1927 - 1997

by Clemente Padin



Edgardo Antonio Vigo, aged 70, died in La Plata, the city of his birth. Vigo was an engraver, experimental poet, conceptualist, constructor of "objects-without-use" and "oddmachines," a constant innovator whose only recently discovered work keeps on surprising, given the almost ineffable character of his projects. He also cultivated forms that until now have been considered sub-artistic or simply not thought of as "art" in the vernacular sense of the term, such as mail art and experimental poetry.

In Vigo's work can be seen influences of Marcel Duchamp - we recall Vigo's film Blanco sobre Blanco (White on White), shown on the spectators' backs, and the "ready-mades" he constantly sent his friends-and, above all, of Macedonio Fernández, not only in his irreverent attitude but also in his long and contradictory titles and paratexts. From both, Vigo took the ludic attitude of play, making the spectators participate and desacralizing the work of art through manipulation and co-creation, to the point that he preferred to speak of the "creative-constructor" instead of the "spectator," trying to make of artistic creation a multiple act, not something individual and solitary.

Born in La Plata in 1927, Vigo enrolled in the School of Fine Arts of La Plata University in 1950 and, in 1953, he went on a scholarship to France where he met the Venezuelan artist Jesús Soto and came into contact with the international avant-garde. In 1954, on returning to his country, Vigo exhibited wooden objects that already foretold his later tendency towards an art of popular participation. He was an important magazine editor, publishing Diagonal Cero (1961) and Hexágono 70, which featured "novísima" poetry - what he liked to call visual poetry - together with the subsequent Nuestro Libro Internacional de Estampillas y Matasellos (Our International Book of Stamps and Postmarks) with original stamps and postmarks by artists from around the world (artistamps and rubber stamps). These are considered paradigmatic of what is known today as "artists' books." In 1965 Vigo exhibited his first "useless machines," such as the Palanganómetro Mecedor para Críticos de Arte (Palaganometer Rocking Chair for Art Critics) and the Bi-Tri-Cicleta Ingenua (Ingenuous Bi-Tri-Cycle) that was heaped with criticism, initiating a long silence vis-à-vis official culture that lasted until the 1990s; Vigo then transformed himself into a spokesman for alternative movements and undergrounds that went on publishing him and offering him exhibition spaces. Thus, in 1967 he published in France his Poemas Matemáticos Barrocos (Mathematical Baroque Poems) and the next year his Poemas Matemíticos Incomestibles (Mathematical Inedible Poems) (an object enclosed between two empty tuna cans soldered together). Also, in 1968, in La Plata there appeared his first traffic light, Manojo de Semáforos (Bunch of Traffic Lights). This consisted of analyzing from the aesthetic and creative point of view the traffic signals located in the intersection of First and Sixtieth Avenues in La Plata. Presenting an anonymous and useless element in its specific function (stressing an ironic urban commentary), this project sought to initiate a specific dialogue with an abstract content. The public invited to participate were to develop their ideas using the minimal keys given by the artist, who wasn't there. The proposal was to subtract out all prejudicial contact in order to generate a free action.

In issue 11 of the magazine Los Huevos del Plata (1968) there appeared Vigo's New Avant-Garde Poetry in Argentina and experimental poems by Jorge de Luxan, Carlos Ginzburg, Luis Pazos, and his own. Here is found the second break with the lyric tradition in Argentina (the first was in the 1930s, under the sign of Ultraism).

From the mid-60s, Vigo was a proponent of conceptualist tendencies in Latin America, above all the Conceptualism applied to undoing the mechanisms and instrumentation of the work of art and its relation to its spectators, not the Conceptualism of Kosuth's "Art is the definition of art." Vigo emphasized the self-referential qualities of the work that not only promoted ambiguity (the possibility of extreme polysemy) but also the possibility of the choice of the spectator in the final selection of meaning, causing him to be considered as co-author of the work itself. Vigo's project in this sense was crystallized in Poetry to and/or Realize, through which he tried to get the spectator to participate in the "constructive activation with which it is possible for the consumer to pass over to the category of creator" (From Process Poetry to Poetry to and/or Realize, Diagonal Zero, La Plata, 1970). Vigo continued with the I Expo de Proposiciones a Realizar (I Expo of Propositions to Realize) in 1971, which took place in the Cayc (Center for Art and Communication) of Buenos Aires, where, together with works received from all around the world, were brought together the artists Wlademir Dias-Pino (creator of Brazilian Process/Poem), Guillermo Deisler (the late Chilean visual poet), and the Uruguayans Francisco Accame (musician and sound poet), and myself.

On one of his first visits to our country, Vigo realized-during the "Exhibition of Avant-Garde Publications" organized by the magazine OVUM 10 in the Hall of the University of the Republic on September 30, 1970 - the proposal "Demagogic Poem," a parody of the election process. Votes were cast in an urn with a round opening. The ballots were nothing but forms distributed by the performer in which the participant-creator was asked to express whatever he wanted, and then Vigo put the ballots, not folded but rolled up in the form of cylinders, into the special container.

At the beginning of the 1970s, Vigo joined the new currents of mail art, becoming one of its most regular creators until the day of his death. The military dictatorship of his country struck hard, causing one of his sons to disappear. Because of this disgraceful act, Vigo's work took on a strongly political character such that his contacts with foreigners were augmented, spreading the word about the brutal repression and crimes against humanity of this ferocious dictatorship. From this period came his work Trelew (1974), in memory of the 16 revolutionaries assassinated in the Trelew jail in southern Argentina on August 22, 1972. On each page of the book is a representation of each fallen body. From those sad moments Vigo lent his talent to the mobilizations of the "Mothers of the Plaza of May" (his collective visual poem "Sembrar la memoria" [To Seed Memory] was emblematic, realized in the large popular event "Everyone or No One" that the group "Excombros" organized in La Plata on December 9, 1995). In his last years, Vigo's work turned towards the light; he exhibited individually in the Tan Telmo Foundation (1991), where he had a retrospective show of his major works. In 1994, he was selected to form the Argentine section to the XXII Biennial of São Paulo, Brazil, thereby achieving world recognition in this area.

To conclude, allow me to include these words of Vigo's taken from his public declaration of 1968, "An Art to Realize," that will give us a more accurate idea of his project:

Towards a touchable art that breaks in the artist the possibility of the use of "rotten" materials to the extreme that they produce the alienation of the hand of the observer - Simple form of perception - that will stay in this position without the "epidermal" participation of the thing. Through use of "base" materials and for a delimiting quotidian context of the content. A touchable art that rejects the possibility of satisfying an "elite" that the artist has been forming to his regret, a touchable art that can be located in any home and not enclosed in Museums and Galleries. An art with mistakes that alienates the exquisite. Taking advantage to the maximum of the aesthetic of "surprise," through "occurrence" - primary act of creation-to be converted - already in a form suitable for the masses form - into involving movements or for individuality - congruence of intentionality, in attitude.

An art of expansion, of attaction to the ludic way, that facilitates active participation of the spectator, the absurd way. An art of signaling so that the quotidian escapes to the unique possibility of the functional. No more contemplation without action.

No more exhibition without presentation. Where inert material, stable and fixed, takes its movement and necessary change so that the image is constantly modified. Finally: a contradictory art.

Only with some difficulty have I been able to touch on all or even some of the facets and dimensions of this indefatigable creator, barely able schematically to redeem Vigo's attitude towards art and the society in which he lived and suffered. This artist obeyed only his own rules. All his life he was guided by ideas having to do with freedom. His work will last as long as there exists in people this desire for liberty that he tried to keep fresh by confronting the split of choosing between the various possibilities of signification (including that of altering meaning) that his works offered, thereby concretizing through that choice our deepest nature: the aspiration to freedom.

Montevideo, Uruguay, November 12, 1997

Translation by Harry Polkinhorn


This is the beginning of a cooperative memorial to Vigo conducted by Light and Dust and Fabio Doctorovich's Postypografika site in Argentina. Examples of work by Vigo will be shared by the two sites, and linked to both. Spanish text to this article is available through the link to Postypografika from the Light and Dust and Kaldron menus, as English text will be available via a link from Postypografia to Light and Dust. Stay tuned for more.


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