The Poetry of New Media

By Marsha Pearce Friday, September 28th, 2012 Categories: Features, TTFF, Updates
 

New Media 2012 is the second incarnation of an exhibition of experimental videos organised and co-curated by ARC Magazine and the trinidad+tobago film festival. The event, which opened on September 22nd, runs through September 29th at Medulla Art Gallery, Woodbrook, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. This year’s collection showcases 49 artists and 58 works of art. It is a display of a range of Caribbean-related themes and ideas including carnival, celebrity and power, masculinity and sexuality, racial tensions and nationalism.

New Media Poster with Kima Momo 58. Image by Nadia Huggins

An event like this stirs a number of questions. Among them is the mighty impulse to ask: What is new media? Definitions of new media lead, more often than not, to digital technologies and their impact on modes of communication and interaction. How might the term be understood in the context of the arts? A new media creative process challenges the boundaries between film, theatre, sound and photography. Transgressive tactics furnish outcomes that fall outside the convention of the storytelling formats of filmic works of fiction or documentary-style approaches. New media art therefore has its own aesthetic: a look and feel that is antithetical to full grammatical sentences and paragraphs and expansive narrative structures. Abigail Hadeed, one of the artists featured in the New Media 2012 event, points us in the direction of how we might distinguish and think about the nature of new media art. Speaking at an Artist Talk scheduled on September 25, Hadeed, whose piece entitled “Between the Lines” follows the shadows cast on the roads by Moko Jumbie Carnival characters, explained that she wanted to represent a subject matter we already knew but in a different light – in a “more poetic” way (to use her words). It is this gesturing toward poetry that we may use as a framework for making sense of and interpreting new media works of art. As a component of this year’s seventh annual trinidad+tobago film festival, the New Media 2012 event can be seen as screenings of visual poetry amid a festival of optic prose.

Top: Abigail Hadeed and Rodell Warner. Bottom: Abigail Hadeed's Between the Lines

The pieces in New Media 2012 can be described using the terminology of poetry. The rhythm in works by artists like O’Neil Lawrence with his piece “Self Portrait” and Olivia McGilchrist’s “The Memory Jacket” illustrate a deployment of stressed and unstressed syllables so that metrical feet are discernible to the eye. McGilchrist, for example, establishes her own timing and beat through her exploration of the physicality of memory as images come and go, appearing and disappearing on a jacket worn by the artist in a flow that is irregular. In another piece by McGilchrist called “Elation: Bodies,” it is clear that she is testing a form that defies the pulse of typical film and video works. With each frame of dancing bodies she attempts to figure out her own metre, that is, the number and length of feet – the interplay between the accentuations and de-accentuations of syllabic moments – in each visual line she presents. At the Artist talk, she acknowledged one of the lines of questioning at the heart of her creative engagement: “I am trying to work out how to show the art of moving or dancing bodies without it becoming a music video,” McGilchrist said.

From Olivia McGilchrist's 'The Memory Jacket'

In one way or another, a visual cadence that is inflected by poetry manifests in the various new media works exhibited. If we pay attention, we can catch sight of such rhythmic forms as iambs (one short or unstressed visual syllable followed by one long or stressed visual syllable), trochees (one long or stressed visually pronounced unit followed by one short or unstressed visual), anapaests (two short or unstressed syllables followed by one long or stressed syllable), dactyls (one long or stressed syllable followed by two short or unstressed syllables) and spondees (two long or stressed syllables).

Other elements of poetry can also be pinpointed. In Alberta Whittle’s “Ecstatic Grace – Poised” the mythical reality she creates is punctuated with blocks of colour. Each moment the screen fills with colour is a caesura, a rest or break between segments of moving images. Yet each pause is a location of potentiality, a space that remains pregnant with mysticism and ritual and the possibility of meaning that each hue contains.

Alberta Whittle’s “Ecstatic Grace – Poised". Image by Marsha Pearce

The shape and weight of visual stanzas are evident in Sophie Meyer’s “The Gaze.” Meyer also shared her perspective on creating a new media piece at the Artist Talk. She disclosed that “The Gaze” emerged out of her work on a documentary piece about stick fighting tradition entitled “Mystic Fighters” (Mystic Fighters is being screened as part of the larger trinidad+tobago film festival this year). While shooting, Meyer got the idea of asking the stick fighters to look into the camera and let whatever came to their minds be expressed on their faces. In other words, while shooting a work of prose, a work of poetry was also conceptualised. “The Gaze” considers how a filmmaker and camera see people and how the subject of such a gaze might look back. Each face that appears on screen for a period of time is tantamount to a poignant verse. Each editorial cut marks a movement from one verse to another.

From Sophie Meyer's 'The Gaze'. Image by Marsha Pearce

At the Artist Talk, Nile Saulter also expressed a capacity to recognise the possibilities of a poetic route while working on a prose piece. Saulter shared that it was on his trip to Senegal to shoot footage for the Puma-sponsored Onepeople documentary project – a project, which commemorates Jamaica’s fiftieth anniversary – that he saw and responded to a different creative urge. Saulter captured viewpoints of Dakar, Senegal’s capital, as seen primarily through the window of a vehicle driven by a local man who appointed himself Saulter’s driver. Saulter uses these scenes to imagine and weave together a visual poem about a father’s search called “Here I Am (Dakar).”

Sophie Meyer, Natalie Wei and Nile Saulter and Olivia McGilchrist at Artist Talk. Image by Nadia Huggins

New Media 2012 exposes Caribbean audiences to a visual approach where artists are testing the elasticity of media in our global, contemporary context in order to revisit ways of being and reimagine realities – artists who are working out a “poetics,” that is to say, a “how of representation” (to use Stuart Hall’s words) or a how of the interconnectivities of the languages of theatre, installation, sound, photography, film and video in order to inscribe Caribbean experiences and issues in visually alternative ways that can lend breadth and depth to understandings of who we were, are and could be. The event demonstrates artists doing the vital work of engaging with and envisioning the Caribbean region and its Diasporas in terms we might call poetic. And, it is not easy work, for as essayist, novelist and poet Ishmael Reed elucidates, creating poetry “is the hard manual labour of the imagination.”

References:

Hall, Stuart. Introduction. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. Ed. Stuart Hall. London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi: Sage, 1997. p. 6.

Marsha Pearce
Marsha Pearce

Marsha Pearce is ARC’s Senior Arts Writer and Editor. She holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine Campus, Trinidad. She lectures in the Department of Creative and Festival Arts at UWI and is also a freelance arts writer for the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspaper. Pearce is the 2006 Rhodes Trust Rex Nettleford Cultural Studies Fellow.