Individual Work
Family Tree

The work of “Family Tree” is a visual representation of a poem “Stambook”, written by Dutch poet and composer Rozalie Hirs. The piece was published as a part of Hirs's fourth poetry book “Geluksbrenger” (2008). Earlier, in 2006, Hirs has created it's electronic form in cooperation with the German conceptual artist Harm van den Dorpel, thanks to the financial support of the Dutch Foundation for Literature. The digital application “Family Tree” incorporates the electroacoustic composition “For Morton Feldman” (2002), also by Rozalie Hirs. The author of the English translation used in the project is Ko Kooman.

“Family Tree” consists of single words or short phrases connected by punctuation marks such as dots, commas or brackets. The shape resembles a chain rather than the title tree - it is suspended in empty space and "grows" downwards. Using the cursor, the user can move between the upper and lower vertices of the structure and moving the cursor to the right and left he calls the "wind", setting the individual links or entire chains into a spinning motion.

Hirs’s project is an example of a work from the borderline of visual and concrete poetry. With visual poetry it shares an evident representation of the form of a "root" or "chain" built of somewhat random words associated with the family. Some of them cannot even be read because the structure is constantly spinning and the user does not have a strict control over it. The so-called family tree is best described as a mobile (some compare it to one that would hang above a baby’s crib). A concrete shape resulting from the text and strongly suggested in the title refers to concrete poetry in which structure is equivalent to content. Words and phrases are arranged here in constellations, referring to Eugen Gomringer's artistic method.

What is special about this representation of the family tree is the fact that it is read the opposite way – in place where usually there are roots symbolizing the oldest ancestors, the Hirs’s model is followed by the ending or, to be precise, the question mark. The "traditional" tree is static because it refers to known facts from the past, whereas in this case the dynamics is the most important factor. Some of the chains are divided into successive branches and others break in half as it happens with the lines of the families. Rozalie Hirs's work can also be interpreted as a visualization of intergenerational memory processes. While some events become the initiation point and are nurtured in collective consciousness, others are forgotten and only fragmentary, echoing mention remains after them.

Leonardo Flores, “Family Tree” by Rosalie Hirs and Harm Van Den Dorpel
Rosalie Hirs’s web,
Urszula Pawlicka, Cyfrowa poezja konkretna,

Author statement: 
The digital project Family Tree is conceived as a mobile responding to two forces: wind and gravity. The reader/listener conjures these at will by moving the mouse: left and right to create movement through wind in the horizontal plane, and up and down to apply the force of gravity and create a vertical movement along the family tree. In this way, the reader/listener shapes the reading experience, causing the text to move and rearrange itself on the digital page. Family Tree can be regarded as an exercise of memory, investigating stories told and our ever-changing recollection of them, as well as a path towards some kind of source DNA: stories mix, converse and change, as people from different places and times are faced with each other. This imaginary space is flexible and open to new possibilities.