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Artists’ Books from Latin America
This is a glimpse into the history of Artist’s Books from Latin America, a subject that has not yet been studied in depth. I try to give these books, in the broadest sense, "a place", a geographical location in the world, and try to avoid designating them as "Latin American Books", a specific category used by European cultural centralism, which in any case has never acknowledged this particular production.
In the search for a connecting thread, we must begin with a comparative analysis of the social and political histories we share as countries of Latin America: the discovery and conquest, religious indoctrination, colonization, slavery, exploitation, and plunder of natural resources, together with a history of political struggles along the way that have ended in civil wars, revolutions, military occupations, dictatorships, and corrupt governments.
These histories have left deep wounds, and within intellectual circles have resulted in strong political reaction, rising voices of criticism, protest and resistance, at first those of writers and poets, and later visual artists. The governments’ reaction has been disproportionate: censorship of publications, prosecution, and sometimes even the death sentence.
In this not-so-quiet atmosphere, vanguardism emerged in Latin America as activity stimulated by the European avant-garde, primarily the literary avant-garde. Within this context, some publications linked to mail art became an alternative source for distribution and communication, and due to their political engagement circulated as underground publications.
These publications were generally printed and distributed by the artists and their collaborators. The borders between disciplines were not marked, and the interaction between the textual and the visual had no limits.
To be politically engaged and against one''s government, an artist had to choose between staying and surrendering—being part of the resistance or leaving by choice or by force. Hence artists, writers, and poets often migrated to other places: it was easier to work and to develop a strong base to support ideas and thoughts, not only of aesthetic but also of political concern.
In this way, new tendencies and vanguardism were exchanged and translated into different forms of art: they were diffused orally, by means of publications and actions, but also through music and songs, cinema, and photography.
The fifties were a period in which modernity in the arts and architecture started to take shape in Mexico and Brazil. Mural painting in Mexico was strongly tied to nationalism, which also permeated graphic production, the visual arts, music, dance and literature; whereas in Brazil, they were already experimenting with modernity and post-modernity. This modernism developed in its purist form (structural) in the ideology (ideario) of concrete poetry and culminated with Tropicalism in 1967.
In Mexico, the tradition of fine printing (letter press, etching, and lithography) was popular for small productions. From flyers and book editions to portfolios of graphic work, the topics varied from religion and popular satire to sentimental, folkloric themes. These interests did not encourage modernization of the arts in Mexico, and efforts initiated by the contemporáneos and estridentistas (1920, 1932) eventually died out.
At the end of the fifties, the beat generation poets— the Rothenbergs, Phillip Lamantia, Harvey Wolin, Diana di Prima, Laurence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac, and Margaret Randall—all lived in Mexico for periods of time. They frequented poetry readings in bars and jazz clubs, addressing the publically unacceptable topics of political discontent, antiwar, homosexuality, freedom, the drug experience, and so on. Here they encountered other poets like Ernesto Cardenal from Nicaragua, Raquel Jodorowsky from Chile, Miguel Grinberg from Argentina, Haroldo de Campos from Brazil, and Roger Bartra, among many others. Out of this friendly atmosphere came the need to create something tangible in response. Margaret Randall, Sergio Mondragón and Harvey Wolin took the initiative in founding the bilingual magazine El Corno Emplumado / The Plumed Horn, and it became the first opportunity to reflect and compile works, ideas and political situations in a magazine: for the first time we became aware of the rest of Latin America.
It was at this point that the artists became connected with one another—it was like a guerrilla training in self-sufficient thinking. Among the contributors to El Corno are: Haroldo de Campos, Augusto de Campos (Brazil), Raquel Jodorowsky and Nicanor Parra, Cecilia Vicuña, Claudio Bertoni (Chile), Ernesto Cardenal (Nicaragua), Miguel Grinberg (Argentina), Edgardo Antonio Vigo (Argentina), and Ulises Carrión (Mexico). Visual artists also contributed to the magazine: Felipe Ehrenberg (Art Director), Roland Topor, Leonel Góngora, Arnold Belkin, Lothar Charoux, Hermelindo Fiaminghi, among others. The correspondence section of El Corno was of particular value: the letters reflect the political situation of the sixties. Repression and censorship in Mexico ended El Corno in 1968.
The magazine was possible thanks to the sponsorship and collaboration of writers, artists, poets, and supporters in other countries: Arnaldo Orfila Reinal and Laurette Sejourne (Siglo XXI Editores), Leo Castelli, Norman Mailler, and Henry Miller among others. The distributors—here I mention a few: Ferlinghetti in the USA, Hansjörg Mayer in Germany, Haroldo de Campos in Brazil, Nicanor Parra in Chile, Roberto Fernandez Retamar in Cuba, Nazario Roman in Costa Rica, Gonzalo Arango in Colombia, Alejandro Moreano in Ecuador, Anselm Hollo in England, Raquel Jodorowsky in Peru, Rubén Yakowsky in Uruguay, Ludovico Silva in Venezuela, etc.—all made it possible to have a broad circulation, which eventually helped create a network of people with similar interests.
During this period editors began to explore alternative ways of production, including mimeograph, photocopy, stencil, and offset. These alternatives were the solution to the limitations that prevailed in Latin America in the sixties. The publications and artworks were delivered by mail or by hand; it became necessary to escape the system and to establish communication networks apart from the formal and conventional ones. The beginning of artists'' books in Latin America is thus associated with the literary world, poetry and politics; their existence as social and political confrontation regardless of aesthetic concept, may be one of the reasons why it has been so difficult to give them a place in the art context.
Manifestations of discontent began to appear in different countries: artists and writers began to migrate to other places as a consequence of the Cuban revolution, the military dictatorship in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua, and so on. The student movement in Mexico and the military coup to Allende’s government in Chile, had their political importance, but also cultural relevance. Symbols were created and embodied ideologies: the portraits of Mao, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Sandino, Allende, and Ho Chi Min all became graphic icons.
Information was circulated by mail through pamphlets, letters, poems, cartoons, manifestos, petitions and all sorts of inexpensively produced printed materials. This innovative use of visual and textual language, was later designated Mail Art / Arte Postal; Edgardo Antonio Vigo and Graciela Gutierrez Marx from Argentina and Clemente Padín from Uruguay were pioneers in this field.
This period was one of exodus: Liliana Porter and Luis Camnitzer, Leandro Katz, Luis Felipe Noé from Argentina, the Colombian Artist Leonel Góngora, Felipe Ehrenberg, Elena Jordana, all went to New York; and later the Brazilian artists Rubens Gerschman, Ana Maria Maiolino, and Helio de Oiticica, just to mention a few.
In the seventies, England became the place to be. The British Arts Council supported all sorts of cultural activities in the visual arts, music, performance, film, video, and theatre; literature from Latin America began to be included in university programs. These events brought a flow of artists, leading to new collaborations and editorial projects. An association of small publishers was formed, and the publisher Beau Geste Press published works by Ulises Carrión, Cecilia Vicuña, and Claudio Berton, amongst others.
This transcontinental network of artists started to grow, and in 1975 Ulises Carrión opened the bookstore Other Books and So in Amsterdam, specializing in artists'' books and political works. For the first time, works from Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and the rest of Latin America were put together, leading to more encounters and collaborations.
In the Archive of Other Books and So, we can still find publications from artists of the seventies: Señales by Clemente Padín and Jorge Caraballo (Uruguay), Libro Internacional de Estampillas y Matasellos by Edgardo Antonio Vigo (Argentina), Outra Pedra Rosetta by Paulo Brusky and Daniel Santiago (Brazil), Reduchamp by Augusto de Campos and Julio Plaza (Brazil), Il Mago del Omega / Labyrinth by Haroldo de Campos and Regina Silveira (Brazil), Middle Class & Co., Executives, Anamorfa by Regina Silveira (Brazil), Poéticas Visuales by Julio Plaza and Walter Zaninni (Brazil), El Libro de las Mutaciones by Clemente Padín (Uruguay), Edicões Invenção, Armar by Ronaldo Azeredo (Brazil), Arte Postal by Julio Plaza (Brazil), Estampados by Ivald Granato (Brazil), Work of Duda Machado (Brazil), A Topographic Analysis of a Printed Surface by Aluisio de Magalhaes (Brazil), Suor de corpo by Samaral (Brazil), Ejercicios de Xerox, Karimbada by Unhandeijara Lisboa with contributions from J. Medeiros, Leonard Frank Duch and Paulo Brusky (Brazil), Pauta para el uso, Cisoria Arte by Dámaso Ogaz (Venezuela), Latin America Assembling by Guy Schraenen with contributions by Mirtha Dermisache, Ulises Carrión, Felipe Ehrenberg and others (Belgium), Grupo Suma by Ernesto Molina Nava (Mexico), Março by Manuel Marin and collaborators (Mexico), Epidermis Scapes,Momento Vital by Vera Chavez Barcillos (Brazil), Soft cover for one leaf and two pages by Martha Hellion (Mexico), Propuesta s/t by Magali Lara (Mexico), Estampados by Beatriz Jaramillo (Colombia), Buzon de Arte by Diego Barboza (Venezuela), and Schmuck Magazine from Beau Geste Press (England).
With this information as a basis, we can now examine the history of artists'' books in each Latin-American country.
The Institute Di Tella was founded in 1959 as a space for art experimentation. Edgardo Antonio Vigo presented here for the first time a wide panorama of Brazilian visual poetry, and this work inspired many artists to follow.
Edgardo Antonio Vigo was one of the initiators of mail art. His poetry was also published in El Corno Emplumado in Mexico, and he had much to do with Beau Geste Press and Other Books and So. He created three magazines—WC, Diagonal Zero, and Hexágono—featuring alternative experimentation in typographic printing. Vigo worked in collaboration with artists Horacio Zavala, Luis Pazos, and Graciela Gutiérrez Marx.
Fernando García Delgado continues to preserve the ideas and concepts initiated by Vigo. He is the publisher of the magazine Vórtice in which he includes works of visual poetry, mail art and artist’s books, as well as collaborative projects.
The artist Leon Ferrari has been producing books since 1962, using photocopy and offset printing. A publishing house in Rome released his book: Escrito en el aire / Written in the Air with poems by Rafael Alberti, inspired by Ferraris’ drawings. Other works include: Manuscrito (1966), Palabras ajenas (1967), Laberinto (1980), and Para herejes (1986), a criticism of the Catholic Church.
Mirtha Dermisache has been publishing books since 1967 and exhibited in Other Books and So in Amsterdam. She produced a folder of Letters in 1968, and Manuscript Book No.1 to No.8 from 1968 to 1971. In 1972, Jorge Glusberg from CAYC (Centre for Art and Communication) edited Diario No. Año 1. Her work is based on the exploration of written language, ‘Illegible Writing’ (Roland Barthes gave this name to her work), as a critical gesture. In 2005 her work was published by Manglar Editions in France.
The Centre for Art and Communication (CAYC) directed by Jorge Glusberg produced artists'' books from the Fluxus group starting in 1968, as well as those of the Grupo de los Trece , Luis Pazos and Hector Puppo. Jorge de Luján Gutiérrez collaborated in Imágenes y Experiencias, a book of works presented after their participation in the Paris Biennial, 1971.
Luis Felipe Noé, after several years of living in New York, now lives and works in Buenos Aires. He published, in collaboration with Arte Dos Gráfico, from Bogota, Colombia, A oriente por occidente. In 1971 he made the book Una sociedad avanzada.
Matilde Marin, deeply involved in the graphic world, explored and introduced different techniques for printing and book work. In 1993 she produced the book Mitos de Creación, a collaboration between Arte Dos Gráfico (Colombia) and Alvaro Castgnino Gallery, Juego de Manos with Taller Gráfica Contemporánea in Buenos Aires.
Leandro Katz, film maker, photographer, and book artist, has been making books since 1960. He collaborated with El Corno Emplumado. He lived in New York from 1965 to 2006, where he published Vipers Tongue Books (1975), The Milk of Amnesia, in collaboration with Visual Studies Workshop NY (1985), and Che/Loro a “book installation” from Vipers Tongue (1997). He now lives and works in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Artists Liliana Porter and Luis Camnitzer contributed to the printing world, opening channels to encourage the work of other artists during their sojourn in the New York Graphic Workshop, New York.
Juan Carlos Romero, graphic artist, printer and poet, experimented with non-conventional art forms such as mail-art, artist´s books, and installations. As well he has organizad several groups working with experimental graphics, book making, and public actions. He collaborates with Fernando García Delgado in the magazine Vórtice, which includes works of visual poetry, mail-art, and projects by other artists. He collaborates with Hilda Paz in 2 de Oro, a magazine of experimental visual poetry. He is also involved with the artists of Instantes Gráficos, Caja de Arte 1/1, now a centre for Artist´s Books under the direction of Carla Rey, visual artist and printer. Romero has also collaborated with Daniel Acosta, Fabiana Barreda and Raúl Flores to create a thematic book exhibition About Power/Acerca del Poder: the participants included Leon Ferrari, Hilda Paz, Pedro Roth, Edgardo A. Vigo, and Teresa Volco.
Other Argentinian artists who lived abroad and kept a close relationship with their country, include: Marie Orensanz Hilda Paz and Juan Carlos Romero.
Collectives and collective works, or assemblings, have become popular—for example No.1 of the book 212 PA (1990). The Quilmes Centre of Modern Art has organized several collective books with Borges, Bioy Casares, and Edgardo Antonio Vigo: Erotic Art, Homage to Duchamp and The Human Body (Fax Art).
The group Cruz del Sur includes Pedro Roth, Juliano Borobio, Pier Cantamessa, and Letty Inchauspe. They have organized four exhibitions, consisting of hard-cover books, each with 40 pages, each given to an invited artist. The resulting formatted bookworks were presented in Espacio Buenos Aires, Museo Sivori, and Biblioteca Nacional.
In 1972, Alfredo Portillos started his private collection, Private Artists'' Books Museum, beginning with one of a kind books, and afterwards unique book objects. He took part in Bookstore in 1995, and coordinated Gráfica Alternativa 3, Museo Sivori.
Other artists living abroad who are active in the area of artists'' books include: Mónica Goldstein Daniel Acosta , Isabel Barbuzza, Jack Vañarsky Duna Dietzche, Celia Caturelli , Jorge Simens, Anahí Cáceres , Alonso Barros Peña,
In the last ten years a new generation of artists'' books has emerged, including: El curso de mitología grecolatina by Leonor Silvestri, Bonkei by Ma. Eugenia López, and Artistas, an assembling by various artists published by Belleza y Felicidad Art Gallery.
After a long stay in Europe, Joaquín Torres García returned to Montevideo where he edited books, magazines, fanzines, and all sorts of works in which he applied an innovative use of typography and materials to stamp the books with his personal signature. He left a heritage of profound visual/textual content that is still influential today.
In the sixties, the artists Clemente Padín and Jorge Carballo produced works and books of visual poetry and mail art with explicitly political content, for which they were imprisoned for several years. Clemente Padín is still an active book-maker today. A further generation of artists like Eduardo Acosta Bentos, Jorge Echenique and Eduardo Roland produced other books without any political content.
With some regularity, two-person collaborations were established and visual/literary combinations gave place to books such as those created by Ida Vitale and Enrique Fierro, or Susana Chaer and Fidel Sclavo. Sclavo is one of the few artists who has produced books applying more technical methods to the printing of larger editions.
Other artists have explored the book format in unorthodox ways: Carlos Caffere''s Escritura Cerámica, (1986), is constructed with ceramic plates; Gabriela Martínez in her book Las demás vírgenes (1996), works on hand made paper with only a single page printed; Gustavo Fernández gives the aspect of ritual objects to his work, using heavy cardboard volumes with painted leather covers. Other artists, such as Siv Annelli Goransson, use the concept of installation, applying it to books,. There are works for the web and CD ROMs: Cybercore (1997) from Ávaro Moure; and Árbol Veloz (1997) from Luis Bravo and Silvina Rusinek, with poems, images and sounds in collaboration with other artists.
The first unorthodox publication that could be considered as an artists'' book in Mexico is El Libro de las 24 Horas, an assembling of photocopies made in stationary shops outside the premises of San Carlos Art School in Mexico City, organized by Felipe Ehrenberg with his students.
Ehrenberg also introduced the use of the mimeograph as a means of reproduction. With this initiative he encouraged dissemination and the organization of independent artists'' presses.
This sense of free expression opened the field for more collective initiatives, for groups like SUMA, Proceso Pentágono, Entre Tierras of Santiago Rebolledo (Colombian artist living in Mexico); La Cocina Ediciones de Gabriel Macotela, Yani Pecanins and Walter Doehner—the same artists who produced a periodical magazine called Paso de Peatones / Pedestrians Crossing of visual poetry, and later produced loose-leaf books as well: Peyote y Compañía by Março; No Grupo; Grupo Germinal; and The Visual Research Workshop.
These groups emerged from different ideologies; some from conceptual art, while others had more to do with social or political concerns. From these groups came independent presses such as La Flor del Otro Día, Tinta Morada, and Tres Sirenas (poets enterprise). The poet Carmen Boullosa turned to visual arts in order to create her own books, sometimes in collaboration with the artist Magali Lara. Carmen Boullosa occasionally worked with the master printer Juan Pascoe of Martín Pescador Editions and Press.
Literary presses started to multiply: Máquina Eléctrica / Electric Machine of Raúl Renan (poet), La máquina de escribir / The Typewriter, Libertad Sumaria, Editorial Penélope, just to mention a few. They produced small poetry editions which sometimes included illustrations, although not focussing on art work.
In those years, Ulises Carrión''s infrequent visits to Mexico City served to make artists aware of the work he was doing in Europe. His text "The New Art of Making Books" was published in Plural No. 41 in 1975, in the magazine Kontext the same year, in Contents Warsaw in 1976, in Art Contemporary No.9 vol. II no.1 in San Francisco in 1977, and in Second Thoughts in Void, Amsterdam, in 1980.
In 1985, the visual artist Magali Lara organized an exhibition called Alternative Presses at the National School of Visual Arts (ENAP), in which she presented the most notorious independent visual presses.
Yani Pecanins, Gabriel Macotela and Armando Saez, all visual artists, organized a gallery bookshop El Archivero / The Archive, where they had exhibitions, performances, talks, and other activities related to publishing. They also encouraged more artists to produce work. It lasted just a few years.
Times changed: the next generation was not so interested in producing small scale work; they were interested in larger productions, encouraged by galleries and museums, and perhaps also because there was no specific place for the distribution or support of artist’s books.
In the last ten years, a new generation of artists has appeared: Magali Lara, Maris Bustamante, Mariana Castillo Deball, Pedro Lasch, Berenice Torres, Luis Felipe Ortega, Laureana Toledo, and of course Francis Alys.
The literary influence of Vicente Huidobro and Pablo Neruda is legendary. A special book was Pablo Neruda''s collaboration with José Venturelli Alturas del Machu Picchu (1950)—this was the first time that text and image merged to create an artistic publication.
This could have been a point of departure towards the creation of a more contemporary book form; but it seems that it did not work that way: in 1973 the military coup to Allende’s government led to the emigration of many intellectuals, mainly to Europe and Scandinavia, and the printing field remained conservative.
La Poesía Chilena (1978) by the poet Juan Luis Martínez, is an assemblage of death certificates from the poets of the Chilean vanguard, altogether with funeral poems from the same authors. Inserted into each book are blank identification index cards, printed only with the Chilean flag. Each book comes with a sealed plastic bag of soil identified as Tierra del Valle Central de Chile.
Cecilia Vicuña produced the books Sabor a Mí, (Beau Geste Press, Devon, 1973), Instant, (Kelsey St. Press, Berkeley, 2002), and Palabrarmas / Wordwappinschaw (Morning Star Publications, Edinburgh).
Other artists include Vivian Schiehing and Eugenio Dittborn. The latter makes use of the mail art system as a media-related strategy for his Pinturas Aéreo Postales.
Colombia has had no historical relation to the European avant-garde; but rather to the so-called Realismo Mágico of the sixties, related to the imagery of García Márquez.
Artist’s books are also conceived in two categories, as objects and as art productions of graphic work. In 1996 the Colombian Centre in New York presented an exhibition of works by contemporary artists, Tribute to the Book, in which works of the previous ten years were displayed, and still very little had changed. Rather than being simple artists'' books to be disseminated in bookshops or libraries, this kind of work requires galleries and museums to exhibit them as precious objects.
There is a long list of artists who participated in this event, including Penelope Richardson and Jaime Avila, Margarita Becerra Cano, Luis Eduardo Garzon, Jaime Iregui, Alvaro Moreno Hoffman, and Fabian Rendón. The skilful production of Taller Arte Dos Gráfico was represented with Aguariacuar by Lihie Talmor and All the seas of the World by Ricardo Benaim.
Only the work of Antonio Caro has a different approach resembling more an ordinary photocopied document. This concept perhaps is still far from being understood.
This document can only be a summary. The glimpse presented here is intended to encourage a further, more profound analysis. The structure of this essay originates from the connections between artists of the sixties and seventies, which have continued to grow; nevertheless, each connection has its own particularity. It has been difficult since information is scattered in the personal files of artists friends, to whom I owe my gratitude for their help and support.
Martha Hellion Visual Artist and Independent curator Editor of Artist´s Books and Ulises Carrión : Personal Worlds Or Cultural Strategies? November 13, 2006
Albani de Carvalho, Ana Maria Espaço NO Nervo Óptico Serie II Publicación del Proyecto de artes Visuales FUNARTE 2004 Rio de Janeiro Brasil
Costa, Horacio Mar Abierto, Ensayos sobre literature brasileña, portuguesa e Hispanoamericana. Editado por Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México y Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1998
Jackson, K. David, Vos Eric, Drucker Johanna, Experimental- Visual – Concrete Avant Garde Poetry Since the 1960, Avant Garde Critical Studies, Amsterda NL, Atlanta GA 1996
Lyons, Joan Edited Artist´s Books A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook in Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester New York 1985,1987, 1991,1993
Renán, Raúl Los otros libros Distintas opciones en el trabajo editorial E. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México y Dirección General de Publicaciones y Fomento Editorial. México 1999
Schraenen, Guy Out of Print, An archive as artistic concept, by Guy Schraenen. Neues Museum Weserburg Bremen
Silveira, Paulo A página violada Da ternura á injuria na construçao do livro de artista,Edited by Universidad Federal do Rio Grande do Sul UFRGS, Porto Alegre Br. 2001
Verani, Hugo J. Las vanguardias literarias en Hispanoamérica Manifiestos, proclamas y otros escritos, Fondo de Culturfa Económica México 1990 1995
Unruh, Vicky Latin American Vanguards, The Art of Contentious Encounters, Ed. Of University of California Press, Ltd 1994
Artes Visuales Revista trimestral del Museo de Arte Moderno del Instituto Nacional de bellas Artes, No. 23 de 1980
Artist´s Books Yearbook 2006-2007, The disarrayed books of Brazil by Paulo Silveira, Pg. 13 Edited by Sarah Bodman in The Centre for Fine Print Research, University of West of England, Bristol 2005
Arts of South /Central America & the Caribbean, nr. 626 Howard Karno Books El Corno emplumado 1 to 31 Bilingual magazine of poetry, edited by Margaret Randall and Sergio Mondragón 1962-1968
Gráfica alternativa 3, 1992 Exhibición Museo de Arte Argentino Sivori, artis´s books, heliography, photocopy, alternative magazines and miscellaneous. Prod. Eduardo Sivori
Poetics, Politcs & Song 2000, Contemporary Latin American/ Latino(a) Artist´s Books, Arts of the book collection of the Sterling Memorial library, Yale University, New Haven Connecticut
Latin American Book Arts, Center for Book Arts New York City 1995 Libros de Artista, Suecia Ida y Vuelta, Exposición en el Museo de antropología de Montevideo Uruguay 1997-1998
Libros de Artistas, Ministerio de Cultura, Direccion General de Bellas Artes , archivos y bibliotecas, Madrid 1982
Libros de Artista, Exposición Colectiva Chilena – Latinoamericana, Sala de Arte Fundación Telefónica 1999
“Metrónom” Artist´s Books, Barcelona 1981
XI Mostra da gravura cidade de Curitiba 1995