Current doctoral study

Kyra is engaged in an AHRC-funded doctoral study through the University of Bristol, examining what is currently termed sign language poetry (it has previously been termed ‘art sign’) by attempting to address the question:

What can the use of visual art as either an epistemological framework or a practical tool for the investigation of British Sign Language poetry reveal/ unveil that sign linguistics has/can not?

English poetry was traditionally not a written form, but a spoken (performed) one. Essentially performative, sign languages easily lend themselves to creative expression.

Like spoken poetry, sign poetry is a traditional form – naturally occurring in deaf communities and often the vehicle for expressing community values, communal spirit and the humour, pains and hardships of a misunderstood way of being.

That sign languages are natural languages, rich in linguistic resources is now beyond dispute. Moreover it is becoming clear that additional resources (e.g. the ability to simultaneously use more articulators – head, eyes, eyebrows, mouth, shoulders, hands, movement, space) allows the sign languages so far studied to exploit greater linguistic productivity than many spoken languages (such as English).

One of the results of this abundance of resources is that sign poetry is able to simultaneously concern itself with a mastery of language, and produce actual image as imagery.

Yet although sign language poetry is being researched by linguists, none are using art theories or practices as analytical tools, nor foregrounding image in their research.

Kyra‘s interviews with audiences attending sign poetry performances reveal that the poet’s mastery of both language and image are valued in aesthetic appreciation of the form. Her interviews with a group of BSL poets show that the majority of them consider image carefully in their work, sometimes using art as a preparation or sketchbook tool in the creative process.

Therefore Kyra’s doctoral study is seeking to analyse a set of sign poems using categories and theories of image found in the visual arts (Rancière, Deleuze).

It is also exploring the practical connections between sign poetry and other visual arts by inviting artists working in a variety of media to respond to a given sign poem. That many of the artists are unfamiliar with British Sign Language will test T.S. Eliot’s assertion that ‘genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood’, but should also garner fresh insights into the visual and the image in the sign poetic form.

The artists will be working on their responses until the end of 2012, and we invite you to follow their progress.

It is anticipated that their works, together with the original works of the sign poets and a catalogue revealing insights from the research will be available from January 2015. We are currently seeking exhibition opportunities. If you can help with this, please do get in touch.


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