On Hybridisation

This is a story about how I ended up reciting poems in an echo tunnel wearing a blue suit -- or, how I came to be engulfed in the surrealistic chasm of 'iMMi', a collaboration with artist Kaspar Schmidt-Mumm. 

 Photo Credit: Emmaline Zanelli

Photo Credit: Emmaline Zanelli

 

My poetry for 'iMMi' is the actualisation of a idea I've long held about collaboration that comes from my research into ekphrasis. Ekphrasis is basically writing poetry in response to a painting. The problem is, mostly, that you can't ask the painter what sort of poem they would like. This leads to various interpretive speculations, a lot of research into the art-historical context of the painting, including the biography of the painter, their intentions (perhaps, but this is dangerous territory), and a lot of contemplation (and re-contemplation) of the painting. But, when you get a chance to work with an artist at every step of the artistic process, from the conception, through the production and finally in the exhibition, the poet (me) is able to make a response to the artwork that is much more informed and that (perhaps) achieves the sort of synthesis that is so prized (or completely unattainable) in writing poetry in response to a painting -- that it can become part of the artwork, not something external to it. 

Kaspar wanted 'iMMi' (titled to highlight the common prefix in words like: immigration, imitation, imagination) to be about creating a new hybridised culture by appropriating the archetypes of existing cultures. This extended the cargo-cult metaphor taken from various Melanesian tribes who attempted to rebuild objects left behind by colonial explorers, but devoid of any useful function; employing a 'post hoc ergo proptor hoc' logic, relying upon pure appearance. 

This drew upon Kaspar's own experience as being someone who came to Australia as a child and had to grasp at whatever pervading cultural norms he could in order to try and 'fit in'. He reiterated often, that there is no textbook for culture, it just morphs and re-morphs. The idea was to create an experience that was like a fake anthropological exhibit at a museum. One absurd coup that followed as part of the exhibition was getting John Carty from the Museum of South Australia to come and give a talk at the opening.

The poems that I wrote for this exhibition came from conversations with Kaspar about what his main influences and references for the project were, to help me establish some content for the work, and about how the work was going to be presented (as video, as performance, as an accompanying book) to hone in on the form of the work. There are three poems and each coincide with a section of the video, which is available below. 

I wrote the first with the intention of cutting it up in post-production, so each line was intended as a stand-alone phrase. A lot of the imagery in this section was taken from anecdotes that Kaspar told me about his childhood. I also included a number of foreign language phrases - the German phrase is from a Sesame Street song ('one of these shapes is not like the other ones'), the Italian phrase is from Ungaretti, a poet of the first World War and translated means, 'just an illusion that will make you brave', and the French phrase is a quote from Rimbaud's Illuminations, 'only I have the key to this savage parade'. The poem may read in a strange way here, but the video makes much better use of this reservoir of non-linear, fragmented writing. For the video, I read each phrase into a microphone and then let Kaspar treat the soundbites however he wanted as he continued to editing process. 

 

#1
 
wheels up:  naming, throbbing
 
clutching at straws with thirsty fingertips
 
I’ve never been a video
 
there’s two kinds of onions in this salad
 
the first obstacle is bubble wrap
 
the spectacle is lunch
 
what have you brought?
 
swimming in the shallow end
 
we do things different here
 
keep driving until you find some music
 
like the ocean but murkier
 
you write it in the margins
 
this diamond is diffracting
 
my mouth is a door
 
with the hinges falling off
 
je suis seule a tenir la cle 
 
de ce défile sauvage 
 
flattery and sincerity on arrival 
 
this feels like a foreign country
 
for christmas I bought you pegs
 
who are we hanging today?
 
repetition is another recovery
 
the prince has peeled before
 
beside their selves
 
this is the altar native
 
where’s your ticket home?
 
where should we put the snapping turtles?
 
how do you spell temperature
 
where you’re from?
 
take another slice, really
 
you’re more fruits of the forest
 
than rocky road, don’t you think?
 
ti basta un’illusione per farti coraggio
 
even though it’s concrete
 
it’s mostly tasteless
 
the half-life is still impressive
 
pearlescent flutes are playing
 
we play we play we plunge
 
you can’t camp in this absence
 
what do you figure for this?
 
Eine dieser Formen ist nicht Kike die Anderen
 
it might just be a town full of sand
 
asleep by the traffic cones
 
the crescent moon caught you
 
by your collar (hold on!)
 
what’s going to come in handy later?
 
speech balloons 
 
waiting for a power failure
 
who are we waiting for?
 
life has been a slow morning
 
in the dream we are eating
 
broken glass together
 
it’s a yard sale of imagination
 
a yoyo only for special occasions
 
filling a room means never having
 
to vacuum that place again
 
don’t let’s get carved up encore
 
I wish the meal wasn’t served cold
 
freeze the seagull first 
 
spinning like a gentle typhoon
 
beware the grapefruit’s bite
 
it’s going to be hard to put this
 
on a wall I used to believe
 
could this be the new new?
 
New Zealand
 
New York
 
Nouvelle Calédonie
 
New Polyester
 
French Polynesia
 
French toast 
 
the approach is a potato gun
 
keep out the shadows
 
this sounds like an echo
 
in a tunnel
 
am I accountable?
 
a fuzzy elaboration
 
a crispy realisation
 
this seems like 
 
a good break for applause 

 

The second part of the video features another poem which I wrote for iMMi. Kaspar kept talking about a 'blue screen of death', which is what happens when a computer is completely at the point of collapse. The aesthetics of this part of the video will appear familiar to anyone who has experienced such a frustrating technological breakdown before. I wrote a piece of flash-fiction about a dolphin in the Port River called 'Jock', who loved the tourist boats so much that even though his fin was mutilated by one of them, he always kept coming back to swim next to them. This desire for affection and acceptance in spite of horrible consequences was something that I wanted to explore as part of Kaspar's experience of trying to understand a culture that was foreign. 

 

#2
 
There’s a dolphin in the port river called Jock. Jock would follow the boats along the river, he would swim right up to them. Year’s ago, Jock got tangled in some fishing line.  He was run over by a boat. Jock’s dorsal fin was mutilated. He still comes to swim with the tourist boats and all of the tour guides know him and point him out to tourists. His horribly disfigured dorsal fin makes him instantly recognisable.
 
trance and transcendence wear the same cloak, don’t you think? It might
 
in some circumstance, against your will, your eyes might be closed. don’t panic. go with it. our going across will at least be together
 
trance: from the latin ‘transire’ means go across. try crossing the border another way. 
 

The final poem, in the last scene of the video is a poem written to sublimate all of the ideas that we had been talking about in one (almost) coherent poem. The structure of the poem is supposed to follow a choreography where the speaker is retreating further and further into themselves: from this initial naming and grasping at objects, the iMMi actor has no choice but to retreat into obscurity -- in a way that 'successful' immigration is unfortunately often considered as assimilation. The attempt here was not to suggest that culture cannot survive migration (in fact, a lot of what Kaspar is trying to express by making a work so closely linked to his own story, is that is CAN), but that this video, played before the exhibition's official opening, placed the iMMi as history, which allowed the exhibition itself to take the form of an anthropological survey. The poem twists and turns, turning back on itself with each emphasis of the word 'BUT', which is the beginning and ending of each stanza. It maintains a syllabic structure (one on the first line, three on the second, nine on the third) in each stanza that through repetition gives it some illusion of structure, as well as suggesting how easy one becomes three becomes nine -- how the expansion of culture can be so rapid. 

 

#3
 
Stay
 
somewhere familiar
 
out of town, in your mind, on the edge
 
we’re only always about to sink into ourselves
 
watching the planes fly overhead and feeling nothing but nausea
 
eating the onions to try and acclimatise 
 
the way you remind me of home
 
patterns so vivid it’s hard not to believe the painted world
 
BUT
 
Don’t 
 
listen too closely
 
to the river, to the radio, to your conscience
 
we’re only always about to find something new
 
brewing coffee on the ceiling sweating in a new shirt
 
attentive and anti-inflammatory
 
the way the comfiest pillows are always white
 
black dots that follow your eyes across the page
 
BUT
 
Think
 
past the illusion
 
the plinth, the plaque, the traffic cones
 
we’re only always one more masque away from being truthful
 
worrying about the air conditioningbathing in patchouli 
 
I think there’s more than meets the eye
 
I want to believe in something that hasn’t arrived yet
 
the safest thought is still years away from being here
 
BUT
 
Graft
 
some other story
 
don quixote, catch 22, the go-between
 
we’re only always a word or so away from meaning
 
emigrating the first time was harder and not encouraged
 
the windmills got closer and we made names for things
 
I know the kettle rattles the loudest just before it boils
 
I guess I’m just improvising 
 
Taking a lesson from books
 
I’m not ashamed anymore
 
If you want one I can make it for you
 
the experience is to display experience
 
BUT
 
Don’t
 
try too hard
 
to get it, to feel it, to own it
 
we’re only always arriving the same day as the postcard
 
it stops being about me or about you or about expatriation
 
I’ve cooled and cooled again, I’m leftovers
 
I’m exotic until I’m fed-up  
 
I’m filling this box with darkness
 
I’m drafting you an email
 
I’m prepared for the influx
 
I’m slipping deeper and deeper into my weltzshmertz 
 
BUT
 
deeper
 
as I go
 
deeper, deeper, deeper

 

So this was my attempt at hybridisation -- at the level of cultural hybridity, but also at the level of interpersonal creative hybridity, working with Kaspar. 

Kaspar's work is available here: http://kasparschmidtmumm.com/IMMI

And this is the video here: