- Bird-Watching:Visualizing the Influence of Gonçalves Dias’ “Canção do Exílio”
Editor’s Note: Additional multimedia resources relating to the Enslen-Enslen “Bird-Watching” exhibition can be viewed by visiting: chiricu.indiana.edu
On June 3, 2016, in connection with the Materialities of Literature Program of the University of Coimbra’s School of Arts and Humanities, the artist Alaina Enslen and I inaugurated an exhibition at the Museum of Science called “Bird-Watching: Visualizing the Influence of Brazil’s ‘Canção do Exílio’.” Based on our concept of Visual Literary Studies, the exhibition was the first comprehensive attempt to graphically represent the influence of Brazil’s most imitated poem. A descriptive summary on the wall of the entrance to the exhibition gave the following explanation:
Written in Coimbra in 1843 by the Brazilian student Antônio Gonçalves Dias, “Canção do Exílio” is one of the most popular poems of all time. Over the last 173 years, this Romantic nationalist text has inspired thousands of variations by writers from a number of countries in every period and literary genre, especially in Brazil, where its textual reinvention continues daily on blogs and sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. By applying theories and methods from literary criticism, historiography, the visual arts and network science, this collaborative exhibit, based on more than a thousand texts, songs, and photographs collected over the last three years, presents various visual readings of the immense and diverse influence of the poem.
Composed of 11 intertextual installations filling two large rooms, including collages, graphs, montages, film, manifesto, interactive poetry and sound,1 “Bird-Watching” was an exhibition filled with numerous visualizations, some distant and others close, some interpretatively subjective, others more data-driven. Over the course of a month, and with the help of many volunteers, each of the 11 installations was [End Page 127] carefully and painstakingly curated so that attendees were immersed in a temporal space where textuality and visuality intermingled.2
In her recent book Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production, Johanna Drucker communicates the urgent need for scholars in the humanities to consider visualization as a potential mode for presenting research. Viewing the Digital Revolution as an unprecedented opportunity for fundamentally rethinking knowledge representation in the humanities, she writes: “Now is the moment to lift that ban of suspicion and engage the full potential of visuality to produce and encode knowledge as interpretation” (11). In that light, the University of Coimbra’s Museum of Science, the space where the Bird-Watching exhibition was held, served as something of a bridge between the textuality of traditional literary criticism and the visual possibilities of the digital. It was an artisanal middle-ground where, in a collaborative mode, Alaina and I felt free to grapple with the idea of visuality in literary studies and, more specifically, the representation of the hundreds upon hundreds of interrelated texts and photographs in the form of unpotentiated interfaces. Applying the idea of an interface as a “mediating structure” between humans and computers (Drucker 138), each installation was a visual window into the intertextual data resting at the heart of the Bird-Watching project.
Earlier in our one-year stay in Coimbra, in October 2015, just a few weeks before approaching the University about the idea for an exhibition, Alaina and I, along with our four children, spent a weekend with friends in the Foz Côa Valley of the Alto Douro region. Attracted to the area by its extensive network of open-air pre-historic rock art, we visited the drawings of Penascosa. Inspired by the experience, I shortly thereafter put down on paper a working concept for visualization that would orient the exhibition. Due to the spontaneous and declaratory mode of the statement, I called it “A Critic’s Manifesto.” Yet, more true to the quip-like internet culture with which the statement necessarily coincides than to the cascading manifestoes of earlier movements and moments, the statement represents a diminutive proposition for Visual Literary Studies.
It is the screen that now unites us. The computational canvas. Filled with pictures. Filled with sounds. Filled with...