by Bartolomé Ferrando
If concrete poetry concentrates speech in just one sentence, just one word or even a portion thereof, visual poetry contains syllabic remains, residues of letters, or combinatorial games between letters and images, where the meaning has disappeared or is shown half buried by the presence of ambiguity. But in both of these, the space surrounding it, or sandwiched in between the body of the letters or images is fundamental in the composition. Thanks to this the sentences, words, and residues of writing or images breathe and form links, creating extensions and disseminations, artistic structures, architectures of signs, buildings of black holes or blocks of written-sketched voices.
So it is in this book where the word, which is sometimes multiplied and expanded, has repeatedly foundered, leaving only marks, sometimes scattered, of this which are shown by way of alphabets, thus inviting us to create a different way of speaking or a new relationship with our surroundings. This would be, in any case, similar to a different speech that besides words would house colours, gestural strokes, yells, condensations or clumps of voice, abandoning, if only a little, the compression and condensation the common language to which we are submitted. It would involve imagining in these alphabets tours we never made; painting with our voices; building fragile architectures, and sometimes even squeezing sounds to produce sonorities that have never been heard, such as those “we listened to” while standing astonished before a painting by Henri Michaux in which a crowd of signs move and grab shouting from one side of the canvas to another. “Painting is writing”, said Octavio Paz1, alluding to Duchamp’s Large Glass; writing that, in my opinion, will have the chance to be linked and pronounced here.
A number of alphabets are shown in this book: those produced by the poets Calleja, Caulfield, Gangi and Gubbins, in which, as a starting point, writing lives with painting, sculpture, architecture or dance, shaping multiple intermediate intersections that would rather walk individually:
In Calleja’s work, for example, when the letter A of the alphabet talks to the water (agua), the letter C to a group of letters from the Spanish deck of cards or F with strips of celluloid photographic negatives devoid of images, a link occurs that might seem reductive. It would be so if the circle closed with this link, but if we turn the circle around, that is, if I start to explore it in the opposite direction, the relationship established between the letter A and the written-drawn picture of water is shown only as a starting point: the beginning of a close relationship between the sign of the alphabet and image makes it not a static and rigid connection to the link but opens the link A-agua (water) in any common place wherever it is located; and so that in this way we can mentally “see” various sizes of letters “A” when opening the kitchen tap at home or suddenly finding ourselves on the waterfront, going beyond the relationship with a particular brand of mineral water targeted in the first image of this alphabet.
But even this inversion does not end the course of this first image because, moreover, the letter A opens its doors here in other directions to combine and link up with other images such as a pin (alfiler), an almond or a block of clay (arcilla), for example, where the mark of “A” would be attached to each icon of the nouns, thus reopening the link, but differently, with each of the aforementioned possible variants or iconic three-dimensional objects.
Caulfield’s writing of Alfabesi signs is shown in a different way: each letter writes and draws its own territory, tracing linear paths that have their source in the same sign, as if they were a different stellar image of bodies. And so, if the initial “Agua en el agua” (Water in water) of the first letter stays in its own liquid territory, “The Divinity is born in A” creates a very different line, exploring other landscapes and reaching even inextricable unknown territories. And if the “Letter of keen ears” is separated only a little from the sign and just turns it around a little, the “Game of syllabic alternation” draws an intermittent, apparently broken, dashed line. But everything converges towards the same point of departure, the starting point, around which various sensations and rhetoric of varying densities are amalgamated. Each line has a different language; it has a unique body and exposes its own thinness, linked to a particular bone structure that is characteristic to this. Thus I see Caulfield’s twenty-six Alfabesi figures.
And moreover, inside each of these images, the sentences do not touch each other, but are surrounded by layers of silence that hinder listening to any other route. Between any two lines there is an abyss, and what one says is never heard by the other. They look at each other, but are not felt or heard. It seems that each line has its own eyes, but lacks hands and ears. This is how I see the colours of each of the short speeches that shape the Alfabesi signs that fill the air with shades and frayed tones. Each star glows with different colours.
That besides the alphabet, ALFA-UMBRA displays the shadows of it, each turned into objects and various characters, shadows that, in the words of Dorfles, “allow us to grasp the true meaning of light”2. A light that is ordered alphabetically and in turn separately from it, letter by letter, to which the different signs around are shown defrocked of any ornament or attachment, yet linked to its own mark, which is itself a place of escape and a way to follow. But of course one that is located just at the beginning of this road; “which is the body’s shadow “, according to Seymour when referring to Richard Long’s work3; and a body that in itself is, most likely, the abstraction of a real object.
And so in ALFA-UMBRA, the structure of the alphabetic sign sometimes turns into the shadow of a knife and fork, while in others, for example, the mark takes the black sign of a gun, scissors or a two-way signal, following the original layout of the constituents of each of the letters of the alphabet, which would have appeared, in turn, following the structure of a particular object. But the transition between sign and mark has random components, as the knife and fork could be replaced by two pencils, and the scissors could have been pliers or a clothespin, which would get in touch with the sign and, in a more distant way, the original object or objects from where this departs.
Although, in my view, what stands out most in the ALFA-UMBRA are not the signs themselves, but rather the shadows they “produce”. And, according to Hausmann “it is the shadow which disintegrates and distorts things”4. It is the shadow that leads the sign in a direction marked by the object that it shows and reveals, located on a road that has only just begun.
And Gubbins’ alphabetic blocks are, in themselves, densities and written solutions, composed of lines, lumps, echoes and fading signs that form a mesh, a fabric, a texture of deformed letter shaped lace wherein grooves of fog hide outlined vertical buildings. The blocks may be seen as a network of geographies, occupied by a variable and diverse number of inhabitants, marked and determined by the laws of chance. Murmured blinds; written architectures of voice, in which the black speech rides over the silence in endless alternations and crosses, paving the area with matted blocks and granite soldiers and wind.
The time is frozen, and not only opens its doors to space, but it is also space, in whose veins flows the air that has not yet been contaminated by writing. But the paralysis is only partial, because suddenly we feel that the whole body of writing, which seemed to be sleeping, slides vertically at a high speed, sliding and deforming the signs it contains. The writing blocks are shown so full of life and movement. The writing drains away and sometimes almost disappears.
1 Paz, Octavio. Apariencia desnuda. Ediciones Era, Mexico, 1973, p.30
2 Dorfles, Gillo. Imágenes interpuestas. De las costumbres al arte. Edit. Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1989, p.154
3 Seymour, Anne. “Walking in circles”, in the catalogue with the same name from the exhibition by Richard Long at the Hayward Gallery, from 14 June to 12 August, Edit. Thames and Hudson, London, 1991, p. 25
4 Chévrier, Jean François. “Las relaciones del cuerpo”, in the Raoul Hausmann catalogue, from the exhibition held in the IVAM, Centro Julio González, between 10 February and 24 April 1994, IVAM, Valencia, 1994, p.109
Pròleg del llibre ABCDario… Ediciones Canibaal. Valencia 2015