Writings: five contemporary artists explore language, meaning and inscription. Featuring the work of Gustavo Bonevardi, Juan Calzadilla, León Ferrari, Luis Roldán and Elias Crespin One of the first exhibitions devoted to exploring different approaches to the use of writing, as well as the ambivalence created by the tension between the descriptive function of writing and the abstract form it takes in Modern art, was Schrift und Bild (“Art and Writing”), organized in 1963 by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Torres-García and León Ferrari were the only South American artists included in the exhibition. Drawn writing is the preferred mode of expression, innovation, and subversion for León Ferrari (Argentina 1920), one of Argentina’s most distinguished conceptual artists. Before he began to draw, Ferrari made ceramic pieces, as well as sculptures out of metal wire. His obsession with the act of writing began in 1962, with Dibujos escritos. “I draw silent words written by hand, which say things with lines that are reminiscent of voices,” Ferrari explains, “and I write drawings that recite memories words cannot describe. Ferrari went through prolonged periods in which he stopped drawing in order to devote himself completely to political protest. In 1965, he created La Civilización Occidental y Cristiana, a 6-foot sculpture that has the Christ figure being crucified on a U.S. fighter plane; its title comes from Ferrari’s reaction to the argument that the Vietnam War was intended “to defend Western Christian civilization.” Even today it is one of his most controversial and emblematic images. Ferrari was aware of the dual nature of his work: “I have made and make two types of works. Some have no ethical intent—paintings, abstract drawings, steel sculptures, etc., in others, I use aesthetics to question the ethics of Western culture.” The drawings exhibited here were executed after Ferrari went into exile in Brazil in 1976, where he resumed the drawing and sculpting that was interrupted in 1965. Los condenados de Santo Tomásis a calligraphic work that denounces certain religious precepts. Ferrari believes that violence in the West originates in biblical texts and perpetuates itself with threats of punishment and hell. This piece was executed after his controversial 2004 retrospective exhibition in Buenos Aires, which turned into an ideological battlefield. The local archbishop got a court order to close the exhibition down; after demonstrations for freedom of expression were held and city officials stepped in, it reopened, attracting a record number of visitors and international interest. Currently, León Ferrari’s work is on exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, with Mira Schendel in Tangled Alphabets through June 15, 2009. Gustavo Bonevardi’s Falling is a 13-by-5-foot work comprised of 18 individual drawings that like panes of a large window show a continuous image interrupted only by the spaces between each one. Viewed through the window panes are 8½-by-11-inch rectangles, some seen partially, some overlapping, askew – like sheets of paper floating or falling. These drawings are drawings of paper – they are pages made from letters. The only marks on these drawings are letters, clear handwritten letters, but no words. The letters could be about to land on a page and form words. Or maybe have just flown off the pages, whatever words they might have once spelled, and meaning those might have once had, forgotten. Or both, or neither, in any case there is no text to be read, no meaning, just the elements for it – letters, paper, space, time. Juan Calzadilla (Venezuela, 1931) is an essayist, poet, and art critic, as well as a draftsman. His works in this exhibition illustrate certain characteristic modalities of his graphic works, such as bodies; rhythms of abstract forms, either placed in bands that divide the picture plane or covering it totally in an all-over effect; and brushstrokes of arabesques juxtaposed with indecipherable handwriting. Calzadilla explains that he conceives of a drawing as visual writing made up of legible images in which, visually speaking, the signifier and the signified are the same. One characteristic drawing consists of female nudes in different positions sketched with a rapid, fluid line that can be read as writing or as body language. The well known curator, Mari Carmen Ramírez called them siluetas sígnicas [“signifying silhouettes”]. Still, Calzadilla admits that his work as a visual artist and poet has a certain dualism. “Because,” he explains, “calligraphy is a visual language and poetry is a verbal language. What both have in common is the process from which they originate, that is, through an automatic movement that—as I see it, and as Breton did too—harks back to the unconscious: there on that bridge where the mind ceases to have control over what is going to happen. The fact that the form or the poem materializes during the very process of thinking it up and that the result cannot be premeditated is exactly what brings both languages together, melting and fusing their processes for a few short moments. Word and image become one, which results in the mixture of a visual fiction of calligraphy and also a verbal fiction of what is visual.” Luis Fernando Roldán (Colombia, 1955) works with materials discarded as useless and gives them new life. Among his torn/reconstituted works Segmentada II from 2006 is perhaps most rooted in the formal aspect of writing resembling as it does a page of text. The work is part of his Sueños (Dreams) series and uses a bed sheet, that nearly universal accessory of comfort and sleep. Rubbed with graphite the nature of the sheet is altered as it becomes a large drawing – then intervening further, Roldán rips the sheet concentrically creating a long continuous strip. Folding and tearing the strip into segments, twisting it into regular rhythms, the strip is rolled up onto a skein. When unfurled, Roldán creates a composition of 60 lines of the small linked rectangular pieces of the torn cloth. The result regains the original rectangular shape & size of the sheet, but the rectangle also becomes ‘a sheet’ of paper, and the black lines writing. With both humor and gravity Roldán posits many metaphors with a bed sheet, and it was a great pleasure having him install it in the gallery. Elias Crespin’s sculptures have been seen in Argentina at ArteBA where his Triada received the art fair’s best exhibition award; in Venezuela at the Valencia Salon de Artes Visuales Arturo Michelena where he was awarded the Armando Reverón Prize; at Artbots in Dublin, winner of the Artists Choice Award; in London at the Kinetica Museum; at ArtBasel in Miami Beach; and The Armory Show & Pinta Fair in New York. Crespin’s sculptures have been acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Cisneros Fontenal Collection in Miami; El Museo del Barrio in New York; the Museo Nacional Bellas Artes and the MALBA Collection in Buenos Aires; and by private collections in the United States, Europe and South America. Although all his pieces incorporate the same principles of motion and mathematics and comprise suspended components that are computer driven, each kinetic matrix sculpture has its own individuality and character. Crespin acknowledges that the technical challenges he loves to deal with are only a means to achieve the visual experience for the viewer. The idea is to create unique sculptures in motion that produce endless combinations of forms. Here, he presents Angulados Alfa (2009) and Angulados Beta (2009). Cecilia de Torres, Ltd. 134-140 Greene Street New York, NY, USA www.ceciliadetorres.com Photographs courtesy Cecilia de Torres, Ltd.