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The Imagined Word

Selection of drawings 2017-2019

Art in Literature and Literature in Art


“We should exploit the analogies between literary works and visual art creations. Such analogies embody the great wisdom of a universe not yet formulated.” 
Hans–Georg Gadamer


Eyes speak, words look, looks think.
Octavio Paz


How to visually imagine what is represented through words? How to make the image speak? How to create spaces of representation that allow diverse manifestations and artistic languages to enter a dialogue? Many creators have confronted this dilemma, perhaps because we live immersed in a continuous narrative of images that carry messages and values. The Argentine writer Julio Cortazar has spoken about how the composition of his text “Fin de etapa” from his collection of stories Deshoras reflects on that fusion of image and word questioning the basic notions of reality and imagination. But there are many who have debated that relation between text and image. For some, the text can reveal itself more extensively to describe a phenomenon, thus acquiring more importance than the image. For others, the image itself expresses the basic idea and the text, if it exists, turns into a mere appendix. This exhibition, The Imagined Word, by visual artist Rafael Trelles, forces us to ponder that relation in a critical way.


The 22 pieces that comprise this exhibition reflect the art world through literary works and at the same time, indirectly analyze how the literary world is exposed in artistic creation. A series of ideas and reflections recur throughout the works. Among them, the pleasure and the power of the word and the image, the flights of the imagination, the idea of transformation, the process of metamorphosis, loneliness and death, the questioning of essentialisms, the power of the wondrous and the magical, the confrontation of human beings with a modern world that oppresses and erases them, the importance of individualism, among many others.


The visual and literary languages are equally varied, ranging from rather realist images (“Gitano”, “Lilus Kikus”, “Miriam”, “Alice”), to others impacted by more irrational discourses. It is significant that “Naga” is accompanied by a text from The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges. This book contains descriptions of one hundred and sixteen monsters that have populated mythology and religion. In The Book of Imaginary Beings,Borges states: “We ignore the sense of the dragon, like we ignore the sense of the universe, but there is something in his image that agrees with the imagination of men.” This quote may useful in approaching of the works by Trelles: “Naga” and “Chilam Balam”, for example. It can also be seen in works of other discourses and styles present/contained in The Imagined Word as a sort of intrusion or alteration of rational norms. For example, the traces of surrealism that appear in the novel The Kingdom of this World, by Alejo Carpentier, present in the visual representation by Trelles. Or in the discourse of the fantastic in “Axolotl”, the idea of the absurd in “Rhinoceros”, alongside the enigmatic ambiguity of the terror of modernity in The Metamorphosis.


The materiality of the body is central to this exhibition. Human bodies appear with distinctive marks of gender, race and historical origin transformed, transmuted, hybridized bodies in flight. We observe the beginnings of a body (“Sofa”), as well as the bodies created through the artistic gesture of the images made out of charcoal or created through words (“Aniuta”) only to then be objectified. And presiding over everything else is the gaze, the look. The piece based on Saramago’s, Blindness, powerfully underscores the recognition of these bodies through the necessary gesture of looking, observing attentively and reflecting on the limits of our consciousness. After all, the pandemic described in the novel by Saramago is a very specific one, a white blindness, where the most amoral characters triumph and all other bodies are dispensable. Survival of the disposable bodies in Encancaranublado, who appear wide eyed and alert, suggests another possibility. In the Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, the gaze is the anxious mental state that comes with the self-awareness that it is possible to see and to look. The psychological effect over the person submitted to the gaze is a loss of autonomy by realizing that one is a visible object. A possible entry into the symbolic order? What does the gaze in this piece tell us, the relieved gaze of having survived the shipwreck?


No other piece evokes mystery or summons the imagination as “The Golem”. If the golem, thought of as a fabrication of folklore and mythology refers to the creation of an animated being from inanimate matter, for many a metaphor of the embryonic, as a metaphorical figure, the enigmatic image of the golem that Trelles creates from Meyrink’s text fills the viewer with mystery and unease with its strength and power.


Undoubtedly, The Imagined Word, an invitation to exercise the capacity to interpret and produce messages, combining diverse languages from a critical and creative perspective, will dazzle and perturb its visitors.



Myrna García-Calderón
Associate Professor
Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics

Director of the Latino-Latin American Studies Program
Syracuse University

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