From being a research art project set up to explore “the semiotics and meaning-making approaches of the PoetryFilm artform” established by British artist, writer and filmmaker Zata Kitowski in 2002, PoetryFilm and has since gone on to host over 60 events and exhibitions around the world.
Supported by Arts Council England, the project encompasses a huge and varied range of artwork. The criteria for what constitutes a “poetry film” is broad: art and avant-garde films, text films, sound and silent films, poet-filmmaker collaborations, films based on or inspired by poems and vice versa, and even certain types of performance material may be considered for inclusion in a PoetryFilm event. Speaking about the project, founder Kitowski emphasised that “there is no one single approach to the artform,” nor any simple formula for deciding which pieces are suitable for inclusion.
“I’m particularly interested in work that explores what is possible within the genre and pushes at the limits of the artform,” she said. “Often, events will be tailored around a specific theme, so that is also a factor in the selection process.”
As an example, her next planned event will be the PoetryFilm Solstice, due to take place at London’s ICA this weekend. In acknowledgement of the time of year, a number of the films set to feature at the event take the moon as a key subject. Nevertheless, work has not been selected exclusively on this basis: a range of films examining other, disparate themes will also be displayed.
Setting down boundaries for the “PoetryFilm artform” is far from easy: in a way, the fluid and indefinite nature of the form are essential to its appeal. Kitowski’s goal for the project is for it to serve as “a celebration and exploration of creativity,” bringing together different means of artistic expression to challenge our perceptions and increase our understanding.
“The idea evolved out of my personal practice as a writer and artist,” she explained. “I’ve always been interested in both [poetry and film], but other artists come to the form in different ways. Some start with a poem which they then turn into a film. Some start with an idea for a film and bring poetry into that. Others have a strong idea for a cohesive poetry film from the beginning – it really just depends on the individual.”
If the artform and its practitioners are so diverse, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the audience for the work reflects this heterogeneity.
“We have a really diverse audience,” said Kitowksi. “People come from poetic and literary spheres, as well as from film and artistic circles. I think this diversity is partly influenced by where we hold events – so we might exhibit work at a cinema or film festival, in an art gallery, or at a literary festival. The response from audiences has been very positive both in the UK and abroad.”
Many of the events PoetryFilm has hosted have taken place internationally, with Kitowski having attended the renowned Cannes Film Festival and the O Miami Poetry Festival. Next year, she’ll be appearing at the CCCB Barcelona, shortly after completing a five-week residency in Iceland.
“I’ll be working on the north coast of Iceland, which is home to lots of sulphuric volcanoes, boiling mud and the most powerful waterfall in Europe. You can also see the northern lights there,” she said “I’ll be spending the time writing poems and developing my art in response to the surroundings. I’m especially interested in exploring the themes of science and nature, and their relationship with art.”
Closer to home, Kitowski’s recent commissions having included the PoetryFilm Blackboard, an interactive installation featured in the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love this summer which she describes as a “participatory, co-creative text/art project”. The finished work was a montage that compiled the things that people had written on the blackboard. Next year, soon after returning from her residency, Kitowski will also be presenting an academic talk at an AHRC-funded conference at Leeds University on the cataloguing of the PoetryFilm Archive, which is being funded by the Arts Council.
Since its inception in 2002, the PoetryFilm project has steadily expanded, building up a large archive. As such, cataloguing the collection will be no easy task, but Kitowski is pleased with how things are going, looking forward to the “new opportunities” that will be opened up by the archiving process.
“PoetryFilm has been going for twelve years now and it’s been really interesting to see how the projects it encompasses have developed during that time,” she said. “It’s great to see more people engaging with the artform, and it’s definitely something that’s continuing to grow and develop.”
Those looking to find out more about PoetryFilm can find additional details on the website, which also includes an online form for those looking to submit work for consideration.
Many thanks to Heather Kincaid at ATY. First published in December 2014.