Latin America provides plentiful examples of a very rich tradition of visual poetry. Indeed, one of the most important and influential contributing currents to international visual poetry, concrete poetry, was invented in Brazil. The first exhibition of this work was held in Sao Paulo in December of 1956. As background to poetic experimentalism in general, one need cite only the various avant-garde movements that achieved prominence in Latin America. Creationism (1916), whose adherents included Pierre Reverdy in France and Vicente Huidobro, Gerardo Diego, and Juan Larrea, had a semi- mystical view of the godlike powers of the poet. Closely related was the Ultra group, made up of seven poets influenced by Mallarmé: Guillermo de Torre, Xavier Bóveda, César Comet, Pedro Garfías, Fernando Caballero, J. Rivas Panegas, and J. de Aroca. They signed the Manifiesto vertical ultraísta in 1920 and published their works in the journal Ultra in 1921 and 1922. Stridentism was a Mexican movement whose chief proponent, Manuel Maples Arce, published Andamios interiores and Urbe in 1922 and 1924. Others in this movement were Salvador Gallardo, Luis Quintanilla, Germán List Arzubide, and Arqueles Vela. Stridentism sought a blend of futurism, dadaism, and surrealism with social revolution. The "groupless group" Contemporaries, dating from the 1920s, took a somewhat more traditional approach to poetry. The European "historical avant-gardes" (Dadaism, Futurism, Surrealism, Cubism, etc.) all had their impact on Latin American experimentation.
In a later stage of development beginning in the 1950s and following, the Latin Americans advanced beyond positions staked out by their immediate predecessors. The Swiss-Bolivian Eugen Gomringer's Constellations and his manifesto "From Verse to Constellation" (1955) were influential. The Uruguayan Ernesto Cristiani's Structures (gestating since 1954 and published in 1960) and some of the work of Mathías Goeritz, a German artist living in Mexico, were also important. Goeritz organized the first large exhibition of concrete poetry held outside of Brazil, held in Mexico in 1966. From the mid-1960s on, visual poetry was increasingly circulated through a network of little magazines that included Diagonal Cero and Hexágono 71 in Argentina, La Pata de Palo in Venezuela, Ediciones Mimbre in Chile, and Los Huevos de Plata and Ovum 10 in Uruguay. The Argentine Hoje-Hoja-Hoy, Signist, and Tucuman Arde groups; the Experimentalists of the School of Caracas; the Noigandres Concretism of Haroldo and Augusto de Campos, Décio Pignatari, and Ronaldo Azeredo, and the Neoconcretism of Ferreira Gullar and Helio Oiticica; Clemente Padin's Action Art; Wlademir Dias-Pino's Process Poetry; Poetry To And/Or Realize; and the international mail-art network all form the cultural context which has nourished contemporary visual poetry in Latin America.
A marking feature of much of the work from this period is a Latin-inflected Conceptualism. Jorge Romero Brest's Di Tella Institute and Jorge Glusberg's Center of Art and Communication in Argentina played key roles in supporting these trends. Artists searched for appropriate forms to deal with issues of social oppression, poverty, international politics, and the despoliation of the environment, among other themes. These artists included Luiz Pazos, Horacio Zabala, Juan Carlos Romero, Edgardo Antonio Vigo, Roberto Duarte, Jorge Gamarra, Eduardo Leonetti, Víctor Grippo, Juan Berchetche, Alfredo Portillos, and many others. To be mentioned here as well are the conceptualist mail art projects of Liliana Porter and Luis Camnitzer in the Di Tella Institute in Buenos Aires, and the postal interchanges of Clemente Padin, E. A. Vigo, Dámaso Ogaz, Guillermo Deisler, Pedro Lyra, and others.
Today visual poetry is practiced extensively throughout Latin America. International exhibitions have been mounted in several of the various countries which make up this diverse region; activities are currently centered primarily in Mexico, where César Espinosa's Nucleo Post-Arte group has sponsored several International Biennial Exhibitions of Visual Poetry and Alternative Art (1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996). The next international biennial is scheduled for 1998. Publications, symposia, and performances have accompanied the exhibitions, which have been put up at multiple sites and then sent throughout the Republic and abroad.
What distinguishes the visual poetry produced throughout Latin America? Does it share a set of special characteristics? Because of the dependency status of many Latin American nations, political and economic imagery frequently appears in visual poetry. Issues of environmentalism, poverty, foreign debt, and military repression preoccupy Latin American artists. As with all such work, implicit in its sometimes harsh critiques is a vision of a better world in which a more equitable distribution of goods and services would reduce the glaring discrepancies among standards of living so uncomfortably noticeable between the rich and the poor. Lack of cultural infrastructure and an ever-present censorship have caused those artists critical of the status quo to resort to photocopy and mimeo technology for the reproduction of their work, as well as to the international postal system for its dissemination.
Among those artists whose work in visual poetry has received a wide distribution and perhaps achieved the greatest impact are to be counted Clemente Padin, Jorge Caraballo, Ruben Mario Tani, and N. N. Argañaraz of Uruguay; Philadelpho Menezes, Márcio Almeida, A. de Arájo, and Bruscky + Santiago of Brazil; Pedro Juan Gutierrez of Cuba; Jesus Romeo Galdamez of El Salvador (in exile); Damaso Ogaz of Venezuela; César Espinosa, Jorge Rosano, María Eugenia Guerra, and Laura Elenes of Mexico; Edgardo Antonio Vigo of Argentina; and Guillermo Deisler of Chile (in exile). A current preoccupation among Latin American theorists centers around postmodernism in experimental visual/verbal art and how fragmentation, pluralism, multiple perspectives, recycling history, and all the full range of postmodern strategies appear in the most compelling visual poetry being produced throughout Latin America today.
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Light and Dust Mobile Anthology of Poetry