Po­etic path

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Path, Moe­bius Path, Pasatiempo Moe­bius

Artist Fran­cisca Ben­itez builds neigh­bor­hood bonds

Fran­cisca Ben­itez trained as an ar­chi­tect at the Univer­si­dad de Chile, and when she moved to New York City in the late 1990s, most of her art­work fo­cused on the de­sign and use of space. These themes evolved into look­ing at how peo­ple per­ceive space, and her work was of­ten video-based with strong sound el­e­ments. Four years ago, when she be­gan tak­ing classes in Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage (ASL), her cre­ative out­put took a turn. “What hap­pened is that my whole art prac­tice started to sup­port my goal of learn­ing ASL,” Ben­itez told in ad­vance of her par­tic­i­pa­tory per­for­mance,

on Fri­day, Sept. 30, as part of SITE Santa Fe’s bi­en­nial, much wider than a line. “I had never been to New Mex­ico be­fore, so af­ter I was asked to par­tic­i­pate in the bi­en­nial, the first thing I did was look at a map of Santa Fe. I saw that SITE and the New Mex­ico School for the Deaf are neigh­bors, sep­a­rated by a five-minute walk.”

When Ben­itez found out the two or­ga­ni­za­tions had never worked to­gether, she wanted to help them forge a con­nec­tion. In this takes the form of a group walk from SITE to NMSD — from one side of the Santa Fe Rai­l­yard to the other. NMSD high­school students will in­ter­pret ex­hibits at the cam­pus’s Ken­neth E. Brasel Centennial Mu­seum, trac­ing the his­tory of deaf ed­u­ca­tion in New Mex­ico and the United States. The au­di­ence and students then walk back to SITE, where Ben­itez’s col­lab­o­ra­tor, Dou­glas Ridloff, leads an ASL po­etry slam.

“Walk­ing to­gether is a con­cept that’s been present in my work be­fore. I like the re­la­tion­ships that arise between peo­ple when they walk to­gether, be­cause it’s un­forced,” Ben­itez said. “You can be quiet or you can in­ter­act with oth­ers. You can find your level of en­gage­ment.”

Ben­itez, the old­est of six chil­dren, was born in San­ti­ago but grew up in the Chilean coun­try­side. Her fa­ther, who was deaf, had been an ac­tive mem­ber of the ur­ban deaf com­mu­nity when he lived in the city, even rep­re­sent­ing Chile at the World Congress of the World Fed­er­a­tion for the Deaf in 1972. His wife and chil­dren were hear­ing and did not learn sign lan­guage, so Ben­itez saw a dif­fer­ent side of her fa­ther when­ever his friends vis­ited or the fam­ily took a trip to San­ti­ago, and he would sign with other deaf peo­ple. “It re­quired years of train­ing with pri­vate tu­tors for him to de­velop his speak­ing and lip-read­ing abil­i­ties, and he was very good at it for some­one who was pro­foundly deaf and who didn’t even wear hear­ing aids,” she said. “I was al­ways very in­spired by how he could move between the hear­ing world and the deaf world.”

ASL po­etry has be­come a pri­mary area of in­ter­est for Ben­itez and is a nat­u­ral out­growth of her for­mer fo­cus on ar­chi­tec­tural space, be­cause a sig­nif­i­cant char­ac­ter­is­tic of this po­etry is its phys­i­cal­ity. ASL po­etry is an oral form ex­pe­ri­enced by the au­di­ence as vis­ual. The lit­er­ary genre re­lies on sign lan­guage, mim­ing, fa­cial ex­pres­sion, and other el­e­ments of dra­matic in­ter­pre­ta­tion that al­low the poet to draw attention to spe­cific move­ments to con­vey mean­ing and em­pha­sis. It ne­ces­si­tates a dif­fer­ent sort of con­cen­tra­tion than most hear­ing peo­ple are used to giv­ing when lis­ten­ing to po­etry, which is gen­er­ally re­ceived on two lev­els: the lit­eral mean­ing of the words be­ing read aloud, and the way the words sound to­gether as the poet has writ­ten them. The lat­ter level in­cludes rhymes, re­peated vowel and con­so­nant sounds, rhythm, and pac­ing, and it is of­ten re­ferred to as the mu­sic of the lan­guage. In ASL po­etry, where the words are silent, that mu­sic is vis­ual.

“Rhymes are based on hand shape or move­ment,” Ben­itez said. “In English the words might not rhyme at all, and the words can be things that are di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed. For ex­am­ple, the hand shape to make the word ‘bee’ is the same as the hand shape you use to make the words ‘im­por­tant’ and ‘cu­ri­ous’ and the phrase ‘smoke a joint.’ ”

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