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PoetryFilm: Semiotics and Multimodality

I was recently invited to write an article for poetryfilmkanal’s online and print magazine in Germany. The article is live here and it is also pasted below. Many thanks to the team for the invitation.

PoetryFilm: Semiotics and Multimodality

Poetry films offer creative opportunities for exploring new semiotic modes and for communicating messages and meanings in innovative ways. Poetry films open up new methods of engagement, new audiences, and new means of self-expression, and also provide rich potential for the creation, perception and experience of emotion and meaning.

How do we create meanings? How do we perceive meanings? How do we experience these meanings? In any act of communication there’s a source, a sender, a message, a channel, and a receiver. The poetry film artform provides a means of exploring complex inter-semiotic relationships.

We are surrounded by communicative signs in literature, art, culture and in the world at large. Whilst words represent one system of communicating, there are many other ways of making meanings, for instance, colour semiotics, typographic design, and haptic, olfactive, gustatory and durational experiences – indeed, a comprehensive list could be infinite. The uses of spoken and written words to communicate represent just two approaches among many. Through using meaning-making systems other than words, by communicating without words, or by not using words alone, we can bypass these direct signifiers and tap directly into pools of meaning, or the signifieds, associated with those words. Different combinations of systems, or modes, can reinforce each other, render meanings more complex and subtle, or contrast with each other to illuminate different perspectives. Powerful juxtapositions, associations and new meanings can therefore emerge.

Visual design elements such as shapes and lines can be as effective as letters and words, and design principles are rooted firmly in the psychology of perception, so, there are good reasons why certain elements are more powerful than others. Shapes and forms are essential to visual vocabulary and visual grammar, and knowledge of design rationale and design thinking can help to create stronger visual artworks. It is important to note that absence is as valuable as presence in a semiotic context, for instance, silence is the absence of sound, the aural equivalent of the white space employed by gallery architects and by graphic designers, which can be very effective when used as a strategic element.

In this context, why does there seem to have been such a sudden rise in the popularity of poetry and film hybrids in recent years? Why are more people, Generation Z and beyond, turning to poetry and film to find means of expression in today’s media-saturated society? In the book The Sixth Language, the media ecologist and evolution specialist Robert K. Logan argues that speech, writing, maths, science, computing and internet use form an evolutionary chain of languages,and that new languages arise when information overload occurs, and the previous language can’t cope. New processing systems and new languages become necessary. We could take this idea further by suggesting that perhaps new artforms become necessary.

The term »media ecology« refers to the study of how communication channels affect human perception and understanding. Media ecologists argue that social and political change is actually caused by the current state of communication technology. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, developed by Benjamin Whorf, suggests that not only do language and grammar influence the way we form thoughts, but that language and grammar actually determine our thoughts, and determine our cognitive and perceptual abilities. The idea that the structure of language determines what people are even capable of conceiving is illustrated by George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which Newspeak is the fictional language designed to limit freedom of thought. This raises bigger questions … as a result of technological and social changes, is the way we think, and what we arecapable of thinking, changing too?

Crucially, variations occur in the reception of communicated transmissions because all signs need to be interpreted. The receiver of any meaningful transmission, or, any audience of a poetry film artwork, has to decode the full richness of the meaning and its associations through complex cognitive processes. The meanings we send and receive are not fixed. The receiver is fully involved in the decoding, and the decoding is dependent on perception.

Communication has always been multi-modal; however, today we seem to be moving towards an unprecedented consolidation of modes, and technology enables us to navigate these modes more easily. The understanding of semiotics and multimodality provides rich and valuable means for focussing and articulating critical readings of poetry film artworks.

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Zata Banks and Roxana Vilk at The Scottish Poetry Library, 3 December 2015

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Enjoy a curated selection of short film artworks, chosen for their alignment with poetic structures and experiences, and with the visual, verbal and aural languages of poetry in various forms introduced by Zata Banks, Director of PoetryFilm, plus a new short film by Roxana Vilk. Award-winning British-Iranian filmmaker Vilk has over the past few years made films about poets from both Britain and the Middle East, not least her acclaimed Poets of Protest series made for Al-Jazeera in 2012. PoetryFilm is the influential research art project founded by Zata Banks in 2002, to explore and exhibit experimental text / image / sound material.

3 December 2015 at 6:30pm
Scottish Poetry Library
5 Crichton’s Close EH8 8DT Edinburgh
£5 / £4
Book via Eventbrite
Call the Scottish Poetry Library on 0131-557-2876

Ruth Sackner R.I.P.

I was very sad to hear that Ruth Sackner passed away last week. When in Miami last year, I was delighted to receive an invitation to visit Ruth and Marvin Sackner to see their extraordinary Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry. It was a phenomenal experience. I remember Ruth was wearing alphabet earrings and an alphabet jacket, and she was especially delighted to show off her walk-in wardrobe containing an enormous collection of fabulous letter-clothes. An article from The Miami Herald is pasted below*. Ruth Sackner R.I.P.

*Ruth Sackner didn’t only collect art. She lived it.

Every inch of the Miami condo she shared with her husband, Marvin, was covered with pieces from their art collection, which was all about words.

“I love living in a museum,” she said a few years ago in a short video about the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry. “In fact when we drive up in our driveway we always say, ‘Home, sweet museum.’”

The collection wasn’t confined to their condo. In 2013, hundreds of pieces from the Sackner collection were put on display at the just-opened Pérez Art Museum Miami in an exhibition called A Human Document: Selections from the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry.

Ruth Sackner, along with her husband, amassed more than 75,000 pieces of word art, making it the largest collection in the world. She died in her sleep Saturday at 79.

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PoetryFilm in Cork (documentation)

Photographed in Cork in October 2015. Many thanks to the Festival team for the invitation.

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National Poetry Day 2015: PoetryFilm lecture

Happy National Poetry Day 2015!

To mark the occasion of National Poetry Day today (8 October 2015), I will be presenting a PoetryFilm lecture and screening at Millfield in Somerset.

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PoetryFilm at the O Bheal Indie Cork Festival (Ireland), 10-11 October 2015

I will be presenting a curated PoetryFilm screening from The PoetryFilm Archive at the O Bheal Indie Cork International Film Festival on Sunday 11 October at 4pm in the Smurfit Theatre, Firkin Crane, Cork (Ireland).

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PoetryFilm at “Art Language Location” art festival, Cambridge, 17 October 2015

I will be presenting a PoetryFilm screening at the Art Language Location art festival in Cambridge on Saturday 17 October at 1pm in the cinema.

*Art Language Location (ALL) is an art festival taking place from 15 October – 1 November 2015 in locations throughout Cambridge, featuring innovative and experimental contemporary artists from across the UK and beyond who use text in their work.

ALL

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