Sooth by David Jhave Johnston

David Jhave Johnston’s Sooth is interactive text over video. The text is a series of six different interactively triggered phrase-by-phrase love poems. Each phrase is paired with it’s own alternating volume audio, giving each individual phrase a sense of individuality. Each poem has the option to be featured in English or in French. Interestingly the title of the work “Sooth” means truth. Each poem is circled back to these overarching title theme, presenting words of truth and thoughtful emotional themes.

Upon opening Johnston’s work, the user is introduced to a black screen with grey text, prompting the user to select a poem from the left menu list. The first of these poems is the aptly named title work “Sooth”. Clicking on the title prompts the beginning of video, in this case wind moving ferns. The user is prompted to click the screen to introduce each new phrase of the poem. The words glide smoothly on to the screen and seem to rustle in the wind with the ferns. The poem and video are combined with sounds of birds, water, and music. With each click and introduction of new words to the screen, the video pans to a different aspect of the landscape and the tone and quality of the color of the video changes. Five lines of the poem, after clicked on to screen, continue to float around the page – alternating position and changing sizes. Each click  forms a  new 5-phrase combination of the poem as they fade in and out around the screen.

The second poem, “Weeds” features a panning close up video of a person laid down, resting. Their eyes open and close intermittently. There appears to be a strong focus on appearance and texture, of the eyelashes, skin, cloth, and even words. The word choices and movement of each line by line delivery are both surprising and interesting. Various words are brought on to the screen and float around. Creating and recombining in the same way that the first poem does. Fading, growing, shrinking, moving. The color tone of the screen changes constantly, altering the mood of the poem in front of you.

The third poem, “Body” follows the same format. The video is a minimalist image of of color-tone changing curvature of what could be the curves of a body or the outline of a landscape. The words come on the screen in clicks in the same way as the previous poems, overlapping and creating alternating stanzas of compelling language.

“Root” is set to a background a flowing water a calming background image that features the poems lines swirling and flowing back and forth as soon as they appear on screen, moving with the flowing water. Each new line seems to be a complete thought, each which flows together nicely with the next.

“Soul” is set to a background of underwater rocks feature a large semi-grotesque black fish breathing through it’s gills. Each new word comes up twice above the fish. Once in large letters that fades out in the background and is replaced with each click and introduction of a new word, plus a smaller pairing that is always in motion alternating in size and brightness with each other word. The words of this poem are about sex and love, an interesting pairing against such a non-sexual or romantic background setting.

The final poem in the series is “Snow.” The video features and extreme closeup of clean, perfect, snow with a small strip of blue at the top, presumable sky. Each phrase appears in white, an interesting choice against a white background that can make them almost unreadable, but each set of words floats up to the blue sky above it, making each phrase legible. The poem features lines about being together and alone at the same time.

If you haven’t checked out this work yet, I’d recommend it. The form and interactivity makes it a very interesting set of poems to look at and analyze. The video, ever-changing tone, word movement, and sound effects add a depth and interest to the works of poetry, making them more interesting than if they were simply presented flatly and in place.

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