Saturday, April 16, 2011

Defying Genre

There is one thing I've written/made that is on my CV multiple times under different categories: "Universal Translator."

I originally conceived it as a performance: I would speak in an alien language while the audience sees (what seems to be) a computer struggle to translate my words. This in turn tells an evolving story.

I then realized that, just by recording my voice, I could make it a stand-alone video. The "performance" is basically the same, except I don't have to be there! I could submit it to journals, post it on the internet... Oo! :) I showed this piece as a performance at a reading at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts last year.

Then I see in my inbox a call for submissions to a themed (Sense of Sound!) art show at the 18Rabbit Gallery that made me think: could this be an art installation? I submitted it, and Leah Brown, who curated the show, definitely thought it was an art installation! The piece hung on the wall of the 18Rabbit Gallery running on a loop for a month (the duration of the Sound Art show).

And then my boyfriend, who happens to be the poetry editor for the Rumpus, told me he'd like to include it in the Rumpus's 2011 National Poetry Month Project.

My boyfriend, the poet Brian Spears, has been curating the Rumpus's NaPoMo offerings for three years and he's never tried to publish something of mine. Why would he? I don't even consider myself a poet (I've published 3 poems in my life), so I would never even think of him publishing my work, but he said that he wanted to push the boundaries of "what is considered a poem" with this year's lineup, and he felt that my piece could be cataloged as poetry.

So this one video has been a performance, an installation, and a poem.

I consider it a story.

I also consider it a great example of how genre is sometimes (not always, but sometimes) a pretty poor describer of our work. I know that some people do sit down and say, "I am going to write a short story," or, "I am going to write a poem" -- and some people probably sit down and say, "I am going to write something that can't be categorized in a genre!" -- but a lot of us just experience these welling (churning, spinning) ideas that have to be translated into something concrete (lest the madness comes!) -- and the form that they take once they manifest is not a conscious part of the process. They just take the form they must. My work doesn't "deny" genre -- genre is real. But I feel like sometimes it "defies" genre -- or maybe becomes the Captain Jack Harkness of genre, hopping from one flavor to the next like a proper 51st Century gentleman.

At any rate, I love the "Universal Translator" -- and I love the reaction it gets from people. It's fun and it makes you think. It's about language and conflict and struggling to understand. It's about the realities of survival and the limitations of machines. It's about our fantasies and how more-real versions of our fantasies are still fantasies. And, for me, it's about that morning a couple months ago when I woke up with all these ideas spinning in my head, and saw the concept start to solidify before my imagination's eye -- a bright and sweaty alchemy, a mystery as delightful to me as the space between stars.

Genre, category, was not a part of it.

1 comment:

Heather said...

I miss your blogging!