The Latin proverb “verba volant, scripta manent” is of uncertain origin, though attributed to the emperor Titus. The fleeting and the enduring character of words are included in this adage that may be translated as "Spoken words fly away, wriiten ones remain." Perhaps its perennial nature has given writing the safeguard of the memory of the past. Its memorial function, however, is only one aspect of writing: among the other, multiple characteristics of the written letter are to express, to inform, to narrate.
Herlitzka + Faria is pleased to present the group show Scripta manent, a selection of works that share the theme of writing, taking it up through various conceptions and procedures.
Writing entails a symbolic system made up of signs to which certain significations are attributed. Starting out from this statement, the obviousness of which makes it no less necessary, it is possible to reflect on two questions useful to bear in mind as one visits the rooms of this exhibition.
in the first place, it is worth stressing the distintion between the graphic aspects that make up writing and the signfication attributed to them. As already implied, there is one fundamental trait in this correspondence: a relation that is arbitrary and culturally determined. It is around this dislocation that many visual artists make use of the notion of graphism, transgressing the very condition of the linguistic sign. On the other hand, in focusing attention on the nature of writing, we seize on a key point to orient us: writing requires a material medium. Be it paper, canvas, or stone, it is a question of a necessary condition for its existence, and it is what distinguishes it from oral language. Through its quality as a graphic element captured in some material medium, writing is deeply connected with plastic expression.
In this way, in the field of the visual arts, through these properties and tangents, artists take writing beyond its communcative function.
The use of the written word is nothing especially new to the visual arts. Perhaps conceptualism is the movement that has made the most essential use of it. In it, where the idea is dominant, the word is one of the privileged mediums for rendering the work, and language becomes both its material and its very theme. In the present exhibition examples of this abound, in line with this type of production, among them, those of Álvaro Barrios, Rafael Hastings, Ricardo Carreira, or Carlos Ginzburg.
In the works that follow a conceptualist line, writing may become a tool to refer the viewer to themes that range from social and political questions - as in the works of Juan Carlos Romero or Hernán Marina-, to the question of the very nature of art: a clear exemplar of this tendency would be Horacio Zabala. We also find those questions taken up in works in which the function of writing would seem to record a research project, as we see in those of Osvaldo Romberg or Karina Peisajovich. In other works, the artists appropriate someone else's writing, devising collages with cuttings from graphic media, as in the cases of Herbert Rodríguez or Analía Sabán.
Other artists have developed what Roland Barthes called illegible writings (Variaciones sobre la escritura [Variations on Writing], Buenos Aires: Paidós, 2002). This is a matter of compositions which, without achieving total abstraction, refer nevertheless to the visual structures of writing, without possessing intelligible references. We mustn't assume that they don't possess a signification, since the artists in these productions invoke and question the limits of artistic creation and its possibility of communication. This is definitely a matter of experimenting with the versatility of written language. We can find this tendency in works by Mirtha Dermisache, Susana Rodríguez, Margarita Paksa, or Emilia Azcárate.
A special case comes up in those works that present alternative alphabets to the Latin one, whether real or fictitious. Their differential traits, approached either purely visually or sensorially, take on those alphabets' purely visual or sensorial, rather than communicative, qualities (whether or not this last function is present in the work). Good examples of this would be León Ferrari's use of braille, Leandro Katz's alphabet, or the signographs and texts of Clemente Padín.
It isn't possible to avoid mentioning the genre of poetry, much sought out by our artists, approached through plastic and conceptual means. The resulting works compose hybrids that cross the disciplines, with the visual prevailing in some instances over the literary, or in other instances, vice-versa. Such are the cases of works by Rafael Alberti, Jaime Higa, Ferreira Gullar, or Guillermo Deisler. In them, out of diverse practices, we note the synthesis of both artistic expressions.
Perhaps the work of Leopoldo Maler offers a suggestive case for concluding our survey. Because, unlike the works that surround it, here writing makes itself present by its very absence. Fire once again returns to us a reflection about the enormous power of the written word; for if it weren't so powerful, why else would it be permanently interpreted, censored, interrogated, questioned, reinterpreted? The good thing here is that all these possibilities are available as long as the written remains.
Herlitzka + Faria