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Spring 2005, vol 3 no 1

Bell Crickets: Artists' Statement

Graphic renga is a collaborative art form that was developed by Toshihiro Anzai and Rieko Nakamura in 1992 ( A truly internet-based performance art, it combines digital art and classical linked poetry. Renga participants exchange digital artworks, altering each image as it is received to create a new work of art. The resulting series of linked images is thus a visual expression of the transmission of artistic ideas between participants.

There are few rules in graphic renga. Images may be altered by manipulating and changing the received image, by adding new motifs to it, or by inserting it as a motif in a wholly new composition. Unlike classical linked poetry, there are no rules against backlinking. The theme of the renga, the number of images and the order in which they will be passed are decided by the participants. There is no poetry as such, although images may be titled.

We learned about graphic renga when Carol Raisfeld introduced it on WHChaikumultimedia. We have been composing as a duo since then and have two collaborations scheduled to be published in the next issues of Simply Haiku and Haiga Online. Those two have six images with captions in the form of one-line haiku. They have similarities to rengay and colorenga, the difference being that the haiku were composed after the images were complete and it is the images, not the haiku, that are the linked renga.

“Bell Crickets” developed in a different direction. Twelve images long, the images do not relate to each other in a way that would have been compatible with a colorenga. We realized that any text composed for it would have to be a twelve-link renku resembling the more traditional Japanese forms. We decided on a shisan, but this presented challenges:

1) The graphic renga had been composed with no prior thought to season references, though three of the images (4, 5 and 6) seemed to refer specifically to Spring and Summer.

2) We were beginning with a pre-existing set of images that had been composed under graphic renga rules, which are quite different and more liberal than those of renku; for instance, graphic renga do not prohibit backlinking.

3) The images were created and passed between us in an alternating a/b/a/b/ rhythm, which meant that if we simply wrote captions for our own images, one of us would have all the three-line verses and the other all the two-lines.

We solved these problems by electing to compose a Winter shisan, which allowed the Spring and Summer verses to fall in an appropriate place. We decided that whatever the rules of graphic renga, the shisan would be a stand-alone renku whose links responded to the images and to each other. And finally, for the allocation of three- and two-link verses, we adapted a pattern for a two-poet shisan that was published by Paul MacNeil in World Haiku Review 2002. This meant that we would start and end the shisan composing verses for our own images, but through the middle we would each be responding to the other’s.

As they developed, the verses of the shisan linked to each other in classic form but also to the images, not only their own but the images before and after. They also added new layers of meaning to the artistic themes developed in the images and the result is a renga that gains in depth and complexity with the two threads, graphic renga and shisan, inextricably entwined.

Copyright 2005: Simply Haiku