Wednesday, August 9, 2023

TtD supplement #242 : seven questions for Michael Betancourt

Michael Betancourt’s work with asemic poetry has been published in Die Lerre Mitte, aurapoesiavisual, and Utsanga. He is also a pioneer of “Glitch Art” who began glitching in 1990 who has made visually seductive movies and statics that bring the visionary tradition into the present, setting the stage for the contemporary mania for digital materiality. His diverse practice is unified by a consistent concern for the poetic potential of the overlooked and neglected possibilities of errors and mistakes in recognition, which equally informs his approach to asemic poetry and media art. By emphasizing the central role of audience perception, his aesthetics encourages the viewer to find poetic meaning in their everyday life. He is a board member of the Art of Light Organization.

His visual sequence “Recursive Glyphs” appears in the thirty-eighth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the visual sequence “Recursive Glyphs.”

A: My work with Typoetry tends to be formal, concerned with questions of reading and recognition—even when it's expressive and evocative. The Recursive Glyphs are a series of typoems made with a very restricted set of requirements: each is composed from only four letters in no more than four typefaces, which are then collaged and arranged. Glyphs are a common element of computer interfaces, but they are typically automatically generated, serving as visual icons. Because any attempt to read mine creates weird loops of mis/recognition, they’re “recursive”—they can only refer to themselves, always pointing back to their own arrangement, rather than to anything else. At the same time, since these typoems were created to have an iconic character, giving this series that title seemed appropriate.

Q: How do these poems compare to some of the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: These are typical of my work right now. It’s a moving target. New ideas change my approach, which then makes more new ideas, changing things still more. (And thus recursive!) These are, in a sense, challenge works: self imposed restrictions that become a big part of how the piece comes together. Working with only four letters was surprisingly easy, but avoiding familiar or recognizable words in selecting the letters quickly become important so I wouldn't think too much about their meaning as words. That made the play of suggested words and letterforms easier to embrace. Nothing definitive ever really emerges, but that's by design.

Q: What first prompted you to work on visual poetry as a form? How did you get here?

A: When I started in the 1990s, my typoems weren’t something I was taking seriously, and I rarely (if ever) saved the things I was making. They were a way of playing with language, and to see what I could do with Adobe Illustrator, but they weren’t something that I tried to show. Then we had the Covid Pandemic and I was corresponding with Michael Jacobson from the Post-Asemic Press about an introduction I was writing for a book of Marco Giovenale’s asemic poems. In the course of things I showed him some of my little experiments and he was enthusiastic about them. His enthusiasm was a bit of a surprise, and it encouraged me to send them out. When I was first doing these, the reactions were almost always negative and that made making them no fun, so I just stopped showing them to people. The kinds of things that happen to language in these poetics has provided me with a way to think about writing and reading without necessarily considering what these glyphs actually mean, and that has always been very exciting.

Q: Have you any models for the types of work you’ve been attempting?

A: Depending on your point of view, there are three answers to that question: yes, no, and not exactly—and they’re all correct! “Typoetry” was originally proposed for typographic (concrete) poems created by Hansjörg Mayer in the 1960s, and my work definitely belongs to that lineage. Both Mayer and another visual poet/typographer of that era, Norman Ives, are reference points for what I’m doing, but they worked with physical type. Because I’m using vectorized typography, there is a greater fluidity and ambivalence to my work. The difference in medium—physical lettering versus digital graphics—means what I do is related to their earlier works, but they can’t really provide models for how I do things.

Q: How do you feel your work has progressed since the 1990s, and where do you see your work headed?

A: That’s hard to say, since I didn’t keep those earlier works, but I think they were much simpler, more legible, than they have become. As to where things re going, I really don’t know. It all depends on “ah ha” moments as I keep working, what kinds of things occur to me and what I do with them. There’s always a tension between becoming more abstract and more legible—and I feel like that’s the balance that I’m currently working through, maximizing their ambivalence, while trying to keep them interesting. But it’s always hard to make predictions, especially about the future.

Q: You suggest a moving target: is this the same reasoning behind the interest in the sequence, wishing not to present a single, fixed point, but a progression of sorts?

A: Yes, very much so. I am by training and inclination a movie maker, so continuums, sequences, and progressions are a “natural” part of how I think about my work. Plus, all language, whether written or spoken, takes place in series—and only becomes meaningful from that modulation and context.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: This is likely going to sound strange, but I mostly read philosophy. Stiegler, Wittgenstein, Barthes, Flusser have all been close to the top of my recent re-reading list. My work builds from conceptual rather than aesthetic or poetic ‘sources,’ and I don’t rely on inspiration for what I’m doing because I work every day. There is always something new to consider and engage. However, I am constantly looking at the visual poetry in my library, putting it along side Glitch Art and historical abstraction. David Zwirner did an exhibition of mid-twentieth century Cuban abstraction a couple of years ago called Concrete Cuba, and I recently bought the catalogue, which is very exciting (and very different from what I’m doing myself).

Thanks for letting me talk about my typoems and what’s happening in them!

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