an introduction by Brian Whitener

One of the strengths of visual poetry is the degree to which, in the last thirty years, it has been able to establish a multiplicity of historical precedents. Today one can look from the Hypnerotomachia Polliphili or the cave paintings of Lascuax to ideogrammatic languages or modern painting from Cezanne to Basquiat. However, visual poetry as an artistic category has its roots in the Latin American 1960s with artists who began working under the influence of Max Bill. For these artists, as it was later for language-oriented poets in the United States or the Argentinean writers gathered around XUL, the enemy was representational language, which hid the real beneath a sheen of signifiers or, even worse, simply served the interests of capital. It was around this idea that a Latin American avant garde cohered. In its first incarnation, seen in the Brazilian concretists, the visual level of signification was used as a means to get beyond representation. After 1967 or so, the exploration of semanticity was extended to direct action upon the real and to the creation of new representational systems, including a poetry of performance and action (seen in the works of Clemente Padin, Tucman Arde, and others).

If this trajectory is emphasized to the exclusion of others, it is simply to mark what is a great difference between current visual poetry in Latin America and Mexico and the United States. While in the last thirty years, American visual poetry has opened up many interesting areas, performance has been the domain of plastic artists, not poets, and, as a result, this valence of visual poetry has been lost. For this reason, the time is right to revisit these ideas with this selection of Mexican visual poets who work in both areas and who are actively seeking new forms, new manners of working, and new areas to act within.

Since I believe strongly in both this work and in letting the work speak for itself, that’s enough in terms of background. However, there are a few things that might be worth knowing. Juan Infante, along with Cesar Espinosa and Araceli Zuniga, played an important role in revitalizing Mexican visual poetry in the 1980s. “Abrazo” is a performance poem done in 2003 in the streets of Mexico City—the writing was done by passers by. Also, it is uncommon to see two men this physically intimate on the street. About her object poems, Katnira Bello writes, “An image suffers first aesthetic and formal criticism, if it survives, perhaps then we speak of its content. For a text, this path is inverted…Literature implies (and obliges in a grand measure) a certain clarity…It is in the camouflage of the image where the enchantment is possible.” Damian Walsdorf’s work has a concern with technology and pushes into the realm of the cybernetic, but it seems like the most important category for him is the synthetic, or a tender hybrid of the human and machine. Victor Susler’s work is part magic, part metaphor.

What I see here is the realization of new possibilities for visual poetry and the exploration of new valiances of signification. As well, I see possibilities for the thinking of language on terms entirely foreign to us. I hope you see things as equally striking.


Check out the print version of SleepingFish 0.75 for the feature on Visual Poetry in Mexico. Some additional works by Victor Sulser are here online.