|The Poetic Inspiration of my Video Works|
The poetic inspiration to my video works
Presenting my video art installation Echo of the Sea in the Burning Forest as part of the SHIFT exhibition in Annecy, France, October 2003, I was several times asked about my use of poems and texts, especially by the surrealists and the American Beat Generation poets/writers Allan Ginsburg and William S. Burroughs as inspiration for my video art work both tapes and installations.
In most cases it is not as much as straight illustrations of the texts or sentences, but they start for me associations which in some way or the other unfold in the video and becomes, you might say, surreal interpretations adds so to speak one more surreal layer to the already rather surreal video works.
This is perhaps only obvious for me and not for those viewing my videotapes and installations. I cant and will not do anything about this. It is, I find, not my problem.
You may find this a bit arrogant but read what I said in my essay Video Art and Art Criticism thoughts after a Panel Discussion. You can find it as Essay No. 2 at www.videoart.suite.dk/torben/essay2.htm , but since it is only in Danish I will quote part of it in English.
The panel discussion was between two video artists and some art critics at the First Scandinavian Seminar on Video Art at Hannaholmen, Finland, January 1983. To the fact that the art critics did not understand or did not try to understand video art, I had told them with a quotation by Hans Richter that "Whether or not they understood the content or the meaning ... that's a different story. As a matter of fact, what the artist does and what the public takes from what he does is always a different story"
Mark Rotko talks about that it is "a risky business" to send your art work out in the world: "How often it must be impaired by the eyes of the unfeeling and the cruelty of the impotent who would extend their affliction universally", (1)
Later on I remembered some words by van Gogh: "Society makes our existence wretchedly difficult at times, hence our impotence and the imperfection of our work"!
Well in the following I will try to go through some of my video works to somehow illustrate the influence from parts of poems and texts first works influenced by the surrealists, then by Ginsburg and Burroughs and then by the Danish poet Helge Krarup and good old Hans Christian Andersen.
Inspiration: Poems and texts by the surrealists
The video Man Cut by Window is based on a dream described by André Breton in Le Manifest du Surrealism,1924 (The First Manifesto): One night, before falling asleep, I became aware of a most bizarre sentence a sentence, I might say, which knocked at the window. . Unfortunately I still cannot remember the exact words to this day, but it was something like: A man is cut in half by the window; but it can only suffer from ambiguity, accompanied as it was by the feeble visual representation of a walking man cut in half by a window perpendicular to the axis of his body. It was probably a simple matter of a man leaning on the window and then straightening up. But the window followed the movements of the man, and I realized that I was dealing with a very rare type of image (2).
The video was produced at a workshop in 1994 at the Danish video artist Niels Lomholts house in Falling. At the big attic he had quite a lot of old windows. These windows got me to remember Bretons text. We mounted the windows hanging down from the ceiling of the attic and I shot a lot of video with the other workshop participants standing behind the windows and moving so they were cut perpendicular. By their movements the freely hanging windows inevitable moved a bit from site to site. Later on the video was edited together to a duration of 2:30 min. You may see a one-minute video clip from the video at www.videoart.suite.dk/torben/tape-4.htm .
My video installation The Song in the Brook at Gallery Sub Bau in Gothenburg, Sweden, 1987, and later at Haslev Artists in Haslev, Denmark, and the adaptation of the same installation in the more extensive version A Song in the Brook at Gallery Balderskilde in Copenhagen, Denmark, 1988, is inspired by the French poet Pierre Reverdy's remark about "bringing together two realities" to create "emotive power and poetic reality" (Nord-Sud, March 1918) and a surreal interpretation of two sentences from André Breton: Le Manifest du Surrealism, 1924:
"A song is running in the brook" (Pierre Reverdy)
"On the bridge the dew with the cat-head was rocking" (André Breton)
In this case the inspiration was the sentence A song is running in the brook and a tape I had made as early as 1982 in Umeå, Sweden, of a brook with leaves and flowers floating down the stream and with ambient, rather subdued electronic music. You can see some pictures of the 1988-version at www.videoart.suite.dk/torben/A-song.htm
At the horizontal monitor on the floor with the black stand or rack representing the bridge and the fluorescent lights representing the sun you see the tape mentioned above. On the small monitors to the left you see a torrent, electronic manipulated, with sound of the running water and at the vertical placed monitors you see drifting clouds (no sound).
The cat-headed dew you have to imagine yourself.
Both with the video Vidéo: Ceci est la Couleur (www.videoart.suite.dk/torben/tape-7.htm ) from 1985, and the video Distance de Fée: LHeur des Traces (www.videoart.suite.dk/torben/tape-9.htm ) from 1986 the starting point has been the titles, inspired by titles on surrealist art works. The title of the last one f. ex. is inspired by two surrealist art works: The painting "Distance de Fée" by Yoshiko and "Le Boule suspendue ou l'Heur des Traces" by Giacommetti.
The title of the first one is a paraphrase over the title of a painting from 1925 by Joan Miró:Photo, ceci est la couleur de mes rêves The video is mainly built up by scratches from music videos incorporated in my own sequences. I was asked to contribute with this video to the big Talking Back to Media Manifestation in Amsterdam, November 1985, "to show the work of artists who use a mass media and who, in their work want to deconstruct the "reality" conjured up by the mass media or, in some other way, to provide a commentary on those media". (2). The video is talking back in the sense that it comments on our media-influenced understanding of time.
In the essay Notes on Time and Space Maans Wrange says about the video that the effect of the IMPLOSIVE media boom on our grasp of time is reflected in Torben Soeborgs VIDEO: CECI EST LA COULEUR, 1985. In a sequence taken in a living-room we DIRECTLY see a film shown on the television. Gradually the TV screen is zoomed until it covers the whole picture surface. Suddenly the film cuts DIRECTLY onto the video, and there is a dislocation between two fictive times in a single picture sequence (3)
The video also comments on the perception of reality by mass media as I express it in my text to the video:
We live in a world, feeling surrounded by video: music video clips on every TV-channel almost, some nights, two or three channels have MTV (Music Television) at the same time or just following each other. You see part of a video on one channel, flip to the next and see the beginning of that same video and get the end on the third channel.
All these videos melt together in your mind: make their own story, get their own life, a meta life of video: What is life? What is video? is it real or surreal?
There are two more references to surrealism in the video: André Breton is presence in the video in the shape of a photo of him as 18 months old in 1897, and at the end of the video you pan over a ticking metronome with a picture of an eye on the arm a reference to and a replica of Man Rays work Objet de destruction from 1923 (later on destroyed but replaced and the called Indestructible Object).
The video was also chosen as one out of 12 by Bettina Hirsch to the project Video Kunst. Eine auseinandersetzung mit der Tradition, celebrating the 2000 years jubilee of the town Bonn, Germany.
The video Le Demoiselles de Buenos Airs (www.videoart.suite.dk/torben/tape-15.htm) from 1998 is inspired by a poem by Paul Eluard in Minotaure, 1935:
"The most Beautiful Postcards
... with childwomen, flowerwomen, starwomen, flamewomen, the waves of the sea, the great waves of love, of dream, the poets' flesh, maids, mistresses, dream visions, luminous virgins, perfect courtesans, legend-princesses, passers-by, they build up the power, the expressions and the reasons to be man, exhilarate his weakness, get the joy to gush forth and the sorrow to go down."
and then of course also by the beautiful short-skirted women of Buenos Aires.
Inspiration: The American Beat poets/writers
My video I AM That I Am, version II, (www.videoart.suite.dk/torben/tape-13.htm ) from 1994 (based on version I from 1983) is an example of a video inspired by the American Beat poets. The tape is based on part of Allen Ginsburgs poem: The Change: Kyoto Tokyo Express, July 18, 1963. The video shows the face of a man coming close to or away from the video camera, in focus or out of focus. When un-sharp the light in the eyes somehow resembles stars ("Stars in my eyes circling"). The sound track is electronic music and a recitation of a few lines from the poem. It is a surreal interpretation of the question:
Who am I? and Ginsbergs answer:
In this dream I am the Dreamer
and the Dreamed I am
that I am Ah but I have
My own Identity now nameless
neither man nor dragon or
But the dreaming Me full
Of physical rays tender
Red moons in my belly &
Stars in my eyes circling
And the Sun the Sun the
Sun my visible father
Making my body visible
Thru my eyes!
The tape received a special price at RETINA 98 V International Film & Video Festival in Szigetvár, Hungary, 1998.
I reused this tape in the installations The Sun In My Eyes, version I at Knabstrup Kulturfabrik, Denmark, 2000, and version II at Cinema Novo Bioscop in Brussels, Belgium, 2000 (www.videoart.suite.dk/torben/The-sun.htm )
An earlier tape, But the Subway is Moving from 1982 was inspired by a passage from William S. Burroughs: Naked Lunch, starting with: I can feel the head closing in and ending with the words But the subway is moving and also by Burroughs use of cut-up technique in this case the recordings of the moving subway trains are cut-up and edited together, sometimes with jump-cuts and repetition of words in the text (read in English) like subway and moving.
With the words of Hans Richter: "... an orchestration of motion in visual rhythms ... the distortion and dissection in pictorial terms, creating [or trying to create] a new surreal context" (1).
The tape LEspace entre A et B est infini (www.videoart.suite.dk/torben/tape-14.htm ) from 1995 are initiated by the sentence Mais je suis passager, I insist from the chapter It is difficult in train A in Burroughs book Cities of Red Light. I dont remember were the sentence and the space between A and B is infinite and yet without distance comes from.
Mais je suis passager, I insist is also part of the tape that Belgrade from 2001. Both tapes are based on shootings from some of my journeys and are what I call my Travellers Tapes (www.videoart.suite.dk/torben/tape-16.htm ).
Louis Armstrong, Hans Christian Andersen and Helge Krarup
It is of course not always the surrealists or the Beat-poets that is the inspiration for my tapes and installations. Let me just give you three examples.
The tape Living-room / Living Room? (www.videoart.suite.dk/torben/tape-1.htm ) from 1982, is based on Louis Armstrongs song What a Wonderful World and the tape Far Out in the Wide Open Sea (www.videoart.suite.dk/torben/tape-10.htm ) from 1988, on Hans Christian Andersens fairy tale The Little Mermaid.
The installation Harbour Front (www.videoart.suite.dk/torben/harbour.htm ) was first exhibited in Huset, Copenhagen, Denmark, 1983, and then at Poetry and Pictures, Odense, Denmark, 1986. I did this installation together with the Danish poet Hans Krarup, and we based it on Krarups poem The Weather in Hong Kong, which was inspired by an audio cassette with an English-Chinese language course. The sound was partly destroyed so the words came out in waves, sometimes cut short or distinct or dim etc. in fact: very surreal! Helge Krarup describes the poem as a found object / object trouvé, but arranged by a selection and preparation/adaption.
The installation is built up so you have to pass through a corridor down along a raw of monitors slightly on angel to each other. The wall of the corridor to the exhibition room is made of semi-transparent material so you might have a sense of the monitors but have to pass through the corridor to see the images the same on all the monitors of a sail through the Copenhagen harbour.
The sound track of the video installation starts with a recitation of the poem, followed by cuttings from the language course (cuts in which you now and then can distinguish the word harbour front).
inspiration to the physical arrangement of the installation came from the two British
architects Alison and Peter Smithsons book The Shift. In this they talk about