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Interview with Gus Simonovic

FEBRUARY 2012

This month, we had the pleasure of talking with Auckland conceptual artist Gus Simonivic. Read on to learn more about Gus’s world, and Gus’s view of the world around him.

Playing with language

FF: You’re primarily a poet, but you occasionally venture into flash fiction. Tell us, how challenging is it to switch from one genre to another, and do you see a connection between these two forms?

GS: Primarily, I think of myself as a conceptual artist. In recent years most of my concepts were expressed through collaboration with other artists as a part of one of Printable Reality’s projects. The final product of those collaborations are  poems, songs, videos, dance scores and stage shows, and they are heavily influenced by the other collaborators. Yes, when it comes to writing, poetry is all I can do. Although there are similarities and connections between genres, for me there is a huge gulf between fiction and poetry. Fiction, even  flash, requires different set of skills and sensibility, discipline and concentration all of which, as a writer, I lack. Some of my poems take more narrative shape and form, and might look or sound fiction-like, but for me they are still poems.

FF: As an immigrant to New Zealand you had to work in a new language. In what ways has your approach to writing changed with the shift to English? Do you find you think about poetry and words differently in English compared to how you approach writing in Serbian? And do you still write in your mother tongue? 

GS: For a poet, any language is just one big playground. Poetry exists somewhere in the illusive space between words and music. Trying to fit visible and invisible, shapes and figures, radiances and feelings into words is essentially an impossible task and a thrilling challenge. Serbian language is phonetic (much like Maori) and its basic principle is: “speak as you write, write as you speak”. Its natural sound and form, its rawness and simplicity provides an enormous space for self-expression, sharing and poetic interaction. English language is mongrel, and is much more complicated, but at the same time is much more playful or playable. At the time, switching to thinking, dreaming, talking and writing in English was a very painful process, to say the least. There would be many stories to tell about my rebelling against English form, grammar and spelling. Now, switching back to Serbian would be the same.

Probably the most significant determining influence on my art was stepping on stage. Hearing my work out loud and getting a response from the audience greatly helped me find my voice as a writer as well as adopt English as my “first language”.

FF: In flash fiction, choosing the right words and trimming down to the essence is central to the process. What kinds of words appeal to you? And how do you choose them?

GS: I used to say: “give me the words and I will give you back poems”. When I am in “the zone” and allow myself not to react — but to be — words start bouncing and popping out into the different meanings. The sound and shape of words are equally important as well as their ability to interact with each other on the page and as spoken. My English vocabulary is still very limited and I most enjoy words that I haven’t heard or used before. They become gateways, portals of new mental explorations and emotional experiences. Also, in my choice of words I am trying to keep my expression accessible for others and avoid the trap of being too abstract. Writing and performance is essentially like building a relationship. A relationship that an artist starts with his observations and self-expression, that extends to how readers and audience engage and relate to. In this delicate relationship, choice of words is essential to complete that circle and make the relationship sound and fulfilling.

Moving pictures, moving poetry

FF: In your Flash Frontier January story, Spinning the Real, you wrote about the cinema. Have you had a formative experience in a cinema? Or has cinema influenced your writing in other ways? 

GS: Cinema played one of the most important roles in my formative years. It’s one of the things that I really miss, as the time (or lack of it) is not allowing me to watch more movies these days. Although moving pictures can be one of the most powerful ways to set in motion one’s imagination, “Spinning the Real” is more a product of a word play, where nuances between sound, resonance and meaning of words reel and real are explored. Creating that real/reel framework, the story, time, and characters are moving and spinning whilst opening imagination space to  numerous interpretations.

FF: You are a performance poet, having most recently travelled to Europe to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe.  Do you write specifically with different media in mind? Do you write with an audience in mind?

GL: Absolutely, it gradually became compulsive. Creative space that I find myself in these days is not bound by paper or book covers but by “how is this going to look/sound on stage”. Being  fortunate to be able take my work to the biggest arts festival in the world and the opportunity to present  work in Europe and especially to the non-English speaking audiences was a life-changing experience. It manifested the  power of spoken word and it reinvigorated Printable Reality’s motto:“experience poetry differently”. Audiences’ reactions, laughs, and tears provided us with a completely different angle and took the understanding of our own work to a different level.  As a result, our next stage production (working title “ID – Insomnia and a Daydream” ) is going to be heavily influenced by those learnings and experiences.

A current odyssey

FF: Tell us more about your current engagement,  Lovers Walk. 

GS: Lovers Walk is an uplifting true love story told through fusion of music, poetry, video, theatre and dance. A majestic theatrical feast for your soul and all six senses.  The audience is taken on the intimate journey by two dynamic video projections, live dance and poetry.

Lovers Walk is a short (yet infinite) odyssey lived, created and choreographed by me and my partner Siri Embla. It is based on my poems with video material by visual artist Peter Brierley-Millman and music by Jo Blankenburg (piano), Gareth Priceless (guitar), Dubtext (electronica) and Kotaro Nishishita (classical guitar).

Returning from Europe, we are touring the show in NZ this summer, taking it to Wellington for the Fringe Festival in February. Our Walk continues on Waiheke Island 2nd and 3rd of March and arrives at the PumpHouse Theatre Takapuna on 15 and 16 March 2012.

It has been a fabulous experience so far, everywhere we go we have local artists sharing the stage with us and all our shows are essentially love celebrations. With every step of our walk the show evolves and opens hearts. Its path sets off a ripple, and all people that walk with us leave their footprints on that spiral route.

Warning: Lovers Walk show is rated “L”: if you love, it will make you love more, if you don’t, it will make you!

Dreamscapes and bedside habits 

FF: What are you writing this summer?

GS: I am writing and re-writing material for Printable Reality’s new stage production “Insomnia and a Daydream”. Siri and I are working on a show that is set out to be a stage sonnet – 14 scenes about life on the edge of consciousness and subconsciousness. Closed eyes, I am letting words form poems the same way the clouds are changing their formations in the sky. Words whisper, poems are commingling into dreamlike landscapes, waking up to come to life and impart the tale about the taciturn places they came from. And every time I open my eyes, they have formed another version.

FF: What are you reading this summer?

GS: Next to my bed are always several poetry books; one that has been open the most recently is Selected Poems of J.K Baxter. I am much more into listening to audio books than reading. I just finished listening to Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, one of my teenage years’ favourites, and am now moving onto Orlando by Virginia Woolf.

Thank you, Gus Simonovic, for the view into your world.

Photography credits: Yelena Dumanovic

For February’s stories inspired by heat, go here.

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