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Review of Argentine Visual Poetry (Red Fox Press, 2020)

Featuring 40 works from the Archive Vortice Argentina, this beautifully produced and printed volume is an education, an aesthetic event, and a political forum all in one. The volume includes works by Laura Andreoni, Alejandra Bocquel, Roberto Cignoni, Maria Lilian Escobar, Fernando Garcia Delgado, Norberto Jose Martinez, Alberto Mendez, Roberto Scheines and Ivana Vollaro. 

I was struck by the variety of styles and approaches on display. Laura Andreoni's deeply poetic assemblages of objects in frames or drawers reminded me of the work of Joseph Cornell or Louise Nevelson. The focus here is on arrangement as a guiding principle: adjacency, gridding, networks all start to assert themselves in the moveable type of objects. Just like Jane Bennett writes in Vibrant Matter of "the agency of assemblage", these remarkable arrangements of sieves, keys, string, miniature hands, metal tops, metal flowers, spanners, bottles etc pulse and throb with potential. 

Alejandra Bocquel's work consists of a series of poetic effacements and erasures of some instructions for constructing a staircase. The effect is weird, haunting, compelling, as the stairs themselves and their instruction manual take on their own affective possibilities. One page enigmatically asserts that "el transit de personas for las escaleras / da siempre la sensacion de frio. En / Las escaleras" (the transit of people up the stairs / always produces the sensation of cold / on the stairs). The poems point to a half-constructed built environment: the almost-ready-made. The visual qualities here are pleasingly pared back - white tip ex or black marker criss cross the text in meticulous lines, leaving blank space and some curious diagrams as well as words. I found myself asking: what struggle upwards am I meant to be undertaking? Are building or taking apart the staircase? What the f is progress? These are thoughts I was happy to have. 

There are a pair of poems by Roberto Cignoni called "Hombre". In these poems, the word truly throbs with stars and orbs, where patriarchy gets figured as  this sort of tacky thing. I liked them for their snarly billboard deadpan. Maria Lillian Escobar's work, such as 'Dialogos' and 'Despertar' use geometric hard edge triangles, tramlines, and static dots, with some letters and punctuation. In all the shadows and shapes, it's like the weight and texture of words, of speaking, is being given spatial representation. It's also as though the visual is receding somehow in these pieces (because of the static space within them), which feels audible somehow, a buzz, a crackle. These pieces remind me what Jean-Luc Nancy says in Listening: "The sonorous, on the other hand, outweighs form. It does not dissolve it, but rather enlarges it; it gives it amplitude, a density and a vibration or an undulation whose outline never does anything but approach."  

Fernando Garcia Delgado's work is exceedingly textured, drawing on mail art traditions, using the forms of fliers and other print ephemera, including a musical score and rusting metal signage. They act like citations of movements in poetry such as Vorticism, rich with resonance. The work of Norberto Jose Martinez is witty, precise, bold and political, and succeeds with juxtaposition and adjacency, for example a ruler next to the word "Pasion", washing instruction symbols against the colours of the Argentinian flag. Alberto Mendez's work is ingenious in its employment of font, as well as subtle wordplay. I particularly like the works from "Los 70 de Illinois" series, which have a painterly dynamism about them, like putting language through a spirograph. 

Roberto Scheines uses punctuation to construct beautiful minimalist images of eg a staircase, a mask? or maybe leaves or eyes?, and what look like target view finders or dials (or possibly silhouettes of buildings). Ivana Volaro's work draws on a different aesthetic altogether, with a sort of pop pizzazz featuring a can pull-top, a sword in a stump sheath and the reflective mirror image phrase "to VIP or not to VIP". I love the spicy attitude of these pieces, the way they take minor icons of the day and serve them up with a heavy dose of wit, jouissance & visual play.

This book is a joy - full of the pleasures of text - and a fabulous introduction to visual poetry in Argentina. 

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