The artistic proposition developed by Iván Capote (Pinar del Río, 1973) since the middle of last decade, –the one released and highlighted in his last three exhibitions at Galería Habana: Aforismos (Aphorism), 2006; Sutil (Subtle), 2009; and Morfemas (Morphemes), 2011, which was part of a bipersonal exhibition called Fonemas y Morfemas (Phonemes and morphemes) with his brother Yoán Capote– is prone to be linked, like a typical postmodern reminiscence, with the so-called linguistic conceptualism. Among the many creative procedures that have converged altogether on an aesthetical epistemology, which has been capitalized under the notion of conceptual art during the 1960’s, the linguistic side is undoubtedly one of the most important, and maybe the most powerful influences, for the last generations of artists all over the world.
Henry Flynt coined the term concept art in 1963 to refer to some kind of experimental creation in which the concept, freed from any sort of plastic representation, was defined as the very art matter. That implies that if concepts cannot exist out of the language, then “concept art is an art whose matter is language.”1 The mediation of verbal language at the beginning of the very celebrated decade of 1960 on these practices that turned against aseptic formalism in a radical way constituted a new, spreading horizon to artistic creation. Furthermore, Sol LeWitt had coined the most extended definition of concept art,2 but in his effort to eliminate any sort of link with the predominant aesthetical formalism contained in minimal objects, he took a step backward when he instituted the idea beyond any way of artistic materialization. According to his theory, ideas build the concept. Consequently, the idea becomes the “purest” mean through which art is founded: the idea itself is already a work of art. A great step forward into extreme cognitive apprehension had taken place.
That generation made a breakthrough capable of emancipating, once and for all, the creation of preconditions to produce an object loaded of aesthetical “qualities” in terms of material production. In other terms, the Hegelian aesthetics’ frameworks were finally put into a real crisis.
Taking into account the aforementioned idea, “fine arts” are defined as ideas embodied in forms3 (a definition of art that embraces enough to keep itself flawless despite a virulent historical avant-garde, apart from the well-known exception of Dadaism). In spite of the excessive estimation of the eidetic dimension and the corresponding minimization or removal of the object representation, this posture has been locked up in logocentric metaphysics. Therefore, it is still close to Hegel. The idea, the “pure” comprehension, is what is accentuated as a strong term with epistemological authority in its opposition to the material-perceptual aspect. The meaning uses the symbol, the idea uses the verbal language or any other materialization means, but its existence is previous.
After all this critical deconstruction in logocentric and phonocentric, which characterizes the current metaphysics typical of the postmodern language philosophy, is easy that this question comes up: Is the idea itself some kind of textual materialization (writing) that includes the verbal, visual and sound sides, among many others, even when it remains silenced in its progenitor mind? That vicious circle –the impossibility of meaning something apart from the materialism intrinsic to any language–was the great agony of concept art in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, mainly through Joseph Kossuth’s radical, tautological proposition about conceptual linguistics (his famous art as idea as idea) and the British group named Art & Language, which took verbal language as a material for creative lucubration, in the attempt to isolate art from any sort of physical representation with an aesthetical property associated to the perceptual matter.
After the previous reflections, the reader who knows, in a certain way, Iván Capote’s work, will agree with me if I affirm that defining his proposition as a conceptual linguistic reminiscence would be a rushed choice, especially when the previously exposed problematic is taken into account. Besides, a lot of art has been taking place since then, enough to have been exorcized from late modern extremisms coming from those founders of the reverse process of materialization during the creation of art. Nevertheless, Iván Capote aesthetic uses of words and verbal texts do keep a close relationship with Lawrence Weiner’s work (New York, 1942), an American artist that comes from the concept art orbit, but to whom physical dimension of language is as important as the idea, the meaning or concept. “In his effort to work on ‘concept sculptures’ from language, L. Weiner gives capital importance to the words material dimension (its typography, its chromatic and graphic edges, its body, its composition, etc.), as well as its disposition in space before any other consideration.”4 This Anna M. Guash’s quote seems to be thought to define the aesthetic, sculptural projection Iván Capote gives to verbal language. I refer to sculptural projection, because, in many of his works, words are embodied in space by means of artifacts with a decisive materiality in terms of meaning, given the aesthetic balance this outstanding artist knows how to draw from metals like iron, bronze, steel, aluminum; from chemicals (salt is the substance that fills the body of the word ser in a work like Ontología); and from more subtle physical elements like shadows, lights and space itself.
Like Picasso in his times (Guitarra, 1912), Iván has used a no substance, that is, the space, as a sculptural material. Such is the case of City, a masterpiece in which the letters of the word that entitles it get framed in spaces that coexist between five vertical steel structures and an irregular geometry. When position ourselves facing the horizontal plane of the sculptural complex, we see how the four letters slowly emerge lined between the reciprocal edges of those minimal shapes. It is our unconscious perceptive code that fills the empty spaces. It verbalizes them as phonemes and articulates them in just one single sign (city). But the piece tells us much more. The masterpiece’s whole structure keeps some iconic relationship with a city’s stylized image, because we take those steep steel bricks, quite abstracts in their hermetic geometry, for skyscrapers of a typical modern, monumental, cold, technological, immeasurable cities, according to our perceptual and sensitive abilities. The verbal sign is the one that ends up anchoring the meaning that our perception is tempted to give to the visual body. Once the word is discovered, there are no doubts left on us. We are authorized to establish a correlate between the 3D representation and the idea of a city. Nevertheless, the city’s symbol is written on the vacuum or contained in the space, which brings consequences in the field of the expressed meaning, which transits to connotation ignited by an immaterial materiality of the sign, just like Iván Capote represents it to us. What do I mean with this? The idea of a city that invites us to understand the masterpiece rests in vacuum, in the inexistence of present, in absence: that space that rolls around the materiality is the metaphor of life, since it is the dimension where we really exist. Asian wisdom: everything that looks meaningless to us is essentially useful (from an inhabitable construction which is the most use: space –the same principle can be applied to the city and so on and so forth).
In many other cases, textual representation demands to be completed by the receiver in a perceptual process that turns out to be synesthetic. We should prowl around the work of art in order to find the perfect spot in which shapes, lights and shadows are in harmony and allow us to decipher the encrypted word. The artist offers an optical game to the public, like appearance’s illusions, a covering-uncovering dynamic of graphic brands that appears to be just a vestibule for the act of finding some sign or symbol: the threshold of senses. That physical interaction between the work of art and the receiver, the wrestling between glances and optical tricks that lurk us on every step we make, creates a time lapse in which perception dilates, estranged of itself in some way. It is a reading disautomation effect that makes us feel language in all its material plasticity. The conceptual correlate inoculated in the semantic potency of words Iván proposes to us as shipments towards the chaotic sea of our linguistic world flows on that aesthetical experience.
It is difficult to choose one masterpiece to exemplify the procedure I have just explained. The artist’s repertoire is full of signs installed in space by using this resource. Let us opt for a very subtle one, just as the name of the exhibition in which it was included. Two pieces of steel morphologically different set on the gallery wall shape a system (illegible). The artist has called it Alter Ego, but, if we move from the frontal spot to its left side, the shadows both pieces project to the wall create a system with the metallic corpus that begets them. It is in this way that two letters emerge in front of us to create a readable sign: YO (I). Unquestionably, it is a stylized visual metaphor of the psychological concept given by the piece’s tittle: that other self-half that exist as a spectral shade, like an inner otherness, like a latent, unstable psychic energy that threatens the integrity of conscience as a presence for itself and sure of itself. It is a creative force, never present though, of that illusive structure we call conscious me (YO). Besides, the act of perceiving this masterpiece carries another concept game of ontological connotations: until we win the horizon of visions that gives us access to words and language, we cannot name ourselves as subjects, consciences or selves, since subjects, consciences and selves are nothing but functions, language constructions. According to Heidegger, the being, as evolution and not presence, is also time and language. We are inscribed in language as we are in time.
Iván appeals to another rhetorical trick that lies on the principle of difference that rules the verbal language functioning. Given the arbitrary character of the linguistic sign, the opposition of differences to the interior of the language system is what makes the meaning of words possible, because there is not a natural connection between a verbal sign and its reference, but an invention that has turned into cultural convention under the framework of historical progress. It is precisely in materiality where the difference is inscribed, where we get to distinguish one phoneme and one symbol from the other, reason why the meaning never comes before the symbol. Instead, the symbol is a condition to the possibility of the meaning’s existence as it is of every denomination of reality.
In many of his most recent works, specifically those gathered in Morfemas (Morphemes), 2011, Iván Capote gives shape, color and presence in reality to something that remains invisible, automatized in the ordinary use we make of language. He makes the principle of the game of differences the structural base of his creative procedure when transmuting a word into another one by changing one or many of its letters. Using many strategies for the positioning in space of the differential elements of language (phonemes or, in this case, letters) that articulate the primary level of meaning (morphemes), he makes us read while transforming one word into another one, which entails a constant slipping of the sense. That slide from one significant to another, from one significance to another, generates a collision of cultural references that remit us to the signs. It is what happens when we turn society into dirtiness (Lapsus); when history fades into milestone or laughter (Deshielo); or when flame’s L burns away like a candle to connote fame (Vanitas).
I will dwell on Exergue, a set of three drawers, similar to the ones of offices furniture, inside of which there is a pasteboard with a written word. The artist has torn a letter, or a portion of it, from each of the three words, activating the possibility of a duality of significances, since each morpheme can be read of two different manners given the variation in one of the letters that form the word. Weapon becomes soul, we’re turns into we’ve, and wake into make. The result of the three transformations produces a singular sequence: Weapon, soul, we are, we have, waking up, making. How do we connect, relate among themselves, the significances and the referents of every one of these signs? How do we fill, and with what, the blank abyss that separates them? I am tempted to respond that that abyss of absences is language’s total corpus. Between one term and another one the enormous system of differences that is the language slides silently and, from that missing totality, we can select as many signs we are capable to mobilize to answer to the subliminal provocation that he transpires in his work. I will then take a path, among all possible portions, to track, in the semantic proximity, some labyrinthine connections that might allow me to, at least, structure a small textual hypothesis:
I should start from a first impression, the words are put in a drawer, which, in the popular argot means forgotten, held back, closed off, censured, etc. However, we are many, many more of us who hate bureaucracy more than the ones that exercise it, and we have thousands of motives, needs, dreams, hopes, illusions, life projects, in order to wake from lethargy, extreme apathy, indifference, passivity, submission, conformity, and make everything that is necessary for our common future, using the most pacific and powerful weapon that the man –let us say “poetically”– possesses, the soul (that metaphoric dimension that, in Plato, was the source of reason, knowledge, of the world’s intellection). Fighting with that type of weapon is being in accordance with the intellectual maturity humanity has reached, because the implicit violence in that ambitious collective progress cannot be the traditional violence: the animal violence that exterminates life, that enforces some machos’ power upon other ones, that excludes and muzzles the otherness, that turns the utopia into a new dictatorship.
1. Henry Flynt,“Concept Art,” in An Anthology of Chance Operations (Fluxus, 1963).
2. Sol LeWitt, “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art”, Artforum, 1967.
3. Even when Hegel recognizes “Fine Arts” as an authentic way of knowledge, their cognitive dimension cannot exist by itself due to the fact that they are mediated by many kinds of visual representations (painting, sculpture, architecture, etc.). This is a condition that makes art an inferior way of knowledge as compared to philosophy, because such mediation does not take place in the alleged “pure” comprehension of logical, speculative reflection which is always distorting the idea. Language (and writing) is considered to be a hindrance for thinking.
4. Anna María Guash: op. cit., 184.