So your first ever exhibition as a Visual Literary Artist was a complete and utter disaster and here’s why….
Where was this exhibition?
Organised and curated by Carolyn Bayliss, as part of the Walsall Arts Fest 2014, I was given three slots over, ‘3 days in November’ at an artistic venture held at The Wheatsheaf Pub in Walsall, which I completed last weekend just gone (7th, 8th,9th’ November), representing a novel Art form that I have been experimenting with for around two and a half years now. It’s a genre I have termed, ‘Poetography’, as this is the only word that can simply describe the process of creating this unique form of art, when combining poetry with photography.
What on earth were you exhibiting?
Please note that the unique form of art that I am referring to as Poetography, is by no means new or unique solely to myself, as the first ever photographically illustrated book with prose was called, ‘The Pencil of Nature’ by William Henry Fox Talbot, which was published in six instalments, dating as far back as 1844 to 1846. To name countless others photographic books published with text, Firths, Egypt and the Holy Land (1857) Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the War (1856), Annan’s, The Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow, (1872). Though specific to this particular topic, these historical works cannot be deemed as Poetography as they do not combine Poetry with Photography.
More specific and closest to the term ‘Poetography‘, latest poetry books such as Thom Gunn’s Poems in Positives, accompanied by photographs by his brother Andres Gunn, as well as the highly avant garde, Distance and Proximity with poems by Thomas A Clarke, photographs by Owlen Shone, which are presently the only poetry and photography art books available online or in leading bookstores – the most prominent being, Paul Muldoon, Plan-B. In great contrast to these literary works stands the first ever self proclaimed Poetographer, Ron L Zheng, who combines Tanka poetry with Monochrome photography of nature and with such aesthetic perfection, that as well as having toured exhibitions around the globe, he has had a printed publication of his entire collection called ‘Leaving my found Eden’. Furthermore, although there appears to be only a few self published ‘Poetography’ books available online, various other experimental forms of poetry (particularly as visual literature) are being thoroughly researched by the school of humanities at Dundee University; the programme led by Professor Andrew Michael Roberts, is called ‘Poetry Beyond Text: Vision, Text and Cognition‘ and has been funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council since 2009.
With a fair few facts and brief outline of some history into what I refer to as being Poetography, when touching upon its avant garde status up till the present date, one would have some profound cheek to proclaim oneself as the first ever Poetographer, however ‘Poetography’ is still not a term that is so widely used, which is why it also sounds so terribly odd. However, I insist and without any pretentions that ‘Poetography’ is the natural phenomenal result occurring when poetry is combined with photography to create a unified narrative.
How I got into Poetography is neither here nor there, I simply write poetry as I am a Poet and over the past couple of years, I have been practicing how best to combine a few of my own poems with some of the photographs I have accumulated whilst working as a photographer. What I intend to achieve by combining poetry with photography, is to create comprehensive narratives between poetic verse and symbolic imagery which is understood by its audience through a particular cognitive process that I am currently unaware of – but which, I am able to experience in the work I have thus produced.
Now that might sound rather illusive, however if I put it into simple terms, you would understand that my primary goal when creating the Poetography I have to date, is to experiment using psychological trickery to induce mind altering states. To describe some of the ways I attempt to do this is through the use of symbolic imagery, preferring to create videos in which I can animate and flash the imagery along with the words, then fusing the two together with ambient music by underground artists and have also dubbed a few even further with subliminal voiceovers. I am particularly interested in combining the Poetographs with Binaural Beats which are scientifically known to induce alternate brainwave activity depending on the varying right and left hemisphere frequency pitch that the beat omits (i.e Beta, Alpha, Theta, Delta, Gamma brainwaves are induced when listening with headphones). Some of these videos must come with a warning as they could induce not only brainwaves but also seizures, if the participant was epileptic or labour if the participant was pregnant.
So what the hell happened?
Without glamorising the dangers of these pieces any further, the works thus produced has been created to cause a deep cognitive impact and I believe they are rather powerful. Having used my own research I have created a visual literary art form to be experienced at a sensory level including the audio senses. Regardless of this, it is sufficient to say that my first exhibition as a Visual Literary Artist failed miserably. There are several colliding factors for this which I have mainly put down to; my own deficiency of experience in exhibiting such works, the location and setting of the event, combined with lack of support from the organiser and terrible audience participation.
Although The Wheatsheaf Walsall is a lovely pub, which has apparently been home to a whole host of celebrity musicians, in terms of my own work, these Poetography videos were played at the end of the bar on a television screen, despite there having been an isolated room allocated kindly by the manager of the pub, this room had not been utilised by the organiser and curator of this festival, upon the grounds of poor audience participation at the overall event. Despite having been given three, thirty minute slots across three days I was only allowed to play the movie at the end of the bar for two days except on the Saturday when they had the football on. In the end, I was given one 10 minute slot out of the entire three days to give a short presentation filmed on camera for the Walsall Arts Fest youtube channel explaining my work whilst it played behind me on a 36” TV screen at the end of the bar. It became evident to me by the second day that my work was not appropriate in this setting and environment, nor for this audience and neither had it been appreciated, for when inquiring about the matter of my allocated slots and the empty room upstairs with the curator of the festival I was told (in front of whatever audience had attended (mainly the participatory artists)) that I was not a priority nor a main focus of this event, that I was being very demanding and was only on the Walsall Arts Fest programme because I ‘was local’ furthermore I received much more negative criticism that might be a little unprofessional of me to retort on my artists blog. Admittedly this rather sever treatment from the person who had invited me to endure this festival taught me a short and fast lesson upon the subject of humility.
Despite this disastrous and slightly uncomfortable experience, I bit the bullet; made my needs very clear and thereafter I showed up to participate for the entire event. And it would have been through gritted teeth were it not for my personal and professional integrity to complete any task I set out to do as well as my love of creation and crazy artists, several of whom I got to know and learnt about their work. I have taken several photographs documenting this event which you can view further along this article.
Where will you go from here with Poetography?
What I have also learnt is that the work I am producing is highly sophisticated and as later admitted by the curator/organiser ‘quite high brow’. It is not only innovative in its format but its distinctly sensory audio and visual properties require its showcasing to be in a solitary area where it can be projected on either a small screen in a small booth with headphones or upon a large wall in a blackened out silent room whilst playing at full volume for a totally immersive experience. Had it not been for this event I might not have learnt how important this was and this is how I will exhibit them (as instillations) in the near future.
How has this experience helped you evolve your concept?
The mere experience of how disengaged this exhibition was and the lack of support I gained at this festival from its organiser has made me realise how important finding the right people to collaborate with is, as well as finding the right audience – which does exist, as research into recent activities upon this field has indicated academic, literary and artistic findings. Naturally, I do expect and do not mind the ridicule that I have thus received. Instead, I take all the feedback on board just as I would the positive feedback received regarding my endeavours. But as explained no matter how old this art form may seem, it is still relatively very new. Poetry beyond text is an area still under development and with an intention to push an arts movement in the direction of Poetography, it is not to say that Poetography is the future of poetry but that such Visual Literary Art is still under negotiation with its experimenting creators and with the marginal few who are closely examining its development. This opportunity however disastrous on the outset gave me great motivation to revisit my entire video graphic collection which has up till now been shared on and through my youtube channel (@Najma Hush) taking on board all the constructive criticism I had obtained from various viewers, I recreated and improved all these videos again for display at this event. This reinvention of my old work has brought the standard of all existing Poetographs by Najma Hush and PhotoGiraffe to a considerably high standard and I now have much clearer ideas of how the work should be displayed and of its primary function.
I would say that being part of the Walsall Arts Fest has contributed to the evolution of the emerging arts movement I am passionately working towards establishing and to endure a little bit of ridicule along the way can add an even greater charm and integrity to an already gregarious character, such as I.
What else did you learn?
I learned that the most important trait for any emerging artist is to develop such a strong internal point of reference that there is not any kind of criticism, good nor bad that will detract you from your goals. If you, as an emerging artist are clear upon your goals but detached from the outcome, you will learn more from each and every experience that will help you to develop not only your work, but also your primary asset, which is yourself!
Furthermore I would stress that the most interesting people are always the ones with most varied interests and the people with most varied interests are the ones who listen more to others and with an open mind, than they talk about themselves, hence the reason I will now share with you a brief photo documentary about the people I met upon my short and agonising journey at the Walsall Arts Fest 2014 and what I learned about them.