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O kas?/ Who?

 “O kas?/ Who?” (2012) from AVaspo

Lithuania – Poetry and Place

When I first visited Lithuania in 2009 it was for a British Council funded solo exhibition in Klaipeda. I had a warm and welcoming experience, and was even treated to free accommodation by the gallery. I also travelled alone recording and absorbing life by the Baltic Sea. At that time the country had officially been independent from the Soviet Union since 1990-1991; but of course change is gradual, and political eruptions were (and still are) potentially on the horizon. My exhibition and talk was about Voices and Silences, screening two poetry films and a selection of non-dualist or two-in-one prints, where philosophically and materially both the positive and negative from a printing plate are part of one work. Part of my practice is to create poems and pieces that encourage the viewer to think about this relationship in a contemplative, or paradoxical way.

After six years I feel very fortunate that I can return to Lithuania under the banner of Liberated Words and poetry film. Where better to review the contemporary situation than through the poetic temperature of Lithuanian poets and filmmakers at TARP poetry film festival. One question I want to ask is how much do they think they are changing as a country. Do they aim to include their past in their poetic works as they move forward? A term which has arisen from many older, exiled poets is unbelonging, in a sense adrift from a mother ship that was your home but can no longer be your home. Alternatively, some poets may feel the need to erase the past to begin again; to suppress their national identity for a united philosophical worldview of mankind existing idealistically beyond borders.

The global Internet and the internationalism of poetry film can perhaps transcend the difficulties of other genres, but we have another problem of language and translation. This is an area which has often arisen as English is the dominant language, yet we want to hear the nuances, inflexions and temporal, emotive rhythms of other languages. This is in addition to the translation of words into images that often takes place in poetry film collaborations. So, we have three primary forms of translation to experience and absorb: socio-historic, linguistic and from verbal to visual-verbal.

One poet who can provide us with a glimpse into the poetry film of contemporary Lithuania is Gabriele Labanauskaite – the founder and organiser of TARP poetry film festival. As a poet and dramatist Gabriele began making audiovisual works in 2004 and started AVaspo (Serpent of AudioVisual Poetry) see en.avaspo.lt. She began TARP in 2006 as a logical extension of working in a multimedia environment, with the aim of creating a platform for friends working in different types of poetic artistic expression.

Her work is best described as experimental, performative, music-based poetry film. In some ways she is like the Icelandic singer and musician Björk in that she performs loose narratives which are suffused with the music and visuals; but rather than songs she creates texts which are then interpreted by musicians and video artists. Opposed to the traditional convention of recitation her voice is used like another instrument, as part of a group of highly skilled, avant-garde musicians. The video is then created where she often features dancing to her own rhythms, or moving through strange metaphorical spaces.

In this film O kas? or Who? from 2012 Gabriele and friends go on a car journey to a picnic. Whilst in some senses surreal in approach we have a strong sense of her national identity. The sense of a looming presence and the words ‘Who is behind this brick wall’ are repeated; and ‘they’ are always felt to be present even amongst nature. It is important to remember that her work, featuring women, makes the difficult environment she has grown up in all the more poignant. The innocent act of a picnic juxtaposes with an insistent soundtrack, and whilst animated flowers twirl across the screen joyously, encroaching leaves twine around the girls and pull them away. Finally they dance in abandonment as the music reaches a crescendo. This is a film which, strong on visual and musical content, needs very little translation; it is a new tale of a new Lithuania finding its feet, told from a woman’s perspective.

Gabriele will be one of the poetry filmmakers featured in my book on poetry film which will be published by Intellect Books.