Mirtha Dermisache: The Otherness of the Writings

No code can produce the leveling or the homogenization, the focus point that stabilizes reading. Written artworks cannot be grasped; their formal stumbling lines are only a lure. What would normally be rejected in the semantic order, because it does not deliver the sign or the intended meaning, here becomes the very condition of their existence. Only the formats of expression and communication that contain them in a given structure are readable.

This is how Mirtha Dermisache brings to the very heart of writing what Georges Didi-Huberman calls “the dynamic angle of conflict”. Each written form is potentially in conflict with itself, endowed with otherness, unable to provide predictable movement to the whole. It is the notion of writing as an apparatus (from the French “dispositif”) that is questioned “like a jolt to heterogeneity”: a work(ing) space characterized by the tensions and relationships of internal forces. We could compare this idea of writing with those suggested during the same period, in the 1960-1970s, by a wide variety of artists such as Bernard Réquichot, Christian Dotremont, Carlfriedrich Claus, Guy de Cointet, Irma Blank, Hanne Darboven, Gerd Leufert or even León Ferrari.

This conflicting dimension is sometimes reinforced by the dilation of the line that the damp paper drinks in filling up the fibers. In Textos (Texts) with colors completed in 1974, these “traits of the double” (“traits du double”), as with Henri Michaux, do not express what has been acquired or what is definitive in the sign, but its current state and what it is to become, the formal space that is to be experienced and discovered.

However, in contrast with her forerunner, Mirtha Dermisache does not reference parietal art or ancient civilizations. It is in our culture, in the very conditions of its technicality and formalism that new expanses can be created and explored.

Therefore, it is logical that the work would take on an editorial dimension. In this way, Mirtha Dermisache is a pioneering artist in the field of artists’ publications in Latin America, along with Edgardo-Antonio Vigo, Carlos Ginzburg, Ulises Carrión, the brothers Augusto and Haroldo de Campos, Julio Plaza, Décio Pignatari or even Wlademir Dias-Pino and Álvaro de Sá; and maybe even more than them since she designed her work as a whole from this perspective.

In a key article published in 1970, Edgardo Cozarinsky writes about Jorge Romero Brest connecting her with the Paidós publishing house, which offered to publish a selection of writings from the first book dating from 1967 in the form of a portfolio, as is done for engravings. She refused because it was a book and because it should be edited as such and in its entirety. While this attempted matchmaking failed, new opportunities presented themselves at the invitation of Jorge Glusberg, who had just created the Centro de Arte y Comunicación (CAyC, Center for Arts and Communication).

The first publication was printed on the occasion of the exhibition, Arte de Sistemas (Systems Art), at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires in 1971. It was one of the many Cartas (Letters) produced the previous year. In 1972, on the occasion of Arte de Sistemas II (Systems Art II), more than a thousand copies of Diario N. 1, Año 1 (Diary, No. 1, Year 1) came out; long considered to be an abstract of Mirtha Dermisache’s work. Through its structure, the journal is particularly well-suited to its purpose since the division of the space in the form of articles and sections and their organization in columns or in boxes allows for the visualization of independent graphic developments while playing with a variety of heights, widths, rhythms and intensities.

Next to come was Libro n° 1, 1969, (Book No. 1, 1969) also published by CAyC on the occasion of the Kunstsystemen in Latijns-Amerika (Systems Art in Latin America) exhibit at the Internationaal Cultureel Centrum (International Culture Center) in Antwerp in 1974 and the meeting with Guy Schraenen, who published the third edition of Diario, Cahier n° 1 (Diary, Notebook No. 1) in 1975, 4 Cartes postales (4 Post Cards) in 1978, and a few other works (specifically in issue no. 1 of the magazine Axe).

In the article by E. Cozarinsky, Mirtha Dermisache clearly envisions the publication of her first book. The inside contains only the artist’s work. The title and colophon pages are present but are left blank. The covers themselves are also left blank. The publishing information is banished to one of the flaps with the note “to be discarded.” In other words, only a minor concession to the publishing economics is agreed to, that of tolerating the temporary identification of the book. Finally, no pagination is printed.

The reasons for such a radical approach are self-evident. The areas left blank are as important as the spaces where writing appears. Integrating any other sign would bring back the semantic dimension in a space that specifically frees itself from it. Mirtha Dermisache wanted this space to be unadulterated, but there is another dimension: the taste for anonymity, or more specifically the taste for the other, discreet but constant, that puts the reader at the center of the work’s apparatus, and actually makes it one of its players.

By citing the artist’s remarks, E. Cozarinsky concluded: “‘Mine’ doesn’t mean anything. It only has value when the individual that takes it up expresses himself through it.”

In fact, another way of bringing heterogeneity to life within this work, of extending the experience of the otherness, a written form other from itself, consists of imparting to the reading the dimension of an appropriation that materializes in the action. Mirtha Dermisache invited anyone who had a copy of Diario (Diary) to fill the boxes that are normally used for short comic strips and partially left blank by the artist.

This is a stance that can be put in relation with the Jornadas del Color y de la Forma (Color and Form Conferences) she coordinated between 1975 and 1981, during which anyone was invited to work freely in the collective form of an arte por sumatoria (art by summation), in a context of contemporary art where a wide variety of participative practices questioned the principle of the uniformity of the art work, defined in space and time. Here, we find the dimension of the apparatus, in the meaning of Georges Didi-Huberman and in the perspective offered by François Albera and Maria Tortajada. For them, this idea designates an arrangement that cannot be confused with an object or a device, highlighting the essential difference between what looks like an assembly of heterogeneous elements and what we understand as a whole, of which “organs” are an indivisible part. Thus, the difference is not in the possibility or the impossibility of making a system but in that of opening it, penetrating the work, and envisioning it as a changing and multi-faceted medium.

Writing should somewhat constantly surpass itself to ascertain its level and extend beyond its initial rendering, throughout a process that takes into account the effect of each reading. The only goal of the publisher’s intervention is to ignite a journey through the work in order to explore it and feed what it will become.

Thus, in 2004, I suggested that Mirtha Dermisache create the first “publishing installation” (“dispositif éditorial”) made up of twelve chairs and ten tables on which an offset printing of 400 copies of 9 Newsletters & 1 Reportaje (9 Newsletters & 1 Report) was placed. The public was invited to experience this reading and to make its own publishing selection in the body itself of the installation. This suggestion was the forerunner of the decision, in 2010, to use alternative photographic processes in order to generate variants of one single work and to update it by creating new forms. For the publication of Texto, 1974, (Text, 1974) there were 24 of these variants divided into eight copies; they will next serve as a matrix for the production of a new rendering, a publication of 500 copies. These few examples suffice to give the scale and the meaning of the publishing dimension in Mirtha Dermisache’s work. Her purpose has never been to give a definitive form to the writings, the objects or the arrangements that support them, but rather to bring the reader’s focus and expression to the heart of this process.

Florent Fajole