tangled alphabets

leon-ferrari1
Detail from Letter to a Genera 1963, by Leon Ferrari

Tangled Alphabets is a current exhibition at the MOMA in New York about the work of Mira Schendel and León Ferrari, There is also a publication. 

León Ferrari (Argentine, b. 1920) and Mira Schendel (Brazilian, b. Switzerland, 1919–1988) are considered among the most significant artists working in Latin America during the second half of the twentieth century. Their works address language as a major visual subject matter: the visual body of language, the embodiment of voices as words and gestures, and language as a metaphor of the worldly aspect of human existence through the eloquence of naming and writing. They produced their works in the neighboring countries of Argentina and Brazil throughout the 1960s and 1980s, when the question of language was particularly central to Western culture due to the central role taken by post-structuralism, semiotics, and the philosophy of language. Although their drawings, sculptures, and paintings are contemporary with the birth of Conceptualism, they are distinctively different, and have not yet been exhibited in their entirety in the United States.

The exhibition can be viewed in detail also through an interactive flash site.

mira-schendel22
Detail from Objetos Graficos by Mira Schendel, 1972

This piece is really a sculpture, and should be seen large. I love the way the alphabet swirls out of the vortex, a galaxy in the making, a big bang. In biblical cosmology “in the beginning there was the word,” in Asian cosmology in the beginning there was the sound, the AUM. Here we have vision of how the language and signs came into being.

The Letter to the General above is beautiful piece of calligraphy in an imaginary script as a part of a series of “deformed writing”. It reminds me of “pretend writing” – emergent writing of children. Apparently the artist said “it is difficult to write a ‘logical’ letter to a general” so there we have a play with nonsense and mystery.

See also Shaker visual poetry, love letters and the slow act of writing.

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