Individual Work
"Kinesics of Letters"

“Kinesics of Letters” by Tiio Suorsa is a series of four short “video letters” that provide a “closer look at different intermediate states of everyday life, repetitions and small things that took vague form in isolation” (Suorsa, “Kinesics of Letters”). The original works can be found in a variety of places: Suora’s website, uploaded separately as March, April, May, and June to Vimeo, or in the Spring 2021 issue of The New River Journal. Suorsa uses handwritten and text art, alongside p5.js and video manipulation to create these short videos. From The New River Journal, users can download the videos and play them as .mov files. Each video is short – ranging from 0:46 to 1:47 minutes in length.

The medium of delivery is simplistic – conversion of the works coded with p5.js into movie files renders them unchangeable by the viewer. They exist as they were released in moments in time. That, however, is not to say that the work does not take advantage of the medium. The videos themselves are fragmented bits of life in a pandemic, in a time of vast isolation. The isolation of an audience from a video on a screen and vice versa provides a unique setting to convey those thoughts that occur in isolation, without interaction from the outside world. The controlled environment of isolation leads to a controlled medium, giving the viewer little ability to manipulate the message.

What is interesting for the viewer is that one can experience the same short clips numerous times and notice some new detail in every viewing. The experience of watching each clip in order leads to different connections and different thoughts in the viewer’s consciousness compared to viewing the clips out of order, backwards, or in pieces. The viewer who watches the clips without pausing or manipulating the speed of the video will have a different experience than the one who watches the clips frame-by-frame, examining the changes in the scenes shown from second to second. And there are many scenes to experience – both the May and June videos, in particular, begin to experiment more with videos moving together, overlaying one bit of film over another bit of film, and layering words on top of this. The visuals commanded by Suorsa’s work are just as – if not more – rich in presenting parts for examination than the words that Suorsa lays on top of them in the videos.

This is a piece of electronic art, but also of digital prose and poetry. I use both prose and poetry to describe this work because its material – letters – immediately expresses communication through prose writing. Prose is also evident in the material (see the videos for March, May, and June). However, the text fragments that the viewer receives in certain videos (notably May and June) are more distinctly poetic than they are prose-like. Words flash on the screen, one at a time, until a string of words can be discerned. It is up to the viewer to put them on the page, or to let them exist in their mind. It is up to the viewer if they come together or remain fragmented. The individual videos can even be read as a whole poem themselves, by interconnecting the fragmented words and sentences together in multiple different ways. Interactions like this with the work offer the viewer a limited palate, but demonstrate the dynamism of the medium, even though it appears static at first.

This work serves to further digital poetics through its use of kinetic poetry. The kinetic nature of the words as they move across the screen, in a variety of ways that change with every video, alongside the shortness of the videos themselves, and the prose sentences that are presented, create a real sense of fragmentation for the viewer. The words are fragmented, the pictures are fragments. Everything is a fragment of the whole. This is enhanced further with the use of voiceovers in certain videos (see March and April) and with the various sounds that can be heard in other videos (notably May and June). The March video uses overlapping voices that are reading out the words on the screen as they move in and out of the frame. Often, pieces of the sentence fall off the edge of the screen and cannot be fully seen. Only a few phrases are clearly discernible. In April, the video features a voiceover that reads aloud the words as they are drawn onto the page by a cursor that we do not control. The thoughts can again be described as fragmented and the voice, though clearer than in March, is distorted. Each viewer may hear something different, picking up on certain words more than others.

So, the medium moves, the words move, the voices shift, and though it is all confined to short, unchanging videos, it creates a great sense of movement – of change, of transience, of time marching on, that shows a really interesting juxtaposition and a unique insight into a time where it feels like all we are doing is staying put.

This entry was composed as a part of Professor Dani Spinosa's course, ENGL 4309: Adventures in the Digital Humanities, at Trent University in February 2022.

Author statement: 
From the Spring 2021 edition of The New River: "Four video letters sent once a month. The letters consist of visual and generative poetry from the trapped situation where we had to find new ways to be humans between virtual and actual reality. Poems take a closer look at different intermediate states of everyday life, repetitions and small things that took vague form in isolation. Kinesics of Letters mixes the tradition of handwritten letters, text art and divergent aesthetics, made with p5.js and video manipulation."