Friday, May 23, 2014
Marlene Creates (excerpt)
Marlene Creates is an environmental artist and poet who lives and works in Portugal Cove, Newfoundland, Canada. This conversation took place via e-mail, May 2014. The complete conversation can be found at Atlas Place.
Bach: With your in situ poetry walks in The Boreal Poetry Garden, how do you choose your collaborators? What connections are there between this performative work and other more active participatory works in your oeuvre (The Distance Between Two Points is Measured in Memories)? Or works by other artists that may have inspired these cross-disciplinary collaborations?
Creates: I choose my collaborators from either knowing them personally, knowing their expertise (or both), or thinking of something that I myself would like to hear or see happen in The Boreal Poetry Garden or learn about its ecosystem. Then I look for someone who can fulfill that wish. My collaborators have ranged from experts in the sciences (boreal ecology, local geology and wildlife) to other art forms (literature, music, dance).
I'd like to mention that starting the in situ poetry walks was a practical solution to a simple problem, and they have become a major artistic, collaborative, environmental, and social endeavour. This is how it happened: I had been composing short, haiku-like poems, handwriting them on small cards, installing them in the spot that the words refer to, and then photographing them. But a problem arose when some of my poems became too lengthy to write on small cards. So it occurred to me that the solution was to read the poems out loud to people in situ. In 2005 I started inviting people to the site to go on a poetry walk, and I've held several of these events every summer since. I believe there's an aesthetic dimension to simple, practical solutions, and over the years I've found this to be very helpful, more economical and, increasingly, ecological.
I've never really thought about any connection between the current collaborators in The Boreal Poetry Garden and the people who drew the memory maps for me in the late 1980s. Thank you for asking about that, because it gives me the chance to see how both undertakings embrace and delight in what other people know, say, and do. In all cases, the collaborations are based on the fact that I don't work from my imagination. That's because what other people contribute is better than anything I could make up. The branch of philosophy with which I identify is Phenomenology, and I try to operate within that mode when approaching both the external world and other people.
Regarding work by other artists, until recently I've felt quite on my own. But thanks to the very digital communication systems that have made our experiences of the world so mediated, there are several online networks that I participate in, such as the Walking Artists Network, the Women Environmental Artists Directory (WEAD), the Ecoart Network, the Performance and Ecology listserv, the Place Location Context and Environment (PLaCE) Research Centre, and the Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada (ALECC) that are a source of inspiration, critical exchange, and confirmation, as well as hope. I'm starting to feel that there is a very active critical mass of people out there with whom I am in accord, and that certainly includes you, Glenn Bach.
Bach: Describe your collaboration with Elizabeth Zetlin and Jedediah Baker on A Virtual Walk of the Boreal Poetry Garden. The site is technically sophisticated, and a video-poem like River of Rain is substantially more nuanced with its layers of texts, images, and sounds than any separate treatment could have been. I imagine that this outcome was shaped by the specific perspectives that your collaborators brought to the project.
Creates: Elizabeth Zetlin (Ontario) is the artist and poet who introduced me to video-poetry; Jedediah Baker (St. John's) had done a locative internet project linking short videos of personal stories –– his own, as well as other people's –– about New York City to a Google map. (I wanted to use an aerial photograph, not a map, and I was able to get a very high resolution one from the provincial Department of Environment & Conservation.) I conceived of the virtual walk from what I had learned from both of them, and then they helped me achieve it.
River of Rain is the most complex video-poem I've done and I'm pleased you noticed it. By using a combination of images, my voice, and text, I tried to convey the ability of human consciousness to be in two places at once: both perceiving the exterior world that's right in front of us and generating a medley of interior thoughts (which are represented by text over stills, and include my memories of things other people had said). The concluding montage gestures towards the relationship between language and landscape. The human voice –– starting with meaning and ending with murmur –– replaces the sound of the river.
Bach: Earlier you state that one of the reasons for honing in on a slow engagement with one particular place is because of the preponderance of technology as mediator, yet A Virtual Walk of The Boreal Poetry Garden is one such interface. Could you talk about the contrast between the immediate, haptic, and intimately personal experience of walking the boreal forest and the virtual interface of its documentation? Perhaps this is an issue with the work of all land artists: what is the work, the original experience or the presentation of it (Richard Long's walk scores, or Andy Goldsworthy's, and your own, photographs of transitory interventions in the landscape)?
Creates: The proliferation of digital geographical technologies –– including Google Earth, tracking devices, and satellite navigation systems (such as GPS) –– have revolutionised our geo-spatial positioning in both our everyday places and remote spaces. Several years ago I even considered creating GPS-triggered smartphone recordings of my site-specific poems. I also toyed with the idea of installing weatherproof solar-powered audio players in the forest that would play recordings of my poems for visitors. As my goals have become clearer, these ideas now seem very counter-productive. But at the time I felt it was the kind of whizbang thing that could help me receive the support of an arts grant. I still think it would be a lot easier to spark interest for a grant by proposing a project using new technology than saying that what I'm going to do is simply stand at certain spots in the forest and read my poems out loud to people. It's hard to get across the multi-sensorial dimensions of these poetry walks, and the ripple effects from the social interactions that occur.
It turns out that people love going on a walk through the forest and having someone read poems to them. The events in The Boreal Poetry Garden are completely booked up every summer, and some people come back year after year.
You've put your finger on the paradox of A Virtual Walk of The Boreal Poetry Garden. I made it because the number of people who can actually come to the site in Newfoundland is fairly limited. Also because I love video-poetry (it's a perfect genre for someone like me –– a visual artist who loves language). Unfortunately, the Virtual Walk does lack the kinaesthetic, sensorial aspects of a real walk, as well as the power of people being together. And, by the way, I did receive a grant to produce it.
Full conversation can be found at Atlas Place.