León Ferrari conceived a dialogue among supposed voices of authority, insisting on the equal complicity of individuals such as Hitler, Lyndon Johnson, Pope Paul VI, and God in perpetuating unending cycles of violence
León Ferrari, The Words of Others, Trans. by Antena (Jen Hofer with Tupac Cruz and Román Luján), X Artist's Books, 2017.
The Words of Others (Palabras ajenas) is the first full English translation of the Argentine artist León Ferrari’s uncompromising literary masterpiece (1967). A critique of the Vietnam War and American imperial politics, the book weaves together hundreds of excerpts from newspapers, periodicals, works of history, the Bible, and other sources. Ferrari conceived a dialogue among supposed voices of authority, insisting on the equal complicity of individuals such as Hitler, Lyndon Johnson, Pope Paul VI, and God in perpetuating unending cycles of violence. This translation results from nearly three years of work, including thorough investigation of Ferrari’s sources. It accompanies an exhibition of seminal works by Ferrari, curated by Ruth Estévez, Miguel A. López, and Agustín Diez Fischer at the Gallery at REDCAT as part of Pacific Standard Time’s Los Angeles/Latin America initiative, which will see the text performed by a cast of over forty artists, actors, and other recognized figures.
Originally organized as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, an initiative of the Getty, this is the first solo exhibition of the Argentinian artist León Ferrari (b. 1920, Buenos Aires; d. 2013, Buenos Aires) in the United States, and features the first full performance of his seminal 1967 publication Palabras ajenas (The Words of Others). The exhibition focuses primarily on Ferrari’s influential practice from the 1960s to the 1980s, with a particular emphasis on Ferrari’s literary collages, most notably Palabras ajenas, an important Vietnam era anti-war piece written in the form of a dramatic script.
Ferrari considered his literary collages to be a central element of his practice, yet many remained unpublished or had only minimal circulation as limited editions or as sketchbooks. The exhibit re-visits many of these works, exploring an uncharted territory while marking a turning point in both the understanding of his work, as well as the aesthetic forms of political intervention that emerged in Latin America. This profoundly contemporary project highlights the obscenity of war, the ways the media represents it, and the role of political and religious discourse in the expansion of Western culture. - pamm.org/exhibitions/words-others-le%C3%B3n-ferrari-and-rhetoric-times-war
León Ferrari and Mira Schendel: Tangled Alphabets, The Museum of Modern Art, 2009.
León Ferrari (born in 1920) and Mira Schendel (1919-1988) are among the most significant Latin American artists of the twentieth century. Active simultaneously in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s in the neighboring countries of Argentina and Brazil, they found inspiration in the written word and in the eloquence of spoken language, and they both used language as important visual subject matter. Published to accompany the first comprehensive survey of the work of each artist in the United States, this essential catalogue presents new insights into the artists' groundbreaking work and examines the connections and collisions between the visual arts, writing, politics and religion in their oeuvres
Tangled Alphabets charts the careers of León Ferrari and Mira Schendel, two twentieth-century artists who made language central to their dense, lyrical explorations of the visual world. The earliest piece by Ferrari on display is “Mujer” (Woman) (1960), a simple and delicate jug-like form that renders the slightly distorted fullness of a pregnant female body. Ferrari experiments with the alphabet in a similar fashion. His animated depictions of words and letters expand with volume until they settle at the edge of legibility.
After an early engagement with paintings composed of flat geometric forms, dark muted colors, and thick, grainy textures, Schendel’s work became concerned with mark-making that aligns the act of writing with drawing and evokes the passage of time. In the 1960s, she began placing thin sheets of Japanese paper on plexiglass stained with oil paint and then inscribing a visual collusion of lines, letters, circles, and words with sharp objects including her own fingernails. Drawings such as “A trama” (A fabric net (1960)) and her “Escritas” (Written) series resulted from this process. In these works, the almost transparent materiality of paper becomes a threshold between the physical immediacy of the present and the intangible passing of time. Only the work of Cy Twombly can compete with Schendel’s ability to make images composed of calligraphic gestures and scratches appear simultaneously time-bound and ephemeral, crafted and spontaneous.
The graphic and expressive potential of the alphabet is the primary but not the only link between Ferrari and Schendel. Both bodies of work emerged out of traffic between European and South American modernism. Both used language to meditate on the tangled relationships among religion, politics, and the body, and their art indirectly testifies to the violence that shaped their lives. Ferrari was born in Buenos Aires to Italian parents. His father was an artist and an architect, and he trained to be an engineer. A piece such as “Carta a un general” (Letter to a general (1962)), an ink drawing of twisting and illegible words, foreshadows his work’s investment in writing against repressive forces. Ferrari actively protested the military dictatorship of Auguste Pinochet, and moved to Brazil in 1976. His son Ariel disappeared during Jorge Rafael Videla’s “Dirty War.” In São Paulo, Ferrari created “Planeta” (Planet (1979)), a spherical sculpture composed of stainless steel wire and the desire to create “an imaginary planet.” “Planeta” displays a gorgeous tension between transparency and opacity, fragility and sturdiness. The more you see through its netted form, the more the solid architecture of its composition comes into view.
Ultimately, Ferrari and Schendel’s pictorial investigations of language took their work in vastly different directions. Before her death in 1988, Schendel’s work settled into an austere minimalism allowing for meditations on how line impacts color and shape. In an untitled piece from her series “Sarrafas” (Splints (1987)), Schendel placed a white rectangle at the bottom of a large square of wood painted light taupe. A narrow three-dimensional line of wood, painted black and set at a slight angle, cuts across both parts of the painting with sober clarity and could stand for the lines that compose the alphabet’s recognizable forms. Ferrari, on the other hand, took a decidedly critical turn in his late work and produced collages that unequivocally accuse the Catholic Church of proselytizing genocide and modern warfare. In his series “Relecturnas de la Biblia” (Rereadings of the Bible (1986-88)), Renaissance angels open curtain onto scenes of nuclear disaster; Michael the archangel pokes a pile of corpses with his spear; a Byzantine Christ escorts a fighter plane down the sky. These “rereadings” possess sarcasm so ruthlessly apt they outdo John Heartfield. Propelled by threats of erasure, Ferrari’s and Schendel’s explorations into language’s multiple appearances—as shapes, expressions, lines, and ideas —worked to allow a world without mechanized violence to come into view. - Kimberly Lamm
Leon Ferrari (1920–2013) was an Argentine artist whose work in literary collage, sculpture, and a range of other media confronted the abuse of power in politics and the church