of being an artist and science-minded, about being inspired by the high latitudes, about why we loved working on boats.... and we talked about possibly doing something together. But I'm a very reluctant collaborator. My work is very deeply personal, and it's hard for me to open it to another voice or vision. Once I saw Demet's films, though, I knew it would be more than ok---it would be inspiring and exciting.

Marybeth:  I'm guessing that your work on Broadsided helped you imagine the possibility of a collaboration, right?

Liz:  Yes, I think so. I envy the collaborations that I publish on Broadsided, in a way. To see your words refracted by art. To use art as a springboard for inspiration-- much of that is the goal of Broadsided. In fact, Broadsided was in part inspired by seeing art-making in process. I was deeply moved by a residency I had at the Vermont Studio Center, where writers were in the minority. I spent a lot of time haunting the studios of visual artists, and loved being around their energy and art. I think, in part, I started Broadsided to make sure that I kept in touch with visual artists--both the artists themselves and the palpable vitality of their making.

Marybeth:  Once you two decided to work together, how did you do it?

Liz:  I've tried collaborations in the past, but they haven't quite worked. There was something about the moving image... the dream-state of video and of Demet's subject-less, lyric films in particular that felt like a door into another poetic world that I really really wanted to step through.

On the ship, Demet gave me some files to look at. We watched the films together, talked a bit about what both of our visions were. It was very loose--text over the image? alongside it? something else? That was January. It took me a long time until I was ready to look at the videos and engage with them. Summer. July or August. Then I played them again and again, staring at them, trying to invoke (it wasn't hard) a trance-like state. I loved falling into that state. I wrote the poems to the motion and time of the videos. Keeping the final collaboration to voice and image ended up seeming right. Both the video and the poem, I hope, stand on their own. And then they become a different thing altogether upon their conversation.

I sent Demet sound files of my reading the poems. We wrestled a bit with technology -- Demet has some better software than I do, and we both have strong opinions about design. After a few email exchanges and Skype calls, which helped us a lot over our language barrier -- Demet is fluent in English, but we communicate better by speech than by email -- we found our place.

Marybeth:  What came first, the poem or the video?

Liz:  The video. I wrote the poems to Demet's videos. What a rush and release! I had never before set out to write a three minute poem, a nine minute poem.... I had never considered silence and motion as much as in writing to Demet's amazing and evocative videos. I watched and watched her videos, trying to find a voice and story that would pace with them, speak with them.

Marybeth:  What have you found are the benefits of collaborating like this? How has it affected your own work, how and what you create, and how you get it out into the world?

Liz:  It was so exciting to write to Demet's work. It was a thrill to approach a poem not from my own experience but through the vision of someone else. I don't know that it's affected my own writing in other regards. Perhaps only time will tell. I can't write the kinds of poems I wrote for Demet's videos without their invocation. I love the deeply inward, dreamy, reflective and associative state they put me in. I hope I can do more video-poem collaborations and, in fact, I'm working with another video artist whose work I love. We'll see what happens there.

Getting it out into the world -- I'm finding there's a whole community of video-poets I didn't know of. I haven't quite entered into a conversation with them, but I'm lurking on the edge. There's a festival in Berlin, the Zebra festival, that is all video-poems. I'd love to see what they're doing and, at the same time, I'm intimidated. This feels so raw and personal and vulnerable... I'm not sure I'm ready to be in a room full of other people doing similar work. I think I'd be too swayed by their opinions and ideas and right now this feels very personal and private to me as a creative process.

Marybeth:  What's next for you two? And what other great collaborative ideas do you have simmering on the back burner?

Liz:  I'd love to do more with Demet, but we've both got a chaos of boat work, art/writing work, and personal lives to negotiate. I am hoping that the next time I work on boats for this particular expedition travel company, Demet is the ship's doctor again and serendipity can strike twice.

Elizabeth Bradfield is the author of two poetry collections: Approaching Ice and Interpretive Work. Her poems have appeared in The Atlantic, Orion, The Believer, Poetry, and she has been awarded the Audre Lorde Prize and a Stegner Fellowship, among other honors. Founder and editor-in-chief of Broadsided Press, she lives on Cape Cod and works as a naturalist and teacher. She is the current Poet-in-Residence at Brandeis University.

Demet Taşpınar is a video artist and painter from Turkey, currently studying for her MA in Fine Art at New York University. She has shown work at Art Bosphorus and Canakkale Art Biennale in Turkey, Auto Center in Berlin, and Kingsgate Gallery and the Tate Modern in London. She works as a ship’s medical doctor on expedition ships in Antarctica, the Arctic, and elsewhere, looking and filming and responding as she travels.