Why is the spirit of experimentation absent from the literary arts?


At Phonica: One, Sue Rainsford dunked the pages she read and the notebooks she kept to her evolving novel in water, emphasizing fluidity of process and content; James King fused sound poetry and physical performance involving a typewriter at Phonica: Two; the highlight of Phonica: Four saw Santiago-born, Paris-based poet Martín Bakero read a searing copy of Finnegans Wake in a sound, light and bubble-infused session assisted by Elisa Matilde; Ásta Fanney Sigurðardóttir traveled from Reykjavik to undermine the expected tropes of “spoken word” at Phonica: Five through a semi-improvised set that sparked a soft but well-observed conversation with the audience; following Claire Potter’s last-minute inability to travel from the North of England for Phonica: Six, she conceived, produced and delivered in a frantic few days a specially composed short film and accompanying script which required my own live input for the screening, which resulted in our interaction across medium, space and time.

Encountering the unexpected in the literary and sound arts through explorations of compositional ideas embedded in their presentation has become a hallmark of Phonica events. So what is Phonica? Founded by myself and Olesya Zdorovetska in January 2016, Phonica is a Dublin-based performance series rooted in ‘word’ and ‘sound’ (i.e. encompassing areas broader than literature and music) which aims to bring artists and audiences of different art forms into the same presentation space. In each event, three of the participating artists or acts come, roughly, from the literary sector and three from music.

Over the course of the series, we have strayed into other artistic territories, incorporating contributions from visual artists, performance artists, and writers/artists working in science/technology sectors.

We are particularly interested in the international dimension and have regularly introduced writers, artists and musicians from Europe, Asia, Australasia and the Americas to Dublin audiences.

Often, the performances delivered during Phonica nights are designed ahead of the events. This requires a compositional attitude that elevates the process and human interaction to a position at least as important as the product. While quality is never compromised, our curatorial approach seeks to draw new and evolving ideas from artists established or establishing themselves in their fields and with work histories in innovative ways, presented in formats that highlight enhance and improve their practice. .

We encourage improvisation – and while not everyone takes up this challenge, there have been several examples, mostly through collaborations between musicians: Kazakhstan-born singer Nazgul Shukaeva’s collaboration with electroacoustic musicians IRIDE Project at Phonica: Six was developed hours before the event and delivered without rehearsal; Ukrainian Mark Tokar on double bass with Cork sound artists The Quiet Club and Olesya Zdorovetska at Phonica: Seven was an entirely impromptu session.

This spirit of experimentation and unleashing is largely absent from the literary arts, particularly in Ireland, and part of Phonica’s raison d’être is to blur the lines between art forms and encourage a cross-pollination of ideas that can initiate new compositional approaches.

At the same time, audiences have the opportunity to discover artists from territories and genres they wouldn’t normally encounter, but whose work can strike a chord.

With regard to literature in particular, I have consistently noted an appetite for a reboot of our understanding of what it is, what it can be, and what it can do. Given the willingness to step out of personal concerns and remain in a receptive and questioning state, working across art forms and boundaries offers a way out of habits that regurgitate ingrained compositional ideas and, by extension, ways of thinking and being.

Several of the scheduled performances for Phonica: Eight are, a week before the event, in the development stage. Still, I have a lot of exciting information to divulge: in an Irish first, Joanna Walsh will present her own polyphonic adaptation of her digital novel Seed with the help of female readers she is recruiting; American-born, Sligo-based poet Alice Lyons and literary translator Justyn Hunia are working on a poetic collaboration based on Justyn’s ongoing documentary work about her grandmother in the Polish countryside; SJ Fowler, poet and artist at the forefront of innovative British literary arts and rich in avant-garde projects, is preparing an audiovisual performance of an as yet undetermined nature. Additionally, as part of the sound element of Phonica: Eight, Benjamin Dwyer (featuring Jonathan Creasy on percussion and Nick Roth on saxophone and electronics) will deliver a sound version of Samuel Beckett’s Ni.

Phonica: Eight is at Boys’ School, Smock Alley Theatre, Monday, March 26, 2018: Featuring: Alex Bonney, SJ Fowler, Diamanda LaBerge Dramm, Alice Lyons & Justyn Hunia, Benjamin Dwyer w/ Jonathan Creasy & Nick Roth, Joanna Walsh and community artists. Tickets: 8/6 €. Available from smockalley.com

Christodoulos Makris has published several books, pamphlets, artists’ books and other poetic objects, including the most recent Browsing History (zimZalla avant objects, 2018). He is the poetry editor of Gorse Journal and Gorse Editions, and co-director of Phonica.


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