Haikus Without Prescription: Reconstructing an Essence

Haikus Sin Récipe (“Haikus Without Prescription”) is my cousin Luis Felipe Blanco’s blog. He began sharing his poetry in it in 2008, and worked on it with some regularity for two years, until his sudden death in November 2010. It contains 163 text entries, mostly poetry, in Spanish, English, and Spanglish (there’s lots of that). My project for Living Collections: Memory had two stages: first create an archive of the content of the blog, and later create a booklet with a selection of poems that would be accessible to my close family.

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Servers, devices, and books all have expiration dates. My cousin’s blog, confined to the digital, rests on the safety and the policies of Blogspot, and so it was my choice to migrate the content to my personal hard drive. The booklet that I designed later is meant to facilitate access to the poems in a way that a computer cannot: a book is a physical object that prompts a person or a group to create a ritual of reading alone or aloud, or browse, undistracted by other elements, and without having to rely on a device. Some studies suggest that when content is stored away online it is often as though it disappears, since people are less likely to revisit it; digital technologies, when off, are opaque, black, and not readily accessible.

My editorial and aesthetic choices at the moment of designing the book were made purely out of instinct and personal taste. It was very challenging to complete a project within an Academic environment in which I had no other framework than myself and my relation to the material. However, as intended use had determined the format, approachability did influence some aesthetic decisions. For instance, I tried to overcome any possible barrier of taboo or literary distance between the reader and the content by hand-binding the booklet, using craft paper, and hand-writing the introduction.

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The final product contains only a selection of poems by Luis Felipe and is subject to be revised and re-made in the future using different texts. It does not reference a particular historical event or site, but instead groups together fragments of a person’s creative output -which poses the possibility of reconstructing some sort of essence of this author, or his personality, or his character. In that sense, the booklet is also a memory probe that serves to trigger unique processes of memorialization of individual experiences with Luis Felipe that other readers, although related, may not think of or even know about.

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Narratives of Selfhood: Project Summary

Narratives of Selfhood is a project that explores the the role of autobiographical memory in weaving the narratives of identity through displacement. Investigating this through multisensory media and design led research probes, the project juxtaposes the narratives of three Iraqi friends through their childhoods in Iraq, their forced displacements from their fatherland, and their subsequent migrations thereafter. Adding to the narrative’s complexity is their opposing social, cultural, and political affiliations at the time – One is from a Shia Iraqi family that struggled with Saddam’s regime and suffered plenty of torture, cases of missing persons, confiscation of land and business, and murder. One is from a sunni family with ties to the Baath party and Saddam’s regime, and therefore, an allegiance to him and his leadership. And one is a kurd and therefore part of a people who suffered immensely under Saddam’s regime and who fought endlessly for self governance and secession from his rule. Together, they form the triad of tension that has defined the Iraqi social scene for decades.

 

The project is comprised of video projections and overlaid audio. Three projectors were used to reflect three videos simultaneously. Each video represents one of us, remembering her childhood and her sense of belonging and identity in relation to those memories in Iraq. The three videos represent my and their fragmented understanding of what those memories mean to us, but when experienced together as an installation, the fragments are unified through the timing of the videos as well as the enclosed space within which you watch the videos, and in a sense, this created one, layered, portrait- that of an Iraqi child in the 90’s, of Iraqi childhood.

For the web, I’ve compiled all three videos together in one longer version – This is not how the project is meant to be experienced, but it gives an idea of the mood and footage.

 

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Video here: https://vimeo.com/150382669

Project Summary and Highlights

My project was based around the objects, audio, paper ephemera, photos and color zerox’s of my brother Marc Slivka. These things have been stored in boxes since his death in 1982. Through video footage of me unpacking the boxes cut with audio of his recorded music and still shots of his artwork, I hope to show just split of a chip off the tip of the iceberg that was Marc’s creative life and though him a slice of life view of downtown NYC creative and underground culture from 1979 – 1982.

One of the challenges of this project was time: how do I show in twenty minutes the aesthetics and creative life of this young man. Even though I was mainly focusing on the two to three year period before he died, there was still a lot of material to represent him and his time in NYC. So a true accurate portrait was impossible, but a conceptualized version was.

This is where the art of storytelling comes in. I don’t think I had the skill to really represent all of the important elements that were at play in his life at that time (my video editing skills were practically nothing, the little skill I have was gained in this project) so I settled on a combination of video, slideshow and a performance sharing of one of the boxes contents in a collage style to tell the hidden story or the wordless story of his creative drive. I wanted the viewer to have a present experience of Marc’s creative impulse based on the activation of past elements. Hopefully this would tell a timeless story.

Below is a link to a small selection from the video I made.

Marc video selection

Progress Update – Charlotte

I have been working on editing about 20 minutes of video that is a collage of footage shot of me talking about some of the contents: mundane things like mail, phone numbers written on scraps of paper and photographs. I have mixed in some recordings of Marc’s improvised music and have experimented with fast forwarding the film during these sections. I chose the fast forwarding effect to show the viewer the experience of these materials but not to have to listen and embody all of it.

Editing was a little clumsy for me, I was getting to know the software for the first time so not all the sound and image pieces fit perfectly but this also occasioned happy and random accidents in cuts, which is ultimately the spirit of improvisation. Not all of it works, but when it does its good.

I created two timed spaces in the film for viewing slides and also for a live performance of the material, as of this morning I don’t know exactly what will happen in these spaces.

I have checked on the slide projector ordered for our classroom and it is a standard round carousel type that has a remote control and can hold eighty slides.

If anyone else has slides, this is a good opportunity to view them!

Progress Update – Rachel

I have been working on my memory probes and gathering materials that will lead to interesting and compelling data from my sister/cousins.

Currently (at this very moment, in fact), I am downloading video footage of my grandmother– meandering interviews with her, showing me stuff from around her house, artifacts and antiques from her trips to Israel. I haven’t even looked at the stuff since maybe 2009. I will cut some of this footage together for the probe. This will probably freak my sister/cousins out.

I’m also going to work on getting some of the more intimate ephemera from my eldest cousin, Steve. He has all of the original photo books and recipes, which are integral parts of my concept. However, he’s in Boston, with his wife and 1 year old, and he teaches at a middle school, so his time is tight. But, he’ll be coming to my house on Christmas. I am aiming to organize him bringing those materials; my sister will be there too, so it should be a really fun opportunity to dig into those materials.

My goal for my presentation will be to include some of these materials (textiles, photos, sound/video, etc). I would like to bring in a sample memory probe kit, and perhaps a fun probe exercise for everyone to experiment with.

Progress #2: Aya’s displaced identities project

Quick update-

  • I’ve created and sent my asks for Mariam, Naof, and myself. We are all working on answering them by the weekend. The asks were structured in 4 parts:
    • Part 1: photos and videos from childhood in Iraq if we have access to them.
    • Part 2: A side portrait photo of each of us taken today.
    • Part 3: Audio recording answering 10 questions (stream of consciousness style) about our sense of identity in relation to autobiographic memories of childhood.
    • Part 4: Audio recording answering 9 questions (stream of consciousness style) about our sense of identity in relation to displacement.

I’ve asked from them to be as honest and as vulnerable as possible, basically “just talk to yourself” and dwell/linger/pause. Also, I tried to prompt them through examples to include as many sensory memories as possible- faces, smells, sounds, images, places, feelings, etc.

  • I’ve decided on a format for my work. I think it will work best as a multimedia experience, and the parts are:
    • Audio of our voices, and music that transports the audience into the Baghdad of my childhood, and the emotional space that it holds for the Iraqi.
    • Smells. To me, Baghdad is orange blossom.
    • Physical “book”, bound, layered. Represents the complex identity all my probes and questions will create.
    • Video component- fragments, mood, visual, theoretical critique linking all elements in this multimedia system.

This looks ambitious, but both the physical “book” and the video rely on each other and overlay their contents in the two formats to compliment and contrast each other. It’s a matter of identifying which fragments of my project works best in what format.

I’m going for a mood, a poetic and layered experience. Fingers crossed.

Update 2

I’ve made lots of progress on my project in the last week.  The interview is done, my concerns about audio and audio quality turned out (thankfully) to be unfounded.  I think the final project will take the form of a podcast/audio presentation that mixes in the interview with my dad, atmospheric sound, and a script that I’m currently working on.   An extension of this could be to intersperse visual elements in a simple interactive website or as a physical curatorial effort.  

My primary dilemma is how and what to present to you.  

Do I present my research as a journey and the turns it took?   

Do I place it within other memory-works about family and societal change.  

Do I share the creative work?  

Do I focus on the methods and then what each method yielded?