La Civilización Occidental y Cristiana (1965). Photo: Disclosure

* By Andrea Giunta

Since 1954, León Ferrari has produced a work that unites poetry and politics with the same force. We are well aware of the infinite variation of stroke movements that, in the end, complete and reveal his abstract drawings.

Often abstract in appearance, since when we investigate the hidden words and the story entangled by the tight line, we delve into their questioning of the canons, the hierarchies established by the West, the dogmas of the sacred books, the repressive sexuality of political power, churchman. Often blushed by what his writing and images expose, we can't help but feel, at the same time, seduced by his beauty.

The work that León did in the 1960s is delicate and monumental. The drawings of floating lines, just a succession of strokes on the paper, dialogue with his sculptures that weld or entangle the wire. They coexist, at the same time, with his paradigmatic work, La Civilización Occidental y Cristiana (1965), in which a Christ is crucified over an American bomber. After this work León abandoned art in the traditional sense of the term.

In 1975 he leaves for Brazil with Alicia, his wife, and all their family. They left for an exile that lasted until 1991, when they returned to Buenos Aires. In São Paulo, León is linked to the experimental formations of the city with artists such as Regina Silveira, Julio Plaza, Carmela Gross, Alex Fleming, Marcelo Nietsche and Hudinilson. The São Paulo moment is not only the moment of the return to art, to welded sculptures, to abstract instruments (which Léon calls berimbau). It is also a return to the sacred scriptures and the role that biblical writings play in the history of the West. If it is true that it is in São Paulo that Léon resumes his Bible and the questioning of Western culture, it is also true that he had already anticipated his arguments in many of his works of the 1960s. As in Noah's Ark, a tight handwriting recounting another version of the universal flood. In this, men die and only women are left. They are like Eva, a lover of knowledge, who disobeys and bequeaths to humanity all the pleasures of sex - that's why León says that tribute should be paid to Eva and that scientists should consider her a heroine, because she was the wise one. who discovered the value of research and knowledge. In this version of Noah's Ark, I was saying, Leon describes how women save humanity by cutting off drowned men's genitals and grafting them onto a tree they climb, in frantic, reproductive copulation. A great fornication against which God can do nothing but watch, absorbed, from a distance.

In São Paulo, León resumed sculpture and drawings, this gray* that defines the rhythms of the lines with which he reinvents the alphabet, a writing of perpetual rhythms. I think about how his work is marked by liminal moments, of end and beginning, of abyss. Like when he wants to talk about censorship and he can't, because he can't find the forms, and encrypts the words in an apparently abstract line (letter to a general, 1963); as when the common vocabulary is not enough to describe the extremes of sensuality and searches and copies out of the dictionary words in disuse; hundreds of words that he separates from their meanings and uses for their sound; a sound that evokes love, the description of beauty, the account of sensual adventure. The limits of words and the limits of forms. All of León's work, we could say, is an exploration of the limits of what is possible to say through forms or through words. An invention of new words, of unpublished alphabets that it proposes to learn, alphabets of tied, deviated, rolled lines; lines ordered in this texture, in this weave of rhythms, in the visual whisper of the gray.

León once told me that “if by chance you have to go into exile, do it in Brazil, exile is better there”. These words contain many details of the particular relationship he had with Brazil. Here he found artist friends, here he recovered the experimental sense of art; here he returned to reading the holy books; here he carried out a monumental work; here he found, despite the pain of exile, the meaning of happiness.

The work of León Ferrari has today a strong and growing international recognition. The Golden Lion he received at the Venice Biennale in 2007 represents one of the greatest tributes. His work is exhibited in the main museums around the world and is disputed by public and private collections. But these are not the aspects that mark his legacy: this is in the work that León carried out during the 55 years of his life together with his family, his friends, the causes he has always supported and art. His work represents an open message to the past, present and future generations. León, as few artists can, reviews the past and the complexity of the present, through works that place us, when observing them, in front of a turbulent and inexhaustible beauty.

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