(Helena, I imagine this text in letters typed in an old typewriter, with some of the letters faded for lack of ink, and some in red, like in a first draft. The spaces between the paragraphs should vary, we don’t know for sure the relationship between them.)
THE HOUSE OF THE LETTER
The letter wants to go beyond the image. Since Mallarmé affirmed that the modern disdained imagining, we seek in the letter the material support to try to get out of the image and into the space – on the page, and, maybe, in the world.
Helena Trindade remakes with the letter the materiality of the world, the house, the exhibition space. When turned object, the letter becomes opaque and resists meaning. Playing with the architecture at Castelinho Cultural Center the letter marks spaces, transforms rooms and, with a subtle courage, reviews issues that are central to art, language, and man.
We enter “Livros” (“Books”) through a library, of course. A library where nothing is read. The letters are scrambled, desiring to espouse the architecture of the room, covering the floor with an impossible maze, closing its windows and taking over the space with its red light. The flesh in the book invites us but blocks our way, in this contradictory Biblioteca encarnada (Incarnate library).
Once symbols of modernity, printing types have become scrap metal. The typewriter keys might still wait for our fingers, the movement that would produce some sort of writing. These curious little objects encompass all the words that did not manage to be written. Which net would be able to capture them?
A book that was never written, what shape would it have? The typewriter keys that never printed it inscribed themselves in the space, in a toothed web that is placed in the hollow of the staircase, compelling the eyes to look at the writing in this usually empty space. What Conversation in the staircase are these word skeletons plotting to have?
The letter saws the sense, the world’s text. In an attempt to de-construct the structure of the discourse, Jacques Derrida shows that language is made of differences and intervals, distances and spacings that propel us to a temporality. Every text is made through a game of deferring and putting off – a game which Helena Trindade poetically materializes in her letter-saw – Poema a Derrida (Poem for Derrida). Making an object out of what consists in a certain emptiness, an impossibility: to incarnate the spacing operation. (In an electronic panel it reads: AR [AIR]). The poetic procedure is precise (“The clear sense makes unsure/Your vague literature”, says Mallarmé in Toute l’âme résumée). It manages to materialize reflection – although it twists it a little; it can only be ironic, albeit unwillingly. The word irony, according to etymology, comes from the Greek éiron, also meaning “questioning”.
What’s the inverse of the verse?
The letters get mixed up forming a book/maze where I get lost – where I become bound. The absolute and total book – to quote Mallarmé once again, “Everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book.” It must be veiled, covered by matéria-tinta (paint-matter) – this mixture of glue and carbonate that is dear to the artist, and which in previous works has covered objects, chairs, sculptures, and even spaces, thanks to the light filtering effect achieved by this translucent material – as in Sala em branco (Blank room). Under this veil made up of paint and solid matter, the book becomes an unreadable object, an enigma in which something definitive, something essential hides and is never seen, and will never be read. A toothless, impotent Oracle, like the typewriter with no letter keys nor types. An original, lost writing (so dear to Borges). A semi-faded palimpsest, a letter never received, a magical notebook in which the writing remains, but is hidden. The mail/letter was stolen from me, the letter moves from hand to hand, and it’s never read; maybe it’s the letter that, oddly, reads me.
In Poe’s famous short story, The Purloined Letter is the main character. But what was written in it is never revealed. Whoever has the letter sees him/herself transformed, unwillingly, sucked into the mail/letter game. Lacan suggests that the purloined letter represents each person’s unconscious.
What could the dream imprint on the pillow?
In the delicate evanescence of the letters pulses the gesture that inscribed them, repeatedly, marking someone’s presence. Versos-inversos – Poema a Picabia (Inverse-verses – Poem for Picabia) consists in vestiges of graphite transferred to a sheet of paper over which are placed other sheets where Helena repeatedly copied an extensive poem by the artist, using front and back, successively. The hand that copied the text turned the pages over and over again; its pressure over the surface imprinted unpredictable markings on the paper, materializing the superposed residues of the writing.
Picabia’s poem then became a poem for Picabia: appropriated by the one who inscribes it, it no longer belongs to its author. Having been turned into no more than writing residue, however, the poem returns as an enigma and an ode to the artist. The graphite deposit is the reverse of the poem, its stolen letter. A fine writing, a foreign, delicate inscription into which we are silently invited. It’s impossible to decipher it: the message has been lost, but the loss insists and is transmitted (the letter/mail always arrives at its destination, as Lacan says).
The book is born of its torn pages.
In Helena’s A origem da obra de arte (The origin of the work of art), the pages repeat the title, the never fulfilled promise. In its center, its middle, there are two blank pages. It’s no longer a book, in the proper sense, but an object-clearing, its pages incarnating the vacuity in which Heidegger places the origin, the essence – of art and man. This book is an empty place, faced with which one can only perform the pointless, yet fundamental gesture that is turning its pages, one by one, without ceasing – “the task”, says Heidegger, “consists in seeing the enigma”, repeatedly –, so that, in the end, one might be invited by its duplicated cover to retake this journey upside-down, tracing with the book a Moebius strip – that curious topological figure that subverts space, as there is no distinction between interior and exterior.
Max Bill, Escher, and others worked plastically with the poetical logic of the strip, with which Jacques Lacan and our Lygia Clark also became infatuated – see Clark’s Caminhando (Walking) and Diálogo de mãos (Dialogue of hands). To Helena, what’s interesting in the strip is the fact that it has a continuity between the beginning and the end, which ironically destroys any possibility of thinking about an origin. We have here a Walking without paper or scissors, but with Heidegger. Like Clark’s proposition, Helena’s The origin of the work of art stresses the de-materialization of the work on behalf of the act that is capable of getting back to the enigma of the esthetic experience – but through the bias of the reading impossibility.
The Moebius strip invites us to no more than a gesture, that of following its surface with the finger – to see, to feel its enigma in our body. On a two-dimensional surface, this gesture would draw an inverted eight which designates infinity. The arts, the subject: a never ending book-gesture, evading any reading.
In Ironia (Irony), the vertiginous movement in the flight of a small flock of birds draws a torus in space, this topological figure that also captivated Lacan and, closer to us, Tunga. The torus is a ring, a surface without margins, which has a peripheral exteriority as well as a central exteriority. Lacan defines it as an organization of the hole. Its center is exterior. Lacan emphasizes that, in the word, there’s a center that’s “exterior to language”, which is the equivalent of saying that language cannot guarantee a center for the subject, because language itself has a hole, it is ex-centrical. This is what the letter never ceases to indicate: that language has a hole, while at the same time having something of materiality. “The O is a non-perfurated hole,” writes Guimarães Rosa.
Helena is interested in using the torus to break the notion of centrality. In the video, the poetic apprehension of the birds’ flight gives way to a carefully and didactically traced torus, maybe one that was taken out of a manual of topology, or out of one of Lacan’s Seminars. This figure moves along a well framed and clear surface that seems more like a sheet of paper, performing a certain rebound in its extremities, but unable to accomplish the movement which defines it in the tri-dimensional space. Only the unpredictability of the flight can bring us to the vertigo, the backspin that is able to make the center the exterior, the intimate the extimate.
Helena Trindade reads literally Joseph Kosuth’s proposal that art, in our days, would come to take the place of philosophy. But what would that place be? It’s not quite that art comes after philosophy failure, following after its footsteps as a legitimate field of reflection upon man. It’s not quite that art goes hand in hand with psychoanalysis and philosophy, breaking the barriers between them, proclaiming a happy conceptualism. Rather, it’s a matter of poetically materializing the place of reflection upon man as inapprehensible, as an emptiness that no theory, no object, no house could contain. After all, man, as Freud has long said, is no longer lord in his own home.
There’s a certain lassitude in this enterprise, as if affirming, along with Mallarmé, that “the flesh is sad, alas! and all the books are read”. What else is left?
The letter, as Lacan, along with James Joyce, says, is litter.
(PS: The text should be a casual calligram; it should be possible to throw its elements like a die that began to leave its marks, its spaces, on the page. Maybe Lacan’s well known “time to comprehend” could draw, in us, a space to comprehend.)
Brasília, April 2008
Psychoanalyst, professor at the University of Brasília, researcher and scholarship holder at CNPQ, Tânia Rivera also holds a Doctors degree in Psychology from the Université Catholique de Louvain, in Belgium, and a Post-doctorate degree from the School of Fine Arts at UFRJ. She is the author of Cinema, imagem e psicanálise (2008), Guimarães Rosa e a psicanálise: ensaios entre imagem e escrita (2005), and Arte e psicanálise (2002), all published by Jorge Zahar Editor. Co-organizer of Sobre arte e psicanálise (Escuta, 2006).
Rio de Janeiro City Hall – RJ – Brazil