Ottar Ormstad interviewed by Dovilė Butnoriutė
What are you going to introduce in your exhibition in the audiovisual poetry festival “TARP”? What is the title of this exhibition and what does it mean? What’s the story of this exhibition, did you choose it specifically for Lithuania?
In the TARP festival I will show different kinds of work that I’ve made from a common basis that I call ‘playing with letters’. This basis is a phenomena that was popular in some countries in the nineteen-sixties, called ‘concrete poetry’. Out from this I’m trying to go in as many directions as possible, using sound, new media technology, photos, videos, different fonts and so on. The title gives the message that I think this is not only challenging, but also very funny! Children are playing with letters and they draw, but at a point most of them stop with both. I wonder why, I and have a hope that more people will continue with playing with letters and also make drawings.
Yes, the exhibition is specially made for TARP. The festival wants to show parts of different projects, and we have decided to make several small scale prints for this purpose. Normally I’m presenting large scale prints in limited edition, which I print myself.
In one interview you have said, that you regard “yellow y” as a self-portrait, and overall you your uniqueness and recognition in a major part lies within the graphics of yellow letters, how could you explain this?
Two things have been clear to me through many years: first that yellow is my favorite color, and later that y is my favorite letter. So the combination of this has become rather a question about identification, which is obvious in some of my pictures.
Your works bring together a wide variety of components, such as music, photography, poetic texts and etc. Who came first: text or image? How do you give a visual body to your video-poetry?
Originally the text came first. But at the same time I worked with photos for a long time. The combination did not turn up in my head before I visited the festival for electronic poetry, E-poetry2007, in Paris. Because the concrete poetry is very conceptually based, I was afraid of being influenced by other’s ideas until then. But at that time I felt comfortable with my own project and expressions, so I started watching other’s works. Later my project ‘when’ was based on photos that I still exposed on film, then scanned and the text was made afterwards.
What kind of effect do you want people to get from your poetry?
Even though my poetry project has a very specific basis, I try to go from there in as many directions as possible. In some of my works, specially my first book, the reader has to participate much herself. If you are not willing to go into a rather meditative text and spend some time with an open mind, there is no use in reading quickly. I have been criticized for demanding too much from the reader. But the reader is always free to drop the book. My hope is that some of the readers and viewers will have some new experiences, and realize how exciting it is with all the possibilities new combinations and new technology offers us in the future.
What does the concept of concrete poetry mean to you? What matters most there: the idea, realization or visual expression?
Concrete poetry is usually used as a name for a special letter-oriented type of visual poetry. For me it was like a revolution to realize the possibility of creating a different experience by putting words different places on the page. In Norway this was first done by the great poet Jan Erik Vold in 1965. From this discovery the way was open: sometimes an idea like the combination of two words may be the starting point, other times it may be a sound or whatever. In my lecture in TARP I will talk more about the concepts concrete and visual poetry.
How do you create a close bond with the audience? Do you think that visual presentation impacts that the most, or is it necessary to choose the right language (or even more than one) as well?
As I said, from a special basis of my concrete poetry, I decided to exceed my project in as many directions as possible. The last years I’ve focused mostly on videos. Here I can make new combinations of what I call my letter carpets, photos and different kinds of sounds and music. In my last video I improvise the music myself, in the others it’s composed specially for the work by professionals. For the time being I find this very challenging, and I also appreciate the advantage of having the possibility of screening in festivals for experimental films and literary arrangements like TARP.
What exactly drove you to the search of completely different forms of poetry? Do you write on a daily basis or are you more interested in the visual presentation (photos, videos and etc.)?
My earlier works were all in Norwegian. Then I started using some English and French, then sounds that reminded about Spanish, before I started mixing also with German and Danish. Now I sometimes use words from different languages without translation together. My thought is that English should not be the only language, or the master language, more people should learn different languages. The consequence for some of my works is that some people will not understand all words, but that’s ok, then one can enjoy the sound and feel more relaxed according to always think about meaning. Another consequence was my video ‘natyr’, which is a constructed word. In ‘when’ I use the ‘new’ word rymymbyr’. Much of my reading in TARP will force the listener to focus on the sounds.
Do you agree that the main function of art is to shock the audience? Why is it so important for you to transform the regular forms of art?
My aim is not to shock the audience. I hope to give some new experiences that may help to open up for a different kind of art and poetry, which i think will be more common in the future. The new exhibition ‘Type Motion’ that opens in the National Art Gallery, where I also participate, will expose a lot of new and old works in this direction. I strongly recommend to see this.
Which topics interest you the most? Is there a specific topic which can be found in your work throughout?
No, I can’t say there is a special topic. What I can say is that I love playing with letters, this you may see in all my works.
How long does it take you to come up with a message? Are they carefully crafted or just beautiful accidents?
My works are created very differently. Yes, sometimes beautiful accidents, and normally I have to be in a relaxed situation, without thinking about my long to-do list and the everyday problems. Most of my earlier works I made in an artist residence in Spain, outdoors in a creative environment.
When do you, as a creator, experience the greatest joy?
That is usually when I’m alone with my mac, creating a letter carpet and realizing at a certain point that this is turning up beautifully.
What are you currently working on? Are there any upcoming projects to look forward to?
I’m working on two projects for the time being. One is a video that I’ve shot on my cell phone in four nordic countries, where I’m now creating letter carpets. The other is a sound poetry project. I’m reading and the russian composer Taras Mashtalir from Machine Libertine is composing electronic music. Next year we will present one track, but that’s just the beginning. This will probably be the first concrete poetry for dancing. I could also mention that I’m working on my new website yellowpoetry.com which I hope will be finished soon.