Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

The Art of Writing and Writing as Political Art in León Ferrari

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

The Art of Writing and Writing as Political Art in León Ferrari

Article excerpt

The name of León Ferrari (1920-2013) is associated with the Argentine neo avant-garde of the 1960s and 1970s, a movement in which a group of artists - Juan Pablo Renzi, Pablo Suárez, Roberto Jacoby, Luis Felipe Noé, Jorge de la Vega, among others - blended ethics with aesthetics and fused irreverence and experimentation with a political message.

This study analyses Ferrari's writings, both legible and illegible, as art in which their visual and material aspects are reinforced. These writings are political not only for their message but also on account of their questioning of epistemological concepts bearing upon the place of writing. In fact, in its substance (1929: 32). In drawing attention towards the presence of the material signifier of the inherited sign, Ferrari's writings are political insofar as they are an investigation of their fundamental cultural and social role. Along these lines, I agree with Craig Epplin, who perceives Ferrari's art as political, whether it constitutes formal experimentation or explicit political content (2012: 715).

On the other hand, and according to the integrational approach of writing systems, the definition of writing is broad and embraces both verbal and non-verbal systems. These include musical notation, choreography, engineering and chemical diagrams, and mathematical and physical equations. All these codify a conventional knowledge and according to this approach, the alphabet would be nothing more than a notation.1 According to this integrational account, Ferrari's writings ought be understood from the point of view of a wide-ranging concept, which would involve both conventional and invented notations. In regard to the latter, Ferrari's abstract writings are in consonance with Roland Barthes' ideas. Barthes, himself author of artificial 'contreécritures', resisted accepting the primacy of the communicative function of language and writing as the transmission of orality as distinctive features of language (2002: 90-91). Further, Barthes thought that there are incomprehensible writings beyond deciphering because they are works of the imagination. What he had in mind were fictitious or false writings (his examples are the graphisms of Mirtha Dermisache, André Masson, and Bernard Réquichot), which could not be differentiated from the true, save by the context, a distinction between the non-deciphered and the indecipherable. Barthes concluded that the signifier is free and sovereign, and that illegible writings tell us only they are signs, not sense (2002: 105).

Although the historical avant-gardes experimented with the letter - printed or hand-written - within the visual field (Braque, Picasso, Miró, Michaux, Xul Solar, Torres-García, among others), what is certain is that the Latin American neo avant-garde of the 1960s made language a dimension of aesthetic-political action that criticism, for lack of a better term, has taken to calling conceptual. According to Mari Carmen Ramírez, this movement was a socio-artistic project of emancipation that fused the creation of new forms of art with the construction of an alternative society (1999: 60).

This project was clearly expressed by Ferrari in 'El arte de los significados' (1968), a text he wrote for 'Tucumán arde', a collective and multidisciplinary art action:

Meaning alone does not make a work of art. The newspapers are filled with content that people read with indifference. Our work consists then in organizing content with other elements in a work that can be more effectively transmitted, developed, and noted.... Art will neither be beauty nor novelty; art will be efficacy and perturbation. The fully achieved work of art will be one that within the artist's context, will have the same impact as a terrorist attack in a country being liberated. (Ferrari 2006: 439, emphasis added)2

According to Héctor Olea, Ferrari's 'efficacy' entails an ethics, while 'perturbation' is the product of his aesthetics (2000: 395). …

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