In this piece of experimental poetry, Nick Thurston manipulates color in a recording of himself by varying the distance between his face and his computer’s camera. Here, we asked him about improvisation, experimentation and poetry: “Coping with that disjunction between knowing what you’re doing but not knowing where it will lead always ends up as some kind of improvisational performance.”
The verbal content of the poem is a live commentary on a perceptual affect produced by the webcam of my laptop recalibrating its automatic focus and colour balance settings as I sit in my studio and sway in my chair. I’ve always been interested in the alter-history of video art that revolves around people performing to camera — kinds of performance art and poetry wherein the camera is an active presence not a passive recording device. Anyway, I turned the webcam on to see if I could make a recording for you and noticed that every time I twitched the room changed colour, and I just liked the way that the machine ‘sees’ the room differently (kind of redecorates the room) as it strains to keep the body in sight. It was an accident, and for me that’s what the studio is the place for.
Well, crudely speaking, my studio walls are creamy yellow, but every time that the camera recalibrated itself it ‘said’ the room was a different colour — it referred to the walls as being another colour, it described them differently — and so it also recalibrated the pairing of referent and reference.
I co-edit an independent publishing imprint called information as material and under the umbrella of an editorial collective we curate and support lots of strange kinds of poetic practice. Last week we had the Dutch sound poet Jaap Blonk staying in Laurence Sterne’s old house in North Yorkshire as poet-in-residence; this week I have to finish editing a book about a reel-to-reel tape of a talking budgerigar who became a minor celebrity in 1950′s for being the animal with the biggest known vocabulary in the world. We try to write and to publish the most interesting things we can, and we call those things art works. Pretty often some kind of conceptual method is used to produce them — the textual field is the otherwise unimaginable outcome of a process that pre-plans its strategy but cannot know what it will turn out/what it will ‘say’. Coping with that disjunction between knowing what you’re doing but not knowing where it will lead always ends up as some kind of improvisational performance. That’s why we call the things we publish ‘conceptualist reading performances’.
I don’t know if I do. It’s an embarrassing kind of self portrait and you can see my double chin. But I do like the way that the machine performs! I know that it’s unfashionable but all of my work has a coherency that can fairly be called a style: I’m interested in precision and concision. I guess this poem has both of those things.
Nick Thurston‘s next book, Of the Subcontract will be released this summer.