Short Movies by Jukka-Pekka Kervinen and Márton Koppány
(cPress, Finland, 2008. Free .pdf HERE )
Abbreviations in Lucidity
Luminous appropriations in Jukka-Pekka Kervinen and Márton Koppány’s Short Movies
The dream: to know a foreign (alien) language and yet not understand it: to perceive the difference in it without that difference ever being recuperated by the superficial sociality of discourse, community, or vulgarity; to know, positively refracted in a new language, the impossibilities of our own; to learn the systematics of the inconceivable; to undo our own “reality” under the effect of the other formulations, other syntaxes; to discover certain unsuspected positions of the subject in utterance, to displace the subject’s topology; in a word, to descend into the untranslatable, to experience its shock without ever muffling it, […] (6)
Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs
In the passage above, Roland Barthes clues us into the nature of human instinct in dream-state, a space where knowledge does not undergo a process of evolution but is already there, given; it is given, in a sense, that it is not produced in the struggle to understand, nor is it an achievement of some sort. Knowledge in that state is the air inhaled and exhaled. The movie The Matrix may come to mind, here, wherein programmed knowledge, from another space, through a few keyboard strokes, can be easily transmitted and lodged in someone’s faculties, in seconds; time in transmitting that knowledge is almost negligible, here, because it doesn’t constitute a process of achievement, or struggle to attain that knowledge; indeed, although the matrix is a state all its own, it’s almost comparable to dream-state; however, readily-transmittable knowledge in the matrix may only be limited to technical knowledge and doesn’t necessarily include downloadable programs on moral and/or philosophical knowledge; unless, of course, if that technical knowledge can be upgraded, to give them metaphysical slants and auras, making them Marxist, Llorcan, Kantian, Tabiosian, Sillimanian, or Sadean. But the difference between knowledge in the matrix and dream-state is that in the matrix knowledge is often transmitted through a request, while in Barthes’ dream-state knowledge is just there, ever present, not subjected to epistemic concepts of time. Certainly, this dream-state doesn’t necessarily mean dream inside closed eyes, while asleep, or in daydream; this dream-state can, indeed, be in quotidian experience itself, experience that is inundated with information through media technologies, such as movies, books, the web, music, or the telephone. Information through these technologies informs us of things beyond our immediate surroundings, that there’s a there, that over there are ‘others.’ Recognition of these others can shake the sensibilities of our reality, morphing and transporting aspects of that reality to a space where distant others and their otherness must irrevocably be considered. This space of alterity and difference takes the characteristics of dream-state, one that lives in one’s consciousness, but alien, foreign. Furthermore, I emphasize this, because the passage above is contextualized, with Japan in the mind of Barthes, the Japan of Barthes, a space that encloses a universe of difference to anything that challenges the Occidental in Barthes. Barthes then encloses Japan in dream-state. Thus, in Empire of Signs Barthes doesn’t seem to struggle to expose knowledge of Japan, but something he already knows, in the fictions of his imagination; the book then is simply the textualization of dream-state, and doesn’t necessarily explain what’s in it. Barthes appropriates a textualization through the language of comparison; his reference point is the Occident. And this appropriation may sound exotic, but it isn’t necessarily new. Travelers or tourists in places foreign to their physical and mental space experience this similar dream-state, a state in which their minds are seduced, unconsciously, to make immediate comparisons between concept of the place in their mind and the materiality of that place, where they are on. One can argue that immigrants and business travelers often experience lapses of this state, in diverse degrees and intensities.
My process of seeing Jukka-Pekka Kervinen and Márton Koppány’s Short Movies may be comparable to the way Barthes sees Japan in Empire of Signs; contextualized in dream-state, I somehow know what’s in it, because, as reader, audience, viewer, or spectator of Short Movies I could devise my own Short Movies, in the fictions of my imagination. Now since this is visual/luminous poetry, my process of engaging in it is witnessing it, giving it the attention one gives an event, be absorbed in the scene. Short Movies is an event I’ve witnessed more than twice. Recalling each piece in it, I’m sometimes tempted to think about them as quick, very subtle commercials, and the product advertised is the title of each piece; sometimes I think they’re preludes to a major television commercial that’s about to be aired, minutes after a popular prime-time mystery feature.
It’s easy to be absorbed by the narratives in Short Movies, because of their visual impact; but it may not be easy to absorb them. That impact can flow in you like a subtle gesture that can almost be easily ignored. But in hindsight, you realize that gesture may have proposed something in you. Being engaged in a work this way can no doubt offer delights to the voyeuristic nature of the digital eye, a promiscuous and ever-hungry eye, one that devours anything that is visually fresh, especially in a whimsical way but with a serious message.
Now in most events, the witness is prone to engage in talking about what they had seen, usually through the narrative of gossip, a bit fraught with a mixture of shock, curiosity, and wonder. This is what I feel like doing, after witnessing Short Movies. However, in textualizing or ‘gossiping’ what I’ve witnessed, I realize I may not be giving the work justice, which must simply be absorbed. But seeing Short Movies is a bit of a shock. Let’s just say, I’m writing what I’ve witnessed to recover from that shock, whatever that recovery portends.
Like Barthes, I use comparison to textualize the dream-state of the work in question. Although my reference points may not be universal, and express strains of myopia, they are still reference points that are recognizable in the realm of human thought. As audience and spectator, I “descend into the untranslatable,” to use Barthes’ phrase; but I’m partial about ‘descend’, here, and prefer to replace ‘descend’ with ‘infiltrate’ or ‘penetrate’; because infiltrations and penetrations suggest more conscious intentions that melts in solipsistic acts of determination in dream-state.
In Cosmology, the cosmos is dominated by the riddle of a hotdog…or, wait, sauerkraut? Could this be the cosmos of a drive-in, or the heart of the cosmos is sauerkraut fever?
Here, the cosmos is horizontal rectangularity; and so it has boundaries. On the other hand, rectangles do not have to suggest they are bounded by boundaries, the edges of the rectangle. Indeed, the cosmos can have any shape we want it to have, circular, ten-dimensional, oblong, like a pimple, or rectangular. All shapes we can think of about the cosmos are valid; it’s like visualizing the image of God: it can be a river, James Dean, death, cinema, or the unconscious.
Now something moves from the left of that rectangularity, a big smudge, a purplish cloud; it’s direction seem to be the right, as though movement in that direction is the only movement it can muster and appropriate. And right in the middle of its journey, it drops something, a curve-like entity, the left half of a parenthesis, its shape a miniature simulacra of a hotdog. The half-punctuation falls, but stops in the middle of the cosmos. But while that curve is moving downwards, it is followed by another punctuation, a period. Or could this period be the top or bottom view of an exclamation mark, dropping sideways, and all we see is its top or bottom? Now the period stops moving downward right in front of the parenthesis, as though to act as substitute for the other half of the parenthesis duality. One wonders after the period falls, if there’ll be a rain or tempest of punctuations. The period is the last dropped, while the smudge continues to move, and soon transforms into a pair of white clouds, soon to move above the signifier of fastfood, before disappearing, moving beyond the realms of the cosmos, eternity, invisibility, spirit.
Now punctuations certainly can suggest many things; but I’d like to think of them as representations of the boundaries of desire. Punctuations enclose desire; they can end it in the period, explode it in the exclamation point, ambiguate it with the quotation mark, give it a character of partiality in the ellipsis, or endow it with a sense of dimension and depth in the parenthesis. The parenthesis is quite special, since to parenthesize something is to give it an appearance of being occluded, be forced to step back from something, a sort of hesitation that invites meditation.
The fall of punctuations, here, can signify the precipitation of the boundaries of desire, in fate. Now, this is serious, because those boundaries can be receptacles of ideology, morality, or politics, elements in our cosmos that guard, dissect, or violate the freedoms of desire. Indeed, only two punctuations are dropped. But they can, indeed, contain a tempest of boundaries that can implode, then seek subjects they can be with to explore and explode. And it’s intriguing that after the punctuations are dropped, the smudge, the purplish cloud turns into two while clouds; a burden has been dropped, to lighten up something in the smudge. God drops his boundaries, and is glad to be had of that burden, on to something lighter, now cruising as white clouds, toward a more appetizing dimension, advancing into the space of reality, the hotdogs. Somewhere further in that cosmos is a hamburger, some burritos, tacos, further hardening the exclamation of hard, tactile materiality.
Prophecy is a diptych: two vertical, adjacent rectangles, as though two pages in a book, but the beginning pages of that book. On the upper left-hand corner of the first rectangle is the number 1 and on the upper right hand corner of the second rectangle is the number 2. On each space, the background color is white, untainted, or unsmudged white. In both spaces is the letter q. The first rectangle only contains the q, but the other space contains other letters besides the letter q: f, m, b. F and m are in bold fonts, situated towards the upper right hand corner of that space. The b, on the other hand, is situated near the bottom right corner of that page, capitalized, but a smaller figure. All the letters have a specific color; all those in the second space are letters with the color black, while the one on the first rectangle, the q has a somewhat caramel color.
In the course of the piece’s narrative, we notice that letter f, m, and b start to disappear, slowly. First, b disappears towards the bottom of its ‘home’ rectangle, m moves toward the top of the rectangle before it vanishes, while f moves eastward before disappearing. After the disappearances, only q is left behind. For a while, both qs are now the only ones left, as though they are the sole and irreplaceable owners of the space they are in. Could there be pride of the qs chanted in silence, here, for being the only ones left in each their spaces? Do their similarities in form, not in color, cause them to somehow move closer to the other, unite? Soon, the q on the right rectangle moves toward the q on the left rectangle, as though the q on the left has magnetic force, the force inherent in similar entities that allows them to seek and bond each other. It’s hard to tell if that movement is reluctant or urgent. The movement ends when that mobile q disappears in the boundary between the first and second rectangle. The aim of reaching out to its probable other is reached in non-unity, eternal invisibility.
The q on the first rectangle never moves, as though movement is not necessary for its being, but is rather nourished in pure non-movement, undisturbed stasis. Since that q is on the first page, we can assume that q is that of innocence, preserved in what it has always been, locked, immobile, not subject to desire, and its convulsions, urges, prognostications. But the rectangle on the left is the rectangle of vibrant activity, movement, travel, voyages, of moving towards boundaries, disappearing there forever, advancing towards death. Perhaps f, m, b are looking for something like themselves, a simpler version, their innocence. On the left rectangle, q is probably lucky enough to see the image of its innocence and moved towards it, only to disappear and reach it somewhere, in a different form, substance. The emptied space on the right rectangle is a premonition, and assumes not peace but emptiness, perhaps burial ground for lost desire, vacancy, stared by q, innocence. And the narrative ends there, q as monument of innocence, before and after anything, outside time.
With regards to the letter q in the English-language alphabet, it’s perhaps one of a few letters of the alphabet that resembles a musical note; the others are lower-cases g, b, p, and d, and the upper-case P. When saying each four letters including q, all four end with the long ē sound, while q’s pronunciation ends with the long ū sound; what’s further different about the q among these note-like alphabets is the formation of one’s lips inwards when pronouncing the q, while one’s lips are spread out while pronouncing the other four. The elongated formation of one’s lips creates an opening, a readiness to ingest, while lips forming inward denotes a unity of the lips, folding, attempting embrace of each other’s skin, becoming intimate, a kiss. There must be something special with the q, or if it’s not that special, something relentlessly queer about it; that’s why this letter is given unconventional attention here.
Voyage is a triptych. Three horizontal rectangles enclose soft colors, as though from a deep, unfocused camera shot trying to capture an image of many colors. This unfocused-ness somehow forces the colors to look like they’re about to overlap, collapsing each other’s substance or identity into each other, blurring boundaries, subverting the meaning of clarity. But these colors are simply the background. At the heart of this piece’s narrative is the figure number 2, the protagonist. That figure moves from the first rectangle to the next, in the center, from left to right, the direction of the Western, reading eye. In the middle rectangle, the figure drops down the bottom of that space; here, the drop, poses as conflict. But the figure makes it up from the bottom, moves up the middle of its journey, and then continues to the end of the last rectangle.
The figure 2 can stand for many things that signify dualities. Simple dualities can be derived from the human body’s specific equipments that come in pairs, and function as congruencies: two eyes, two arms, two ears, two scrotums, or two breasts. But there are more complex dualities that exist not necessarily as similarities, but as oppositions that define a sort of unity: life and death is human existence, a man and woman unite to produce another life, night and day to comprise a twenty-four hour period, or thesis and anti-thesis evolves dialectic. In complex duality, the figure 2 becomes a representation of substance, that one must need another to have something, invite being. But the journey of 2 becomes not merely a representation, but more so, a production of substance in 2, the layering of substance, simplifying it into the heart of 2. The production of that substance is certainly not easy, because it involves tight negotiations, compromises, power struggles, love and hate, subversion and expression, or secrecies and demonstrations.
It’s also significant to emphasize that the figure ‘2’ is not spelled out as ‘two’. The visuality of ‘2’ proposes a unity of two elements into one visual element, while the visuality of ‘t’, ‘w’, and ‘o’, proposes something else, perhaps a visual trilogy that is anachronistic to what two means, the sense of paired-ness in that signification, a collaboration. But there’s a suggestion of cynicism in the collaboration that happens in the journey here. The figure 2 looks the same all the way, from beginning to end. The 2 may have recovered from a fall, but it continues without visual metamorphosis. Perhaps the assumption here is that metamorphosis cannot always be perceived visually, but rather assumed, or proposed as something within. If we can extract an idea of progress proposed in this piece, that progress can be derived in the space or context of time. The voyage of 2 cannot subvert time, because it is within frames, measured frames, bounded. Thus, progress here is perhaps the idea that it can move from one point to another, points that form a space, an idea of itself, a voyage.
Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relationship between what we see and what we know is never settled. (7)
John Berger, Ways of Seeing (1972)
Even though “the relationship between what we see and what we know is never settled”, the relationship remains a marriage that cannot contemplate divorce; thus, it’s a marriage that’s settled not merely in negotiations, and/or compromise, but, also, and ineluctably, in both the quiet and bloody power struggle in violence. In that struggle, knowledge, in the end, gives in to new, fresh perceptions availed in seeing; but it gives in reluctantly. But what perhaps binds seeing and knowledge is seeing not necessarily what’s before and after words, but rather the interval before and after words: the word itself, the well in the internal life of text. Seeing in words is knowledge is indelible to poetry; the world’s saturated visuality melts into the visuality of text, words, and punctuations.
Now the visuality of textual poetry can be transformed into something else: the substitution of text with something, say, more visual, and not necessarily looking for something to represent text; this can be a tricky distinction. And I sense this is the proposal of luminous poetry. But in order to create a visual vocabulary, this form borrows images from anywhere, from print text, punctuations, media images, digital visual inventions, or anything from popular culture. In this poetic form, producing something that can have some narrative appeal can, indeed, be an experience, as though in a dream, in an irresistible neon shock. Short Movies gives me that dream-state; it gives me fresh illusory perspectives and correlations when I think of visualizing cosmology, prophesy, and voyage, not to forget q, 2, and an image of a hotdog.
The hotdog is particularly intriguing, because its corresponding existence in real-life can be masticated, then digested through molecular processes, unlike the other non-culinary elements in the frames, the movies. The image of that fastfood can be a hint of ideology and politics; but I’m textualizing dream-state, a space that’s already mired and loaded with multiple combinations of fantastical, phantasmal, or liberal totalitarian ideologies and politics; and discussing politics in that state can certainly be elided, because it’s beyond words, and thus fits the ‘visual discussion’ afforded in the visuality of luminous poetry. I have also avoided thinking what the poets were thinking in terms of words, when they were creating Short Movies. In many ways, I like the idea that as I read or witness the images I become mystified; interestingly, I’m even mystified at the textualization of those mystifying images myself. I am not surprised; I’m textualizing dream-state, although one that would soon diffuse and melt into my everyday reality, demystifying itself there, crawling in my urban reality like rhizomic, digital energies, in the voracious freedoms of the unconscious. But tomorrow I will continue to have my regular fastfood break at the hotdog stand, only adorned with ketchup and relish, habitually relinquishing the palatable but negligible benefits of mustard and onions. I will sit and talk with others around the stand, and for a second there, I may look at the sky, and wonder about things falling; then I’ll just look away, forget that sky, and talk with others around me whose words suggest the inspiring, claustrophobic freedoms in work. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a parenthesis may already be planning a rendezvous with a period or an exclamation mark. Then I’ll remember some movies I’ve seen lately, including some eventful short movies, as I immerse myself in the unfolding, cinematic cosmos around me.
Barthes, Roland. Empire of Signs, Hill and Wang, New York, Translated by Richard Howard, 1997.
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing, BBC and Penguin Books, 1972.
Michael Caylo-Baradi lives in Southern California. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in XCP:Streetnotes, Tertulia Magazine, OurOwnVoice, elimae, and Kartika Review. He occasionally contributes op-ed pieces to the Los Angeles Daily News.