Friday 21 September 2012

On the stars outside - Dena Rash Guzman

Earlier this year I had the honor of being one of Unshod Quills' featured artists.
In their 'First Anniversary Edition' they published a few of my videopoems.

That's how I came in contact with Dena Rash Guzman.
Dena is, among other things, editor of Unshod Quills but she's also a writer. One with an open mind and a lust for experimenting. In our corrsepondence about the video's and poems being published in UQ, she mentioned we should do something together.
I'm always up for another collaboration, sure.

"Do you have any poems lying around, ready to be set to video?" "Can I send over some raw edited footage and sounds for you to write to?"...

'I also like the idea of writing to your groove, because your groove is something I really, really dig.'

That last reply was enough for my ego so I did send her a few video's and sounds. Nothing worked out, loose idea's, working titles,...

"None of these 'works' or 'titles' are written in stone and can or might be changed, mixed,
mashed-up, reworked according to ideas, suggestions, proze or poems you might
have especially (written) for them...Do your magic!"

And she did.

"My first viewing is of dirt. My first thought is rather literal; it is about how when I moved here, I didn't know what to do with it. I had lived in the desert my whole life and avoided it. I knew that here in the rainforest I wanted to be consumed by it."

A bit later on she send me different pieces, work and words in progress. Good stuff.
But by the end of july I got a mailbox filled with great poems, workable materials...but I instantly fell for the opening lines "I woke up and opened the window. It got jammed on the stars outside."

No time to waste so I asked;
"Any change in doing something with this one? Do you need more time to revise?
Can you make a recording of a reading?"

"Great! Give me a few days to edit if you can. I will record it as best I can..."

Meanwhile I started working on a possible concept and let the poem we picked out direct me to the right images...There was already a basis. The raw footage of 'Dirt' and the track 'silhouette', that I later changed into the poem's title: 'On the stars outside'

On the stars outside
I woke up and opened the window.
It got jammed on the stars outside.

The stars were thick as headlice in a refugee camp.
Once, my sister and I had lice.

We both had long, thick hair and our mother
comforted us as they jumped off our heads.

They were fleeing the shampoo that was killing them.
She washed us and laid us on her lap

and combed our yards of hair with fine little teeth.
She gave us little combs like hers,
                                little combs like stars,

and we played them like little instruments,
                                like we were little angels. 
She took a curling iron and curled and curled

our yards of hair to kill the rest of the eggs.
She washed our bedding and put our stuffed animals

in plastic bags in the garage.

They stayed there for two weeks.

We didn't miss them much.
We didn't need to. We had her smell:

perfume and cigarette smoke,
the sound of her sipping a bottle

 of Dr. Pepper from time to time
while Oprah droned on the TV,

while she went over every last bit of our hair.
She would never have cut it. Not ever.
I made a first draft of what I had in mind and send it to her;

"I chose 'Alice in Wonderland' footage to layer with the 'dirt-video' you knew.
The images do not glide or work together, they seem to 'interfere'
 (Wikipedia: "The phenomenon of retroactive interference is highly significant in the study of memory as it has sparked a historical and ongoing debate in regards to whether the process of forgetting is due to the interference of other competing stimuli, or rather the unlearning of the forgotten material.")

Your poem is full of warm memories on one side (though nobody loves to have lice, I guess) but I wanted to use some kind of 'luring danger' (the rabit) as a kind of visual 'counterpoint' with the darker music as guide to the unknown that is outside..."

Later on I changed a few bits, re-edited a few parts and added extra footage and color.
When finished I asked Dena to send me a few lines on how she experienced the whole proces;

"I love writing from prompts and so when you sent me the video and sound samples I sat down to ingest them like a glass of wine. I kind of meditated on the titles of the samples and the content itself and began firing off poem after poem. Dirt was the inspiration for the poem you selected. Dirt makes me think of earth, soil, dust, decay. It's not dirty, though it can impose itself to make things so. For me, dirt is a host for the living, and that brought me to a childhood experience: I got lice at school when I was 8.

It was exciting to take your work, give you mine, and get your work back. I'm a fan of Poem films and yours in particular and it was a great experience."

I can only be happy with that and admit the same. It was the third time a writer responded on images and sounds or a prompt ('Proof' - David TOmaloff and 'Escape' - Donna Vorreyer)
For me, this is a great way of working. One I will surely repeat again after this...

And so here it is;

Words & voice: Dena Rash Guzman
Concept, camera, editing, music: Swoon
Footage: 'Alice in Wonderland' (W.W. Young, 1915)

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