Sunday, January 6, 2008

Excerpts from "The Force Fields of Letterist Painting" Isidore Isou

From Les Champs de Force de la Peinture Lettriste (Paris: Avant- Garde, 1964).

I recall quite well this period of experimentation which I passed through in a special way, thanks to a personal creative method: "doubts," "partial certainties," "perplexities...... disenchantments," "discoveries...... assurances;" in summary all those states of mind defined by an outmoded vocabulary and run over in a quick new way now come to mind.
I had been wondering how a letter could be just as beautiful as a figurative or non-figurative object in art, and how a work composed of Roman letters could touch or even overwhelm an ordinary viewer as much as the mass of works based on real "things" or qualities conventionally accepted in the minds of the refined.

For months at the beginning my whole concrete system consisted of the most banal alphabetic writing. This could naturally be raised up easily in theory - as was the case later with my first manifesto - by deep, provocative considerations or by metaphors, but in practice it was nevertheless limited to being a printer's specimen book or just pages filled with words - bound together by some theme, critical or poetic or whatever, which ignored my artistic effort.

No concern for the composition of the line of vowels and consonants, no care for the arrangement of sentences on the page, and naturally no interest in color - an easy and underhanded secondary value in my definition of painting - were present to disrupt my limited task as scribe, my arid research on the emotive powers of letters, pure letters, letters ripped out of all context, unimproved by extrinsic values.

For a certain period of time the only innovation came from my poetry, because instead of transcribing word-texts, I copied phonetic verses, which allowed me to put my arrangement in the middle of the page instead of filling up the whole page, isolating certain phonemes or clusters of phonemes according to the oral impulse, then adding some new signs from the Greek alphabet or my imagination, which corresponded to sounds that did not exist in the Roman alphabet. Naturally when I exhibited these pages and called them "works of art" all I got was disdainful or knowing smiles, as if I had pulled off a good joke. Not only in Bucharest, but even in Paris the defenders of "figurative" and "abstract" modern art always assured me that these creations "were not paintings." . . .

Metagraphics or post-writing, encompassing all the means of ideographic, lexical and phonetic notation, supplements the means of expression based on sound by adding a specifically plastic dimension, a visual facet which is irreducible and escapes oral labelling. . . .

Even from my first metagraphic efforts - because examples can be found in The Diaries of the Gods and then more conclusively in the self-portrait and painted photos of Amos - I had noticed that when held up among former 11 objective" or "non-objective" forms my original form was stronger, since it assimilates all the others.

Experiments on "the test of forms" demonstrate that the particles of the Letterist domain are stronger and more important than the particles of the figurative and non-figurative domains.

If one places an abstract composition - which is simply a fragmentary purification of the former object - in (or alongside) a figurative structure, this second composition digests the first one - transformed into a decorative motif - and then the whole work becomes figurative. However if one places a letterist notation on (or beside) a realist "form," it is the first one which assimilates the second to change the whole thing into a work of hypergraphics or super-writing.

Pursuing the experiments on the "test of the force of elements" one can affirm that "a little bit," or "a few drops" of figuration placed anywhere on a canvas can transform an entire abstract mass into a figurative work and that "a little bit," or "a few drops" of Letterism placed anywhere on any canvas metamorphose a whole figurative or abstract composition into a Letterist work.

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