The mestizo medium

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Fusion and equilibrium are the principles on which the Chilean visual poet Sergio Pinto Briones has based his effervescent debut collection Barbaridades in Situ

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Barbaridades in Situ
Sergio Pinto Briones
2009, Emboscall
40 pages

Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez

AS WITH THE logo of this online review, Latin America has always occupied an important position in the poetic genre employing typography.

Inevitably, sub-genres have evolved since Carlos Drummond de Andrade inspired the 1956 international exhibition of concrete poetry in São Paulo and sparked many esoteric debates about what is the difference between the “visual” and the “concrete”.

The distinction is subtle, balancing like the “T-Equilibrium” by Sergio Pinto Briones (above) on the degree to which typographic elements are either secondary to visual elements or are employed, typographically, to convey meaning – that is, to convey meaning in themselves as words or letters.

When words form a picture, do they then become images that you figure out using your visual senses and lose properties as textual vehicles of meaning? Pinto Briones’ experimental Barbaridades in Situ (Barbarities in Situ) demonstrates that the compromise position – that visual poetry is synonymous with concrete poetry – has a lot going for it, in large part because he employs words as an equal partner in support of the images while ensuring that they retain their power to inform as text. Equilibrium is very much at the heart of this short collection published in shades of blue, epitomised by the letter “T”, like a set of scales, and the similar statements made later in the book by “Año Zero”, an electrically-charged cross that provides co-ordinates for a point of departure.

Thus, in “Exodo” (Exodus), a short poem introduces a massive exodus of ants, with the words themselves scurrying into order and thereby introducing the passage of the insects in a descending line from the page. There is no metamorphosis here: words do one job, images another, but they work in such an effervescent and refreshing harmony that it is impossible not to be entertained.

Creative spleen

A Chilean residing in Barcelona, Pinto Briones is both a poet and an artist who has slipped between media to vent his creative spleen. It is small wonder that he originally studied journalism: a craft that makes words labour, often against their will.

A playful poet, he toys mischievously and at times anarchically with ideas. “Velocidad de la luz” (Speed of light) appears as a blank page – the light has simply sped away; “Lluvia negra” (Black rain) is a symphony of notes that have left their scales and rain down upon the reader; and “Minuto de silencio” (Minute of silence) is a prolonged ellipsis which forces one to attend to every full point as it extends across the page.

It is perhaps in “Vida” (Life) – a woman’s genitalia spelt out with the letters V, I, D, A – and “Violencia” – the word OMBRE in bold capitals, lacking the “H” that makes him human – in which Pinto Briones demonstrates the real skill of the visual poet, urging us to take in the typographic and the graphic simultaneously. The two modes of expression merge seamlessly to become a single nucleus of communication, provoking a new way of looking and thinking about old themes.

While several of the works remain more abstract – blunt shapes are employed without text in “Incesto” chapters i and ii, for example – they are nonetheless intriguing, and complement the very original direction taken by this artist.

If the idea of using letter arrangements to enhance meaning is an ancient as the Greeks, it has been given a contemporary stimulus by Latin Americans both at home and abroad. One of the Brazilian pioneers, Augusto de Campos, has assembled a lively collection of work on the web, for example.

Pinto Briones reveals the influence of this inheritance in his talent for fusion – forging words and images into what might be called a mestizo medium, albeit not in bronze but in blue – that will undoubtedly become a hallmark of his subsequent creative work.

Georgina Jiménez is a freelance Mexican writer

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