Maintenant #52: Cia Rinne
An interview with Cia Rinne by SJ Fowler.
A poet whose work is as multifaceted and wide-ranging as her own European character, Cia Rinne is an unforgettable poet, artist and thinker. Born in Sweden, raised in Germany, before living for over a decade in Finland and then Denmark, her aptitude for languages includes writing in French and English, as well as speaking Greek, Romanian, Spanish, Italian… and on the list goes. Her unique and cultivated ability to utilise such a multitude of languages creates an idiosyncratic poetic idiom, one that is truly refined and multifarious at its root. She matches this sensitivity with a remarkably immediate visual poetic style. If we had to choose a representation for the Maintenant series and it’s aims, perhaps the true intricacy of Cia Rinne’s work would make her the most viable candidate.
3:AM: Your poetry is visual, you utilise concrete images and conceptual poems. In your zaroum project and other works the poetry seems reminiscent of the Cobra poets – immediate, aesthetically unpretentious. Later you seem to use schematics, line drawings, instructions and forms close to classic concrete poetry…
Cia Rinne: Yes, it seems there are correspondences with concrete poetry, which I was not really aware of at the time of collecting the pieces for the first book. In fact, I did not know it could be understood as poetry at all, but was rather influenced by music, by text in art, or by small text pieces such as can be found in the Fluxus movement. In the first book, there are such simple line drawings in the book as well, and I used geometric figures such as circles or boxes. The second book, notes for soloists, is less visual, and concentrates more on the sonore qualities of language.
3:AM: Do you seek to write something that presents itself outside of traditional notions of language, of beauty and non-beauty? Are you trying to return the reader to something more innate or authentic?
CR: I cannot say I follow any specific idea, but I do think it is very interesting when writing permits to operate with language beyond the grammar and logics of habitual communication and the constraints of one single genre, although this of course is not a goal in itself; rather a means to form and examine a thought or idea. In general, I try to keep some sort of simplicity or minimalism in the writing and visual expression, and in the way the final object is produced.
3:AM: It seems on occasion you marry this visual pre-occupation with a digital medium as well…
CR: It was Christian Yde Frostholm (CYF) who asked me to contribute with a project for the Danish visual poetry site Afsnit P. I had never thought of using a digital medium before, also because I would have no idea how to do it myself, but when he asked, I immediately agreed. There were several zaroum pieces I had always thought of as being represented in their perfect form only as moving pieces, such as the TURN ON-NO-ON-NO- piece, which I had figured as a tactile piece from the beginning. So I wrote a manuscript of 29 pieces for the archives zaroum, and CYF made the animation.
3:AM: What are your primary concerns, if any, in the ongoing development of your poetry?
CR: I do think of all projects (the books zaroum and notes for soloists, the online work archives zaroum, the installation indices, and the sound work sounds for soloists made in collaboration with Sebastian Eskildsen) as part of one single project (that I call zaroum), so this project is continuing while I am simultaneously working on other writings. Most of the other writings like The Roma Journeys have a large responsibility to it. They deal with sensitive matters, and require lots of research. So zaroum is a necessary platform for me to be able to be free and childish, and not having to relate to such a heavy responsibility. It just needs to follow a unique logic that is interesting to try to find in each work, and on the whole, it is a fairly slow process. The pieces are often short, and it took about seven years to collect all the pieces for each book.
If there is a concern, it is trying to reduce the form to the minimum necessary in order to visualize a thought or idea. Tomas Schmit said in an interview with Wilma Lukatsch that it worked for him like that, “What you can say with a sculpture you do not need to build as architecture, what you can do with a drawing you do not need to search in image, and what you can clear up on a piece of paper does not need to become a huge drawing; and what you can make up in your mind does not even need any piece of paper.” This is something I can fully agree with, the ideal would probably be a constant reduction to almost nothing! In a way it is a countermovement to the massive flood of information and waste of material, too.
My poetry has been and hopefully will remain some sort of a separate zone to me, a side of my work in which I do not have to explain so much; it is a funny dilemma, but I hope that I will be able to keep my initial passion for it, which was about freedom of thought and form. I guess it is difficult – a little bit like trying hard to think about absolutely nothing.
3:AM: Where do your influences lie? In conceptual art? In concrete poetry? Do you interact with a contemporary community of poets?
CR: I have been naturally very drawn to and interested in the works of Tomas Schmit, Arthur Köpcke, Lev Rubinstein, Marcel Duchamp, and Ilya Kabakov. Music for some reason has been of great inspiration, too, such as that of Steve Reich, John Cage, and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
It was only after my first book was published that I got acquainted with the poetry community in the Nordic countries, and only after that I realized that my writings could be understood as poetry. When I was asked by the poetry publishers OEI in Sweden to read from zaroum I thought it was a joke as I considered the book rather visual and almost certainly unreadable for an audience, but to my surprise, reading the pieces worked well even though they were never intended to be read aloud. notes for soloists is to a large extent inspired of this new insight that my book actually worked as a spoken poetry, and the new book is much more oriented towards sound than towards visual aspects. Via these readings I have come in contact with the poetry scene in Scandinavia.
3:AM: You were born in Sweden, then grew up in Germany, before living in Denmark and Finland and it seems, from the locations of your work, you have been migrating across the world rather consistently. The environment of your growth as a poet is truly pan-European, perhaps more apt to say global. Do you feel this width of cultural influence has distinctly marked your work?
CR: Maybe it sounds more global than it really is – I was only born in Sweden, but actually spent my entire childhood and youth in Germany, only to as a student move to Helsinki where I ended up staying for 13 years before joining my husband in Denmark for three years, and then moving to Berlin where I live now. On my travels I was always doing something else as main work, and poetry was something I did on the side. Now that I think of it I have definitely been influenced by where I have been and what I have been involved with thematically, and to some extent the written pieces consume this kind of knowledge, new places and languages.
3:AM: You are renowned for the multitude of languages you speak and then incorporate into your work. How many languages do you speak? How do you explore the relationship between them?
CR: It is nothing I really think actively about; I rather write down the pieces in the language they occur, and those languages are usually English, German, or French. That is maybe strange because as opposed to Swedish, French is not my mother tongue, but is seems as if more global languages with their more abstract feeling fit the pieces better whereas Swedish has a very personal sound to me and is connected to very different spheres of life. There are other languages appearing in the book that I have learnt and again forgotten to some extent, so I do not speak all of them fluently. Only German and Swedish are like mother tongues to me. At school I learnt English, French, Italian, and Latin (which was more of a plague, pronounced with a German accent without melody, and totally unspeakable). While living in Finland, and Denmark, I learnt the respective languages, and other further languages to be able to communicate with the people I wanted to talk to while making books such as Bluetide on a Portuguese fishing community or iChickenMoon on a South African extended family who spoke Zulu, and finally The Roma Journeys on Roma communities in seven different countries, for which I learned Romanian, Hungarian, Spanish, and Greek, the latter of which I in fact had already learnt to some extent while studying half a year in Athens. I think between the age of 16 and 30 I was incredibly interested in languages; maybe the fact that my parents spoke a language to each other that I could not understand made me want to learn more and more languages, so I would no longer have to be the witness of conversations that were unintelligible to me as it were. I tried to learn Hindi, Russian, and Romani, and used them while with people who spoke the language, but did not continue to study them after the journeys, as there was no need for communication in those languages any longer. So it was out of necessity I studied many of them. Many of these languages are related to each other and have a similar grammatical structure, but I think what interested me and maybe still does are the sounds of languages. A language becomes like a different wardrobe to wear, and with it follow the according movements. Greece for instance is a very homogenous country in that way, the same expressions, the same movements, I was shocked when I returned to Athens after a few years of having been away, it was as if the whole bus was from the same family, the language structured everything. In my writing, this is of minor importance however; it is a lot more abstract, such as pieces playing with the homophone qualities of different languages, or stripping the words of their usual context so they become something other than mere means of communication. You just have the word or a piece of it that may sound similar or even identical to the sound of another language in which it means something else. I like the sounds of different languages, of not being constrained to merely one and the specific context it confines you to; there is something very liberating to it as there is to using language beyond its commonly accepted function; linguistic anarchy as it were.
3:AM: How did The Roma Journeys begin as a project? Did you interact with the Roma and Sinti communities for long periods of time, and in which countries? Has this been a long-standing interest for you – the situation of the Romani people in Europe?
CR: I had spent an extended period of time in post-Apartheid South Africa with photographer Joakim Eskildsen during the making of the book iChickenMoon (1999). It was upon our return to Europe that we realized there is some sort of invisible apartheid here, too. At the time, Hungarian-born sculptor Zoltán Popovits, a friend of ours, was in the process of moving back to Hungary from Finland, and told us about a little Roma settlement in North-Eastern Hungary. Once we visited the village and started reading about the history of the Roma, it was very difficult to stop. We simply became so interested in the Roma history, culture and situation that we ended up spending seven years on the project, staying extended periods of time with Roma in Romania, Greece, Russia, Finland, France, Hungary, and with different casts in India. If possible, we lived with the families and shared their everyday life, and often did so for several months. The book The Roma Journeys was published by Steidl in 2007.
3:AM: Can you detail your collaboration with the photographer Joakim Eskildsen? Would you be present when he was working? Did you engage with the art and poetry of the Roma people you visited with?
CR: Except for the first rather unplanned journeys, I had done more or less extensive research before we embarked on the journeys, studying the situation of the Roma in the respective country, and contacting people and organisations that would be willing to help us get in touch with Roma communities. Once travelling, we would work closely together though. The situation was often that of us living with a family, and then spending the days walking around, meeting other people. It would always take a few days in a new pace before Joakim could really start taking pictures of people or I could interview them; first, I would spend a lot of time explaining who we were and what we were doing as we would not have wanted to go ahead without their approval. After some time, people would know us, some would invite us home, and then things happened quite naturally.
It is maybe confusing, but working with the Roma and writing poetry are really two different interests to me, and I do not necessarily combine both. While one is connected to a strong passion for human rights, history and culture, writing poetry is more free, or I like to think of it as being more so. When working with the Roma I was focusing on learning about their history, culture, and situation in each country, and tried to get an understanding for their lives from within. I had no specific intention to find Roma poets or artist, so if that happened, it was mere coincidence, but of course, a very happy one.
To read more on The Roma Journeys.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
SJ Fowler is a postgraduate student of philosophy at the University of London and a poet. He is also an employee of the British Museum.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, March 7th, 2011.