Demosthenes Agrafiotis

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{essay on visual poetry}

Two visual poems, Hommage à Michael Mitras

1. À priori

2. Origin, provenance

At the beginning of the year 2000, during my visit/collaboration with the Bonotto Foundation (Fondazione Bonotto, Bassano del Grappa, Italy) I discovered the diagram of Dick Higgins (1938-1998) which refers to experimental poetry, to the avant-garde, to the actions of the Fluxus group as well as to the orientations of art in the second half of the last century. Luigi Bonotto, the founder of the collection of visual poetry (Collezione Luigi Bonotto - Poesia Visiva, see www.fondazionebonotto.org) had asked in 1995 Dick Higgins (creator of "Something Else Press", 1963, NY, USA), member and co-founder of the group Fluxus movement and one of the first to introduce computers in the design and production of works of art, to develop a general scheme of avant-garde trends, in the name of course of the basic idea of intermedia and intermediality. The diagram had also been made on the surface of a mirror and the viewer could see, even today, its image reflected in the garden of artistic sites that make up Higgins' proposal (Figure 1). After the first contemplation of the diagram, I noticed that there were circles with question marks, and I decided to complete them. Patrizio Peterlini (Director of the Foundation) provided me with a copy of Higgins' diagram and I supplemented it with new elements - areas: "body art", "internet art", "new technologies", "computer art" and “video art”, that is to say fields where tele-information technologies are essential levers concerning the production of works of art (Figure 2).

Figure 1 : Dick Higgins, Scheme-Graphic intermedia, 1995 (Archives Fondation Bonotto)

This is how a new version of Higgins' initial scheme was born, which was published in Klaus Peter Dencker's book, Optische Poesie, De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2010, p. 39-41).

It is clear that in the new version the emphasis is on the fact that new technologies (computing and digital texture) have contributed to the fields of poetry and art. In this perspective, visual poetry (see Figures 1-3) is placed in the tendencies and currents that cross both the entire field of art and the discourses on the destiny and the subsistence of this one.

If we call the latest version of figure 3 the “expanded Higgins diagram”, then it could be seen as a tool, a conceptual framework for understanding and evaluating the practices adopted by poets/artists, without that meaning that the schema predetermines their choice or that it has any normative power, which implies that it is absolutely necessary to do a thorough second reading of the works of the poets/artists in order to determine the specific tactics or "manoeuvres" to which the poet-artist has recourse each time to carry out his work.

Figure 2 : Demosthenes Agrafiotis, Scheme-Graphic intermedia, 2003 (Book by Klaus Peter Dencker)

3. Movements, demarcations

But how can we define visual poetry today? What has she kept from her past (recent and distant)? How has it adapted to the demands of our time? And what prospects do they open up in the near future? How can the Higgins scheme (Figure 3) help answer the questions above?

According to Dick Higgins' scheme (in the version completed by D. Agrafiotis (see http://dagrafiotis.com/?cat=170&paged=2), visual poetry is situated in an intermedia universe in constant interaction with various artistic practices ( see Figure 3. Structurally (according to the same graph) no change is visible today but in terms of intensity and scale of interactions it is clear that those linked to scientific and technological innovations have increased sharply, as new technologies and related artistic processes gain dominance, they influence visual poetry all the more.

Figure 3: Diagram-scheme by Dick Higgins with additions by Demosthenes Agrafiotis (D. Agrafiotis, “Cultural Poetics”, Ed. Erato, Athens, 2012, pp. 104-111).

Visual poetry aims for a "total" and "concise" reception at the same time, a kind of "over-the-eye", (allusion, connivance) extremely elaborate in order to function in an effective and robust manner. In other words, the visual poem or any process in the name of visual poetry is called upon to renew a bet, that of the emergence of a "glow" (material and noetic) capable of leading and seducing the gaze. and the mind of the viewer..

The second element of constant importance is the ambition of visual poetry to explore the relationships between language and image, writing and figuration (writing and picturing), speech and conjecture. In this spirit, the relationship between "reading" and "seeing" is the foundation of the status of visual poetry and at the same time the beginnings of the emergence of painting/p(oetic)ainting, calligraphy and cacography.

From a historical perspective, the visual poetry of the last century, by dealing with the coupling "language" and "image", prepared humanity for the "dramatic" advent of the digital world where its logic [0,1] would unify on a material support writing and figuration - a fact which becomes dominant and oppressive in the 21st century. This fact justifies the cultural power of visual poetry because it participated in and prepared (critically or not) the advent of a unified world of numbers, forms and information. It is this new situation in the field of social communication which is the new condition for the emergence and reception of visual poetry. More precisely, visual poetry is now called upon to explore different languages (languages and not just langues, in the French terminology) and also writing systems. That is to say that in its future path, visual poetry is called upon to be confronted with the "foreign" languages of algorithms, artificial intelligence, new languages of the digital worlds and to measure itself against existing representations or potential/artificial (virtual). That is to say, it is called upon to explore the intermediate spaces between the “real” and its potential representation (the virtual). In addition, it will be obliged to assimilate the teachings, processes and acquisitions of the neighboring fields of expression that make up Figure 3.

Two drawings by D.Agrafiotis, Homage to Natasha Hadjidaki, "Flip I,II",
India ink on Kyoto paper, A4, 2021.

4. Uncertain operation

Whatever the fate of "visual poetry" in relation to the great changes caused by the new conquests of techno-science, visual poetry will persistently pose the question of how the image is combined with the discourse, the analysis and the theory? How is the image mobilized within the framework of propositional or argumentative analysis? How does it ultimately contribute to a hybrid approach to beings and things? L. Wittgenstein particularly referred to the content of the above questions when he was looking for a pictorial / visual theory of meaning (picture theory of meaning) and had envisaged a seeing (seeing) of meaning and the word as access to the world (world). One could argue that visual poetry is a powerful strategy in an effort to "see as", an inquisitive/ecstatic gaze capable of producing perceptions of reality and then shaping reflective works (artistic or not). beyond the conventional requirements of epidermal communication.

In the same perspective, one could understand the diagrams proposed by the psychoanalyst J. Lacan to elaborate a theory of the psychic world. In other words, the forms of the Lacanian approach are only visual poems, examples of poetry applied in the service of formulating a theory of the unconscious. After all, the French psychoanalyst rubbed shoulders with Surrealist poets and artists and certainly experienced personally and repeatedly the poetic and artistic avant-garde of Paris in the 1930s (see D. Agrafiotis, “+-graphies”, Ed. Veer-36, London, 2011, σελ.33-47).

The coupling of word and image with a particular emphasis on geometry, pattern and form, is the basic strategy of visual poetry because it highlights a critical problematic of tropisms: the poem in relation to the flow of things in analogy, in homology or in isomorphism? (See our book "Cultural Poetics") With the introduction of the image as a support for writing and the intertwining of speech and conjecture, the visual poem acquires a strong figurative dimension compared to the classical linear poem and leads to a complex reference to human interlocutors. One could say that a multi-meta-morphism emerges beyond of the three tropisms. Finally, the intermediate coupling of the three aforementioned tropisms allows visual poetry a confrontation or a complex and solid coupling with the constant transformations of our world.

A drawing by D.Agrafiotis, Homage to Gioulia Gazetopoulou, “Flip III”,
Indian ink on Kyoto paper, A4, 2021.

5. Images, shapes, sounds

The exhibition titled “The sea is always far away”* falls within the aforementioned essence of visual poetry, as it tends to integrate and use the experiences of works of art and transversal experimentation in the field of modern art. In other words, the exhibition testifies to the revival of visual poetry through its dialogue with sound art, performance, internet art and new communication technologies. Obviously, the fruitful combinations of the four entities: images, forms, words and sounds emerge in a particular way in all cultural and social periods. At present, the aforementioned emergence is occurring (on a global scale) in parallel with a myriad of new phenomena: "big data", powerful technological systems of documentation and information, epidemics - pandemics, ecological disasters, social and other inequalities. Poets and artists who use the four variables above are called upon to confront stormy international intolerance (present and future) with empathy and intelligence.

In the recent International Conference (11/2021) organized by Brazilian Visual Poets, the course of Visual Poetry was examined from prehistory to the present day, in alphabetic languages (like Greek), in ideographic languages (like Chinese), on supports of various materials (stone, wood, clay, paper, canvas, silicone, screens…) as well as the place of visual poetry in the broader field of poetry, literature and the arts (visual images , musical, animated, etc.). Its endurance over time has been proven as well as the ability of poets and visual artists to invent new forms of existence and new places for it to emerge. That is to say that visual poetry participates in the multiple transformations of poetry and art, but also in all the rearrangements (successful or painful) of the lives of the inhabitants of our planet. (See www.jornadadepoesiavisual.com/mostravirtual).

With a simplistic layout, we can say that in the period 1950-2010, visual poetry (poésie concrete, visual poetry, poesia visiva, concrete poetry) aspired (among other goals) to form a critical look at the affluent society, consumption and mass communications. (See also the catalogs drawn up in Greece by Dr. Lena Kokkini with visual poetry as subject after 1980.) After 2010, after the crisis and all the crisiologies that accompanied it, visual poetry is called upon to openly address a world in a constantly transient oscillation. Moreover, in the same period, visual poetry itself was transformed by adopting new expressive practices, new materials and the selective use of new technologies.

In this new phase, in this new perspective, the experience of veterans is necessary, but above all the "reasonable audacity" of poets and artists in order to bring out — without exclusions or prejudices — an unprecedented combination of means of expression.

Two drawings by D.Agrafiotis, Homage to Michael Mitras, , "Blue(s) III, VII",”, blue India ink on Kyoto paper,A4,2021.

The title is inspired by a verse by Michael Mitras. Tribute: Natasha Hadjidaki (1944-2017), Gioulia Gazetopoulou (1932-2018), Michael Mitras (1944-2019).
The "Technochoros" art gallery presents the collective exhibition entitled: "The sea is always far" (images, shapes, sounds) which is dedicated to the memory of the three poets. The exhibition opened to the public on January 12 and ran until February 4, 2022. It is curated by art historian Dr. Lena Kokkini in collaboration with Demosthenes Agrafiotis for the participation of young artists.See http://dagrafiotis.com/?cat=170&lang=en & www.technohoros.org.

Thanks to Yiannis Rigadis, Angelos Sakkis, and Diana Assi for their help in drafting the text.


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