Consensus trance by Janet Lees

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A new video from artist and poet Janet Lees, who calls it

A film poem for the end times
Words & imaging by Janet Lees, with thanks to Richard Heinberg for the title. Image taken on the last Thursday in April 2020.
Music, ‘On a Thursday in April’ by Crysalide Shoegaze

Becoming the Other Becoming by Laura Mullen

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Perhaps I’m a bit too logocentric, but seeing the word “social” torn in half hit me like a punch to the gut.

There’s a “with poem” version of this (above) and a “without poem” version, the difference being the presence or absence of a voiceover. Laura Mullen is one of the more widely published American poets to also make videopoems. Shockingly, this is only the third video of hers I’ve shared here. Do browse her work on Vimeo.

as the breath is… by Endre Farkas

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A “Videopoem created together in isolation during the COVID-19 Pandemic” by Montreal-based poet Endre Farkas (text, vocals), Martin Reisch (video and editing), Carolyn Marie Souaid (accompanying vocals), and Gregory Fitzgerald (sound engineering). Farkas and Souaid previously collaborated on Blood is Blood, which won the ZEBRA International Poetry Film Festival’s “Best Film for Tolerance” in 2012.

Sometimes the best videopoems arise from a simple idea flawlessly executed, and this is I think an example of that. All of the lockdown’s pent-up frustration and anxieties (about breathing, among other things) find visceral expression as the text is breathed, stretched and seemingly stitched into the very fabric of the biosphere. On the front page of his website, Farkas describes how it came to be made in a short essay which is worth quoting in full:

This poem has been around the block a few times. Sitting in a bar in Trois Rivières in the 1980s, during its annual poetry festival, a few poets, including me, were asked to compose a brief poem on a handmade paper coaster and then read it to the audience.

I had always been interested in line lengths in poems, usually referred to as beats, feet or breath. I always liked the measure of breath. Breath is best. It made sense that the measure of a line of a poem (an oral form) be measured in breaths not feet. I had also been working with dancers to whom breath was a concern. People take breath for granted. It’s an automatic function. The dancers made me conscious of its actuality and necessity. So breath was floating in my brain. And after a few glasses of wine or beer, not sure, I came up with the first draft of the poem.

When it came to reading it, I decided to “breathe” the poem. This is how and when the poem “as the breath is…” first had life breathed into it.

I had performed it a couple of times over the years before I met Carolyn Marie Souaid, another poet. I don’t remember why or when exactly she agreed to do it with me, but I remember how much richer the poem became. The texture, the meshing, the lyrical, the cacophony, was enriched because of her participation.

Recently, BV (Before Virus), Carolyn & I went into Studio Sophronik to record some poems. “as the breath…” was one of them. The sound engineer, Greg Fitzgerald, who was used to recording music, didn’t know what to make of the poem. But he liked it. He asked if I would allow him to play with it. I have always liked collaborations, so I said, “of course.” A few days later he sent me an mp3 of it. I was blown away. The reverb, echo took it to another level. I listened to it a couple of times and filed it away, feeling that I would like to be able to perform this live.

Then came the plague. I knew that performing it live was not going to be possible. The option was online. For that I needed visuals. I had a bunch of photoshopped images that seemed to fit the bill. However, it would require the animation of stills. My go-to videographer, Martin Reisch, thought it might be too complicated to do in these isolation conditions. He suggested that he go through his archives and find appropriate clips to collage together and synch it to the audio. Again, the collaborative sensibility kicked in and I agreed.

​So, to make a short poem long, the videopoem, “as the breath is…”, (a day in the life and death of breath) is a collaboration in isolation brought to fruition by the plague. “as the breath is…” is an artifact of this time.

Pregnant with the Dead by Susan Rich

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Director Tova Beck-Friedman calls this “A cine-poem about the space between suffering and life lived. It’s also about survival and the unforgotten pain.” Dancer Juliet Neidish’s interpretation of the poem, choreographed by Beck-Friedman, is juxtaposed with archival footage for maximum emotional effect.

Susan Rich is the poet, and I was stunned to read an open letter on her blog detailing how the film was commissioned by the Visible Poetry Project and then censored at the very last moment, apparently for being insufficiently pious about the Holocaust! An astonishing and outrageous decision. All the more reason to share it here, then, of course (though I’d intended to anyway, before I’d read Rich’s post). I’ve been happy to see it getting well-deserved attention on social media, as well. As Rich notes in her open letter,

If there were ever a time to support each other, that time is now. The best art pushes and challenges us to the point of discomfort.

Chant for a Pandemic by Finn Harvor, Dee Hood, et. al.

A project of the online group AGITATE:21C, where Florida-based experimental video artist Dee Hood pulled together video contributions from around the world, including a text by Finn Harvor, an American artist, writer, musician and filmmaker based in South Korea. The other contributors were Maria Korporal, Sandra Bougerch, Tushar Waghela, Muriel Paraboni, Lisi Prada, Eija Temiseva, Ian Gibbins, Jutta Pryor, Sarah Bliss, Darko Duilo, Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Erick Tapia, Lori Ersolmaz, AvantKinema, Sarahjane Swan, Roger Simian, Lino Mocerino, Francesca Giuliani, Luis Carlos Rodriguez, and Willow Morgan. In the Vimeo description, Dee notes:

This is a collaboration between video artists around the globe. We wanted to share our common experience with this pandemic. There are no boundaries for anxiety, fear, grief and frustration. We are all in this long wait together. Today the world is on hold but we will be back. Thanks to all the artists for giving us a glimpse of where they live.

Vuelvo a la noche / Back in the Night by Mía Gallegos

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This is the final film in Spanish director Eduardo Yagüe‘s Trilogía de Soledad (Trilogy of Solitude), which began with an adaptation of a piece by a Spanish poet, Pedro Luis Menéndez: La vida menguante (Waning Life), and continued with A media voz (Under My Breath), which responded to a text by Peruvian poet Blanca Varela. “Vuelvo a la noche” is by the contemporary Costa Rican poet Mía Gallegos.

Solitude has certainly taken on a different, potentially life-saving connotation in this time of pandemic, and my Spanish friends have been in my mind a lot lately. Eduardo has said that this trilogy was “sobre la soledad y el vacío existencial, creativo y amoroso” (about solitude and existential, creative, and romantic emptiness). All three poems were translated into English by the London-based translator and poet Jean Morris.

Isolation Procedures by Ian Gibbins

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Australian videopoet Ian Gibbins has always been good at breaking down ordinary language into its elemental phonemes and graphemes. Here, it works especially well to point up the grotesque inadequacy of official communication during a time of crisis. Here’s the description on Vimeo:

“WE ARE CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE… MAINTAIN YOUR SOCIAL ISOLATION…”

After the pandemic has passed, the lockdowns persist: this is the new normal…

Recorded during the 2020 coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic mostly on location at Sleep’s Hill, Blackwood and Belair, South Australia, under partial lockdown conditions. The audio samples are made from birds, frogs and voices in the immediate neighbourhood. The text samples advice from various government, business and community organisations.