JOSÉ LUIS ALEXANCO. MOVEMENTS,1964-1969 [COMMOTION IN THE SILENCE OF EVERYDAY LIFE]

JOSÉ LUIS ALEXANCO. MOVEMENTS,1964-1969 [COMMOTION IN THE SILENCE OF EVERYDAY LIFE]

Text published in the catalog
JOSÉ LUIS ALEXANCO. EJERCICIO TEMPORAL.. 1964-2020
Madrid, 2020: Comunidad de Madrid-Sala Alcalá 31
Translation: Lambe & Nieto
ALFONSO DE LA TORRE
 

 

MOVEMENTS,1964-1969

[COMMOTION IN THE SILENCE OF EVERYDAY LIFE]

 

 

Forms are infinite because movements are infinite,
faces and souls are infinite.
José Luis Alexanco, 1969[1]

Dynamism: (from Greek dynamis “power”).
Active and driving energy.
José Luis Alexanco, “Terminología”, 1977

Movement: (from move).
Alteration, restlessness or commotion
José Luis Alexanco, “Terminología”, 1977[2]

To be at the vanguard is to be out of step.
Therefore, the artist is the person who sustains ethics with his own life
Ricardo Piglia[3]

 

 

ANOTHER EPILOGUE IN THE FORM OF PROLOGUE?

There is something mysterious about how José Luis Alexanco (Madrid, 1943) inhabits the silence of the everyday life of an artist in the productive confinement of his current studio located in calle Nicaragua,[4]about his ability to come up with an all-embracing artistic proposal day after day from the withdrawal of his sheltered workspace. In possession of an extremely complex oeuvre, for some time now Alexanco’s thinking has thrown light on issues that hover over the art of today and, of course, the art that is (or will have) to come.

Another new epilogue in the form of prologue?[5] Well, it is true that this writing aspires to focus on the origin of the extreme complexity of Alexanco’s practice—acknowledging the aporia of writing about someone whose insignia has always been the impossibility of pigeonholing him in any standard art taxonomy—the artmaking of someone who successfully combines the solitude of creation with another shall we say “activist” side, thinking for instance of his key role in the Pamplona Encounters, his filmic output or the complexity showcased in Soledad interrumpida (Interrupted Solitude), or perhaps in highly public undertakings like the editio princeps of the Spanish Constitution (1978), which served as a pretext for new signic flights of fancy. Without ever shedding the appearance of a rara avis which, to my way of thinking, was accentuated in his work at the Computer Centre at Universidad Complutense de Madrid (CCUM) where, surrounded by extraordinary and exacting geometers who, very often, were champions of the canon of the straight line, he experimented with the anomalous generation of what one might call soft-looking computer-generated perspex sculptures and curving forms,[6] further inducting the beholder’s interaction with the programme created.

In every new revisit to Alexanco’s studio, a kind of capsule removed from space and time, I was reminded of what Wyndham Lewis said: “The greatest artists come to us from the future […] from the opposite direction to the past”,[7] like the restless meta-lethargy of John Dunne. I often imagine that the work of Alexanco, a true artist-activist-archivist, is like a recurring dream of what will later be, like Dunne’s theories in An Experiment with Time (1927),[8] in that and in this present we have a vision of what could happen later.[9] I have travelled far, Alexanco may think, but my past abides with me, and a particle of the future is also with me, as if he sensed the invisible presence of a vortex of time in which the warm wind of the past meets the future current it prophesizes, but it is all unpredictable, solitude or silence, hopes and memory of the things still to come.

It is no surprise to read the word ‘courage’ in the review of Alexanco’s first solo show at the Círculo 2 gallery in Madrid.[10] The year was 1965,[11] and we are talking about the courage of a character “that arises energetically.” And that “arises” seemed to explain how his artmaking emerged like a disembodied voice. I would add that, though it is one of the taxonomies he explored, we cannot consider him to be an epigonic Informalist. Rather he staked out a special terrain all of his own while at once, as we said above, glimpsing a world to come. We would also reiterate, if needs be: an abiding energy and courage.[12] Another intriguing detail from the programme for that first exhibition worth underscoring is that Alexanco presented paintings, drawings and prints “about people.”[13] So, let us begin.

“They were hugely interesting,” wrote Juan Antonio Aguirre in Arte Último[14] —the key ‘68 pamphlet, as I often call it—when referring to the perplexity of his first encounter with the seemingly unfinished films by Alexanco,[15] like travellers ad infinitum, “works open to the painter himself, who selects the most convincing images; almost like a discipline […] a fundamental visual dynamism and […] inspiration sourced from within.”[16] And “they seemed extendable ad infinitum.”[17] Aguirre was right about that inconclusiveness, which, once again, spoke of the future. Today, one could see them as the generative seed of Percursum(1964-2020), the magnus opus of his filmic work, an obsessive undertaking that took over his whole creative life and contained interconnecting fragments of those other films as well as the germination, variation or transformation of the forms that underpinned his very being as an artist. One could well apply Aguirre’s analysis of “nervous, slippery and shimmering” figuration to his paintings, like those presented in 1966 and 1968 at Drian Galleries in London,[18] though it is a figuration removed from what was happening in Spain, reacting against everything then in force.[19] And while it could not be assimilated with Informalismo, neither did it fit in with processes to do with the rise of Pop or the sloganeering of Estampa Popular, nor to the geometry then arriving, to give some examples of the time. Figuration in a process of dissolution, Alexanco’s concern was how to narrate a new space-time dimension, the latter described as “open and modifiable” or “something like works open to the painter himself.”[20] Therefore, a kind of to-and-fro in his thinking, with a turning point in his early recognition when eighteen of his works dated from 1967 were shown in a hall of their own at the 9th São Paulo Biennial.[21]

In Alexanco, everything is suffused with a certain mysterious discernment and, looking at these works, I imagine or recall him in the ashen light of Casón del Buen Retiro, like so many Fine Art students in the sixties, caught up in the arduous task of drawing copies, the sadness of the heavy air as he practised chiaroscuros at Casón.[22] And we can see that his mysterious first portrait in this exhibition—the painting Soldado y reflejo (1965)—is of Darío Villalba.[23] It is no surprise to see from behind facing the quicksilver that other intense artist, a transmitter of images of entropy and pain often enclosed in amber flows. This portrait of formless volume-body is not far removed from his Roques and Arenas, or the polyester quintet Movimiento Transformable IV alongside Mouvnt plata (1968). It is no accident that now the chapter on Soledad interrumpida opens with a related drawing called Villalba (1964), which is naturally followed by another called Roque (1969).

Acknowledging the difficulty in providing explanations, Alexanco said that his work from that time focused on the “process of transformation, of evolution”, that standing apart from the “usual path of distribution and exhibition of artworks […] they will invent a new name for it”.[24] At this juncture, one ought to bear in mind influences from his youthful travels, including his time in London in 1961, when he was able to see the work of Francis Bacon and Frank Auerbach. At this point, contemplating Movimiento Transformable V (1968), I believe that another issue worth raising is the encounter of some of these works, the question of the mould as a matrix of ghosts travelling between the concave and the convex and kinaesthetic ambiguity, like Duchamp’s moules in Feuille de vigne femelle or Not a Shoe (1950).

Return movements facing the present, fleeting fossils, one can discern experimentation in that new name Alexanco said, a representation of the human being “imprisoned in his isolation and solitude,”[25] and his fondness at the time for titles that expressed the presence of people, recalling Cirlot when he said “the call of the unnameable nameless mass with no destination other than nothingness, shadow and ashes,”[26]as was the case of his serigraphs: Grupo (1964) or the suite Sobre la gente (1965). Other themes from that time would refer to a surrealist-tinged journey: another reference to dreams, as is the case of La sonámbulaand Los tres sueños (1965). Often trapping the figures between planes, the cloissonné within the sweet embrace of perspex, the anguish of encapsulation or the definitive enclosure in an insurmountable ceiling, as in the case of La bóveda, or even in a real prison: Prisioneros (both from 1965). On other occasions the transfer, in his own words, of some cubic structures to others, as if the departure were a new enclosure in the labyrinth of being, as in Movimiento Transformable I and III, both from 1967.

Construction and deconstruction in his practice, metaphysical reflections discerned in figures that are often foreshortened or turn their backs on the beholder, like what happens in Hombre y mujer rezándose a sí mismos (1965) or immersion in Sombras (1965). This obsession, touched on in the presence of figures like Personaje obsesivo (1965) and a recurrent allusion to the ungraspable, what is fleeting and fluid, and therefore unstable, is widely acknowledged: men that fall, revolve, spin or slip as in Hombre resbalando(1965) or Historia de una caída (1967), that bring to mind, although in passing, Eadweard Muybridge’s categorical recording, his intensely photographic concern (I am thinking particularly of his athletes: Athlete, Twisting Somersault, Athlete, Irregular or Running Somersault, flying in space, in other falls).

At this stage, it is worth bringing up the generation of forms, the process of development, transformation and mutation whose logical conclusion are the aforementioned serial cycles which are often ultimately generative, and thus it is no surprise that the mysterious Alexanco would add his own meanings of “generation” and its equivalents: “evolution”, “interjection”, “process”, “series”, “transform/transformation” or “abiogenesis” to the Diccionario compiled by Juan Antonio Aguirre. And so, he would include the last named term “from the Greek for ‘life’ and ‘generation’.”[27] It would also seem consistent that a part of his later development, which we shall see in the following chapter, would be predicated on a reading of texts on generative grammar. One of the meanings of the word “evolution” might define this cycle: “hypothesis that aspires to explain all cosmic, physical and mental phenomena by successive transformations of a single primary reality subject to perpetual intrinsic motion, which goes from simple and homogeneous to compound and heterogeneous.”[28]

Alexanco was a pioneer in serigraph techniques,[29] acknowledged by Spain’s National Printing Prize (1965) and by the first International Print Triennial of Krakow (1966), and recognized by the Victoria and Albert Museum when adding him to its collection.[30] Alexanco’s use of serigraph was prescient, using it in printmaking at a time when this technique was employed in Spain by just a few artists, such as Eusebio Sempere and Abel Martín, who, in the early sixties, had brought back to Spain what they had learned in Paris with Wifredo Arcay.[31] But for Alexanco it became a whole field for technical experimentation, which is to say, not simply as a category of minor work, a form of rehearsing other works or ensuring the social extension of copies, but more for the potential to continue exercising free research in his studio or, in his own words, the implementation of “a self-sufficient system”[32] whose intersection with the rest of his work would help to better understand his practice. In short, the invention of the technique that, once discovered and serving as a tool for his creative ideas, would allow for “intimacy”[33] and the necessary reflection[34] in his form of expression. This would explain the short-run with editions often of no more than five copies.

The process that took place following those early sculptures was equally mysterious, the films and their back-and-forth processes towards their sculptural and painterly transference and conversion, while at once continuing to encapsulate what is represented, in a kind of sensorial prison, first in the film still, then in fragments of fossilized plexiglas in which the figure is enclosed in a crystalline chrysalis,[35] struggling towards a later unfolding in its definitive and almost immediate formal “liberation” that would at times lead to his sculptures in the suite Movimiento transformable IV or the metal V (1968), now freestanding, then followed by a transformation in homunculi reminiscent of sculptures of estranged objects, some turned into mysterious forms which are hard to describe or assimilate with pre-existent objects from the world of forms, which takes us to the immediacy of the work undertaken at CCUM. Another autonomous process of the figure can be seen in the work Alexanco exhibited at Galería Fernando Vijande in 1974, where, alongside his output from CCUM, he showed what he called “deformations by filling soft forms with sand”, or, synthetically, Arenas (1973), and which, by giving the spectator the role of analysing the work, would lend an extraordinary degree of complexity to his practice, making his work with computers compatible —in one same game, in the term’s serious sense of “play”— with a task that, as we can see in the photographs reproduced in the catalogue, was a parallel process, both brought together in what we could call “the vast field of possibilities”. These corporeal works were the definitive shift to the open work “in the sense that the different pieces comprising each work can be ordered differently which, while not altering the structure, does mean that it can take on different appearances, and even alter its meaning. They are extendible works because, as the number of pieces of which they are composed is not fixed, a new element that would have the same characteristics can always be added, without it changing the total structure.”[36]

An admirer of Rodin’s experimentation in his youth, his early papier maché sculptures from 1964, then filmed, were somehow “the true beginning,”[37] and became the source of studies, drawings and immediate works, with the transformation, the new emergence, taking place afterwards, now exempt from movement-transformation, in which the process is imbued with “absolutely incomparable lucidness and seriousness,”[38] as Luis de Pablo, a close colleague, wrote in a wonderful text on the ‘alea’ in art. In the title of his exhibition at Biosca in 1969, Alexanco appeared to describe this journey from movement-space, represented in paintings and drawings, towards the final work, its extraction, the aforementioned Movimiento transformable IV. It was a narration, as suggested by the title, Desarrollo de cuatro historias. Trabajos 1967/1968,[39] in a catalogue where even the typography of the title, “Alexanco” signed by the artist on the cover, also seemed to be in transformable movement, typographically suggesting a motion towards the pulsation of softness removed from the rigidity of print types. As we said before,[40] Alexanco engages with a world of permanent research, a world presided by the presence of constant tension, encompassing something he wrote when defining the word movement: “alteration, restlessness or agitation”. An independent[41] and entropic[42] artist, a creator from what Amón called the “second nature of his free interpretations”,[43] a nature that gives rise to a tension that would lend extraordinary complexity to his fertile artmaking.

 

COMPUTER CENTRE AT UNIVERSIDAD DE MADRID – SEMINAR ON AUTOMATIC GENERATION OF PLASTIC FORMS, 1968-1973

[INFINITUDE AND PROCESSES] 

Language: (from vulgar Latin linguaticum, from Latin lingua “tongue”).
Way of expressing oneself / Set of signals to understand something.
José Luis Alexanco, “Terminología”, 1977

Computer: (from Latin com “with” and putare “to settle, reckon”).
That which calculates or counts.
José Luis Alexanco, “Terminología”, 1977[44]

Forms are infinite because movements are infinite,
faces and souls are infinite…
José Luis Alexanco, 1969[45]

 

 

Alexanco attended the Computer Centre at Universidad de Madrid (CCUM) very early on, in December 1968, becoming one of the artists who demonstrated a greater understanding of computer languages and an ability to work with them during his time there, an apprenticeship not exempt from conceptual musings, something which was to remain unaltered even when the process undertaken came to its inevitable conclusion.[46]Foreshadowing his inclusion in the experiment were his participations, as reported by the aforementioned Juan Antonio Aguirre,[47] in the exhibitions of the New Generation non-group[48] at the Amadís and Edurne galleries (1967), because, ultimately, “the development of form in space, and its different internal modifications, was an issue of concern for various artists who were included in that New Generation in the late-sixties”. An unrepentantly doctrinaire exhibition project which afforded a glimpse of the world to come, in which the visionary Alexanco slotted in to perfection,[49] as was well reflected in a headline from the period: “Alexanco and the art of the future”,[50] a new return to John Dunne’s experiment with time mentioned in the previous chapter.

The peace imposed by Aguirre in the much-called for “Arte Último”[51] coupled with the Antes del Arteexhibitions created the necessary context for a proper understanding of the emergence of the CCUM, which officially opened on 13 January 1966.[52] And, at once, one can see how Alexanco’s terminology was imbued with words that appeared to be contextualized by programming and the potential held forth by computing: “adjust”; “analysis”; “automatic”; “balance”; “chain”; “choice”; “cinematic”; “coding”; “code”; “coefficient”; “computer”; “coordinate”; “develop”; “dynamism”; “evolution”; “generation”; “humour”; “input”; “interpolate”; “intuition”; “language”; “module”; “movement”; “output”; “perception”; “process”; “result”; “routine”; “series”; “sign”; “simulation”; “simulate”; “structure”; “surface”; “synthesis”; “synthetic”; “system”; “time”; “transform” and “transformation”.[53]

I am convinced now that Alexanco’s distinctiveness always lies in how his various artistic phases are not exceptions, something otherwise the case in the trajectory of so many of his fellow artists, but part of a totus. If we are now casting a look back at CCUM, we already saw in the previous chapter Luis de Pablo’s reference to the ‘alea’, with which he would forge new and fruitful bonds during this time, especially in his work with Soledad interrumpida and the later Pamplona Encounters.

As the generative quality of his artmaking has been previously explained —which is to say, the successive (auto)generation of the processes and ensuing cycles of a work by Alexanco — following his prior investigations with the human figure and its conversion in so-called “transformable movement” or “MOUVNT”, it only seemed logical that these investigations would almost naturally lead to a study of the various formal possibilities that computer programming would be capable of producing. The diligence with which he has always applied himself made him one of the few artists at CCUM able to truly engage with computers, whose languages he was already beginning to learn.

As has been underlined before, he was involved in all the main events pertaining to CCUM. For instance, at the seminar on the Automatic Generation of Plastic Forms (1968-1972), from the very first meeting, while his work was also included in related exhibitions: Formas computables (1969); Generación automática de formas plásticas (1970); Computer Assisted Art (1971); Formas Computadas-Generación automática de formas plásticas (1971). He also gave many papers at seminars at CCUM at the time, including Impulsos: arte y ordenador, held at Instituto Alemán in Madrid (1972). He also took part in some subsequent international events based on the ideas explored at CCUM, as is the case of Arteonica in São Paulo (1971), Tendencije 5 in Zagreb and Contact II in Bordeaux (both 1973), and Computers and Humanism in San Diego (1975).[54]

Alexanco’s first engagement with CCUM took place with an IBM 360 computer,[55] thanks to an invitation from Mario Fernández Barberá, a delegate of the computer company, as well as from Florentino Briones (director) and Ernesto García Camarero (deputy director). Alexanco joined the seminar on the Automatic Generation of Plastic Forms in 1968.[56] In his own words, “at the time, following my approach with Movimientos, I started to connect my work with inflatables and the possibilities provided by the computer as a tool. During the seminars we looked at ideas from semiology, semiotics, cybernetic aesthetics, the psychology of perception, generative grammar… (Max Bense, Umberto Eco, Abraham Moles, etcetera), which were new to me and I also decided to learn programming (Fortran IV)[57] with the method designed by Florentino, so that I wouldn’t have to rely on programmers […] and this led me to shift my whole interest to the process without worrying about the aesthetic result, to place my trust in randomness whose limits were marked only by the program (or ‘algorithms’ as they are called now), to a distancing from authorship, because anyone could produce sculptures by following a set of instructions. The work contained a kind of virtual scaffolding.”[58] Alexanco explained on one occasion that the one hundred and twenty-five three-dimensional perspex figures[59] that could possibly be generated[60] through his research with the computer could be synthetized in three basic ideas rendered in six black and white photographs: Historia del hombre que cae which led to Movimiento transformable I, III & III-bis; and in turn Historia del hombre que se da la vuelta that led to Movimiento transformable II and, finally, Historia del hombre que corre which was the origin behind Movimiento transformable IV and V. At that time, he explained the process undertaken as follows:

 

At the outset five quasi-mathematical types were chosen, which made the process perfectly controllable. From the creation of the model taken as a starting point, up until the present, one can differentiate three phases that would complete this process and, therefore, this work. The first is a phase of trial and error, with small programs for unconnected printer terminals that would allow the potential to be calibrated and the suitability of using the computer to generate this particular work to be tested. With four manually calculated modifications, the potentials and the interest of the chosen form were checked, and, at the same time, the (temporal) impossibility of manually calculating the whole process was verified (as Christopher Alexander has said, everything a computer is able to do can also be done by an army of technicians and draughtsmen in more time), or at least the futility or meaninglessness of investing years and money in work of this kind.

The second phase, after confirming the results of the first, comprised the creation of the complete program, with the variation of the use of a plotter instead of a printer terminal. The plotter is able to draw the results with a precision that, in function of our needs, could be considered perfect, while the printer terminal would require a later manipulation of the result. This program, able to work over unlimited time following the data feed to it, produces results which can be easily reconstructed in three dimensions.

The third phase consists in the same program adapted to obtain the results on a cathode ray screen terminal. In this case, the result is a continuous movement of the three-dimensional form, according to the modifications which it is subjected to, and it is presented as limitless film. Certain data, the choice of kinds of transformation and parameters, can be varied or introduced during the process of the program, obtaining on the screen a virtually immediate response. The use of this terminal enables greater agility in the construction of the process, more depth in the analysis and makes the reconstruction in three dimensions (sculptures) of fragments of the process unnecessary, because a large number of perspectives of any point of view of these sculptures can be observed, in a simulation, before they exist. This final phase even further accentuates the preponderance of the process —the general idea— over the partial results.[61]

 

CCUM played a capital role in revitalizing Spanish art in the late-sixties, with the path of Informalismo having been exhausted, as Ángel Crespo put it.[62] The end of the sixties was a time ripe for rethinking the utopian possibility of creating by means of computers. The proposals coming out of CCUM had precursors that ought to be acknowledged like, for instance, in the case of Spain, the prescient article by Silvio Ceccato in the journal Suma y Sigue del Arte Contemporáneo (1965),[63] headed by a question: “Will we have machines that make works of art […]?”[64] Internationally, given its importance and notoriety, a mention is deserved for Cybernetic Serendipity-The Computer and the Arts (1968).[65] In any case, the normative tendency had had incredible resonance in Europe, and it maintained a latent coexistence with Informalismo, as one can ascertain in the decade bridging the fifties and sixties in the role played by Galerie Denise René in Paris, then a lynchpin in the diffusion of geometry, movement and theoretical reflection in art.[66] It is also well illustrated by such early events as the legendary cycle of the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles (Paris, 1946); the shadow of Oteiza and his derivatives, the fertile isolated experience of Equipo 57;[67] the Italian collective Gruppo N; the transfer of the Argentinians from MADI to the madistes in Paris, accompanied by groups associated with Concrete Invention and Perceptism; the founding of the restless GRAV group[68](Group de Recherche de l’Art Visuel, 1960)[69] or other historic exhibitions like Konkrete Kunst, 50 Jahre Entwicklung [Concrete Art: 50 Years of Evolution] (Helmhaus, Zurich, 1960) or Bewogen Beweging (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1961) and, finally, The Responsive Eye (MoMA, New York, 1965) or Lumière et mouvement (Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, 1967),[70] announced in Kunst Licht, held the year before in Eindhoven.[71] Here in Spain one would have to mention, referring exclusively to this time of arrival to the seventies, besides MENTE (1968-1970),[72] the Antes del arte exhibitions,[73] which have always been considered prior to CCUM.[74]

Art to transform the world: “forms are infinite because movements are infinite, faces and souls are infinite. Then, what? Then, discoveries happen. Art never loses this factor of discovery which is first intuitive and then conscious.”[75] Since his experimentation at CCUM —“the outward journey” in the words of Santos Amestoy—[76] he was assailed by new ideas that he would develop later, perhaps the most salient being the concept of an ‘alphabet’ or communicative endeavour that, as we shall see, would end up as another essential element in his practice. In his own words: “the continuous transformation of artistic content conditions the need for a change in form. The changes in form at once condition the content and its basic structures. The efficacy of Art as a language depends on the fact that the relationship between form and content responds to the needs of a historical reality, and its ability to communicate will condition the potential transformation of the future of that historical reality. A rethinking of the semantic structure of the visual arts, based on the construction of an ‘alphabet’, or sign system, has been foremost in my mind since 1965, when I started working on a system of synthesis and analysis based on expressionist forms, with the goal of achieving an elementary unit—minimum element—which can be ordered to create sentences able to communicate certain narratives.”[77]

The return journey, then, was a tireless exploration “of forms situated in space, which would give rise to ordering in time […] an open work, extendable following the internal law of each ordering and expandable on each one of its limits.”[78] And with the experimentation, a return to square one, came more questions: “That this three-dimensional form [sculpture] was the last or final link of a previous process [up until 1968], and the fact of using a computer (a tool for rapid calculation), lessened my interest in maintaining certain formal criteria and in searching for an end result in each modification; in considering as a work each materialization of a moment in the process, in giving an ‘aesthetic’ consideration to a fragment of an idea and, consequently, it heightened my interest in the process as a whole (with a limitless number of elements), believing this to be the true work. Bearing in mind that the different modifications can be linked in a chain, it is meaningless for those modifications to produce results excessively removed from the starting point, given that the possibilities for complication are provided by the structure itself.”[79]

It is worthwhile pointing out that Alexanco undertook his research on his own, exploring the possibilities of the computer, at first, but that his quest led to the involvement of the spectator, who, in a subsequent phase, would be able to interact with his work. Alexanco also underscored that, more than the individualized results of his practice, what was really important was the process,[80] the complete body of work it generated,[81] and this perspective shifted the focus of his practice from pure theoretical reflection or art and computers, towards conceptual art. In short, an experience enriched by the excitement and upheaval of contact with other artists, a bunch of restless geometers, led him to a highly personal occurrence, indeed a perennial event for all true artists throughout history: it was necessary to learn in order to unlearn.[82]

 

 

INTERRUPTED [AND SONOROUS] SOLITUDE (1971-1980)

What are you doing there…? Hmm…?
And what are you doing, what are we all doing…?
replied the homunculi from their sonic silence.
José Luis Alexanco, on “Soledad interrumpida”, 1972[83]

The isolation, and the strangeness, of so-called reality—this is, after all, something which constantly characterizes the artist, the genius, the discoverer.
Vladimir Nabokov[84]

This dream is a dream and it moves in darkness, by rights it should be illuminated only by bolts of lightning
Witold Gombrowicz[85]

Ah, my friend, is it true that over there, just as here, there’s no light but in the night, through the night?
Yves Bonnefoy[86]

 

It is nigh on impossible to refrain from commenting on the redolent title, an interruption of the solitude which, we agreed during a conversation with Alexanco, also referred to the hopeful possibility of an encounter between that moving silence of creation which ran through the preamble to this text, with the noise of the world, metaphysical solitude perhaps, perchance a ‘meditation’, yet at once allusive to the possible evolution of the Spanish situation,[87] maybe an announcement of the interruption of that grey world of thistle and ash.[88] A solitude that brings to mind another title, Solitudes, a suite of paintings from 1955 by Pablo Palazuelo, the knight of solitude,[89] a solitude that for Alexanco became active, as it was displaced to the very action of art in itself. And so, in the case of the work at hand, the spectators, strollers among the events taking place (sounds, lights or mysterious bodies, first immobile, then in tentative motion), seemed at the time to fulfil the precept of the title. We read, not without amazement, that some of the spectators at the Pamplona Encounters interacted with the dolls and even embraced them;[90] it comes as no surprise that, years later, this inhabitable, livable work[91] would evolve until it was eventually classified by Alexanco and De Pablo in 1980 as a ‘performance’; and that its definition and concept varied, an opera aperta which was first classified as ‘image-sound’, then ‘an image-musical experience’, to end up in that other appellative with the subtitle ‘image-sound-action’, as we shall see later.

 

The artists, as happened in the work itself, offered an explanation open to numerous interpretations, even a random outcome. We could interpret these questions more as a sum of assertions: “Why INTERRUPTED SOLITUDE? Did we wish to break the isolation we all suffer from? Were we proposing individual meditation, an inner journey, that is finally broken? Is it a play of associations between two randomly chosen words? Let each and every one of the interested parties decide among all these possibilities, and many others that now elude us.”[92]

Soledad interrumpida followed an ultimately frustrated joint project with Luis de Pablo called Por diversos motivos (1968-1969),[93] which combined dynamic and static images and another lucubration-collaboration in the guise of the film 138 (1972).[94] Soledad interrumpida was premiered on 20 July 1971 at the San Martín Cultural Centre in Buenos Aires[95] with the subtitle of “an image-musical experience” and with a duration of around twenty-five minutes.[96] The artists themselves, José Luis Alexanco and Luis de Pablo, called it (though this would vary over time) an “image-sound work” which led to associations that would later be transformed, in a generative process (though they actually used the term “evolution”),[97] in other representations unveiled as Historia natural, as we will see further ahead.

Constructed jointly, they understood it as a proposal for:

“a set of rules that, it goes without saying, do not aspire for validity other than for this precise occasion; to be effective in the present is the best way of making a difference in the future. Those of us who make these rules do not consider ourselves to be prophets nor what reactionary critics call ‘experimenters’. We are conscious that we have made a work in perpetual change, a work that is in fact many works, which for us is one of the best guarantees of honesty. Both in the image part and the music part we played with both rigid and flexible structures; the former give the work, and its infinite versions, the necessary unity, as well as the platform from which to make different variations; the latter ensure something different, ephemeral and variable in each new representation, through which a living dialogue is struck up between the constituent elements of the spectacle (…) these elements do not illustrate one another: they all have their own meaning and the purpose of interrelating them is to trigger a number of associations in which the spectator plays an instrumental role, as it is the spectator who has to make them. Therefore, the work does not have one single meaning, but countless ones. We are not telling a story, but proposing elements so that each person can construct their own one: and all of them will be valid, even those that seem as if they are going against the material we put at their disposal. In point of truth, this has always been the case of the so-called work of art, but the difference lies in the fact that we accept it and co-opt it into the form of the work.”[98]

 

A limit experience,[99] the work, later premiered in Spain at Palacio de Cristal in Madrid on 6 December 1971,[100] required the presence during the action of Alexanco and De Pablo, and the active collaboration of Eduardo Polonio and Horacio Vaggione, who looked after the lighting, air compressor (used to inflate the figures), tape recorders, mixers and synthesizer. A determination to render a ‘total’ work of art, as the artists said, understanding the spectator as the main actor.[101] One ought to recall that, in the end, the one hundred and thirty contemplators[102] were located in the space in full interaction with the events, being allowed to move around among the complex set-up of the systems installed for the purpose and the self-propelled figures. An odd climax was generated by the action (music and light, motion) and this bringing together of inflatable figures, “Rooks”[103] or “Dolls” as Alexanco and De Pablo called them, later leading to the Arena series. I have also seen the term homunculi[104] used, a word more generally associated with Millares with a particularly unsettling quality about it, especially when looking at photos of them in the press at the time, often deflated in the studio, with the black and white returning them to an ashen light as if they were prisoners or the ruins of a disaster, a world of sleepwalkers.[105] In the action, these proto-human figures, a legacy of his first filmed representations from 1964, as explained in this exhibition, stood upright at differing heights and in varying sequences when air was pumped into them, otherwise they lay quivering, barely breathing, empty on the floor. This ‘spectacle’ of light and sound was shrouded in enigmas; the action was also a proposition because there was something unrepeatable about it: it was a happening, it happened, it took place at one time, but within its own time the action also depended on the place in which it was happening, which notably conditioned the possibilities. Like a map that was continuously folded and unfolded, with different prefigurations or their echoes, the various events coalesced, lit by crepuscular-like events,[106] like sparks and shimmers of light, writing like lightning flashing here and there (stupefaction or hebetude, as one critic put it),[107] waves of emotions, games deployed in space and time: a world of dreams, a narcosis pierced by shadows as the events took place. Like a prism refracting the world, the music heard during the action was, for Alexanco, more than a soundtrack, a pressing need,[108] the work of Luis de Pablo adding to the humming of the air compressors and, somehow, the effigies of the spectators in motion were mixed up with the PVC figures, and also their moving shadows, further underscoring their belonging to another world.[109]

After its premiere in Argentina and Madrid, the work was presented, with variations inherent to its quality as an ‘intervention’ in the individual space, at Musée d’Art Moderne, Palais Wilson, Paris (1972); Sala de Armas de la Ciudadela-Pamplona Encounters (1972); Bayerischer Rundfunk, Musik-Dia-Licht-Film-Festival, Munich (1972); Abbaye de Sablonceaux, Royan (1973);[110] Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon (1974); Université d’Ottawa (1975); Université de Montreal (1975); Université Laval, Quebec (1975); The Kitchen, New York (1980, in conjunction with Galería Vandrés from Madrid).[111] Among the most notable variations was the inclusion of the soprano Simone Rist in Munich, Les Percussions de Strasbourg in Sablonceaux, or art and music students at the universities of Ottawa and Montreal. The work was recorded at RTB (Radio-Télévision Belge), directed by John Dauriac in Brussels in 1973, and at Buffalo University in 1974.[112] There is another recording of the action at The Kitchen in 1980, made by Santos Parrilla Vallina. As explained before, the concept of the presentation in Munich changed and the program introduced a new concept, not broached up until now, with the term ‘image-sound’ being expanded with the word ‘action’: ‘image-sound-action’, which finally led, in another new becoming, to ‘performance’, the word used at The Kitchen.

The programme published by Sablonceaux, a church which the work turned into a true “cathedral of the great beyond,”[113] included the specifications for the elements used in the show, thus affording an insight into its technical and logistic complexity, and, in a way, reminding us of Georges Perec’s lists:

“200 m. of perspex tube; 1000 m. of PVC tube; 100 PVC inflatables; 1 air distribution system; 1 air compressor 9 m³ min. 7 kg.; 1 pentagonal nylon pyramid, sides 6.50 m.; church pews; some religious images; 10 500w spotlights; 10 250w spotlights; 50 60w spotlights; 12 Kodak Carousel projectors; 60 slides; 5 rotating supports; 3 tape recorders, 19 cm/sec.; 1 VCS3 synthesizer; 2 Farfisa electronic pianos; 3 stereo amps, 100w per channel; 14 100w columns; 1 mono amp, 80w; 12 5w speakers; 1 set of leather percussion instruments; 1 set of metal percussion instruments; 1 set of wood percussion instruments; 1 lighting control desk; 1 air control desk; 1 sound control desk; 1 Kodak Carousel projector control desk; 1 circuit control desk.”[114]

And also plans of possible routes, lighting, movement and structure.

Somehow, if the “Rooks” or “Dolls” that seemed to take on a life of their own derived from his early filming and experimentation at CCUM, the inflatables would have a new lease of life in the pieces presented at the solo show at the Vandrés gallery in 1974,[115] where he presented sculptures that appeared to be frozen versions of the former, made from filling the inflatables with sand which were then used as cast moulds that would later, after écorché, be covered with polyester resin and fibreglass, apparently indebted to the quintet of polyester works Movimiento Transformable IV (1968). Another modification or transformation, the same idea applied with different approaches as was one of Alexanco’s signatures, some of the “forty deformations by filling a soft form with sand”[116] were presented by the artist for the first time in the gallery, presented in the catalogue with a set of wonderful photographs of the process of execution, unmoulding and rubble, of flesh-coloured remains, images somewhere between scrap heaps, Millaresque clutter and noble junkyard.[117] Sculpture as stone anamnesis, and it is no accident that, before sculpting, in the sense of creating objects in space, Alexanco first undertook the task of casting, in an action consisting in filling with earth and then moulding a paralysed movement, in such a way that the mineral material would also contain memory, a temporary possessor of the meanings of time. This solidifying process, the passage or journey from fluid to compact fixation, was not strange. Something similar happened at CCUM when he transferred the various possibilities of the drawings of curves to the perspex sculptural forms of Mouvnt. Or, ultimately, as Alexanco has often reminded me, the freezing of motion in the mineral ghosts of Arena with their organic aura, ex-votos of earth, like stills taken from footage of beings in motion. According to the artist, the journey towards the compactedness of sand, in fact involved two parallel processes:

“Continuing with the idea of a generative form or origin of a process of modification or transformation, what I wanted was, on one hand, to take this idea to its limits, generating the process by means of a computer, and, on the other, to construct another more mechanical one with a more subjective development, thus availing of two parallel processes that started out from the same origin, each one conditioned by its means of production. The latter uses a soft form and gradually creates modifications by filling it with sand. The end result is a work that embraces part of the many possibilities which theoretically would be included in the complete process. I believed that forty pieces would be enough to visually define this idea.”[118]

A visual diarist, many of his works, including both his time at CCUM as well as the aforementioned activity, Soledad interrumpida and its derivation in Historia natural, would later become a kind of logbook, large supports on which, like a collage, he would make a report of the task undertaken: photographs, diagrams, plans, notes, prints, reprographic fragments, various studies, routes, variations of the same, etcetera. And so, Soledad interrumpida is documented in twenty-eight collage on paperboard works.[119]With the facts fixed at the time, they now bring us back the invisible presence of the time vortex we mentioned at the outset.

Looking at images of the different representations of Soledad interrumpida, I am reminded of Nabokov’s words: “the treasure hunt comes to a happy end in a cave full of music, in a temple rich with stained glass (…) the gods (…) are dissolved in art.”[120]

 

AND CODA: INTERRUPTED SOLITUDE AT THE PAMPLONA ENCOUNTERS

Ideas come to bear fruit while walking, as per Robert Walser’s fertile walk in the flashing, shimmering and murky fog.[121] A wandering that, when paired with secret emotions, refers to their true place, where they come into being, which is to say our innermost self. It was on a trip to the Andes in Argentina that José Luis Alexanco and Luis de Pablo got the idea of organizing the interdisciplinary artistic meetings which were later known as the Pamplona Encounters,[122] evoking the commission received in the Alea laboratory to recall the memory of Juan Huarte’s father who had recently died.[123] In Alexanco’s words, “the ideas (more than the actors) were to embrace different artistic expressions and not just music. And that they should come from different parts of the world, and take into consideration the contemporaneity of all eras, both Tomás Luis de Vitoria and John Cage.[124] Artists were encouraged to collaborate with others or to show works outside their usual remit (Arakawa and film). As one can see in the programme, there was nothing that we would normally call an exhibition or concert, either for the format or the venue (Zaj in the Gayarre theatre, Equipo Crónica in a fronton court) except perhaps for the exhibition of Basque Art which we delegated to Santiago Amón. All the artists were assigned the same fee, one thousand dollars. And another thing that has generally been overlooked is that in the catalogue (without anyone imposing it) I used the language of the artist alongside Spanish, English and/or French”. José Luis Alexanco looked after a large part of the editorial design of the programme, especially the wonderful posters envisaged which can now be seen in the arch-altar at Alcalá 31.[125] During the Encounters a presentation of Soledad interrumpida was held in the cavernous space of the Ciudadela in Pamplona.[126] It was scheduled on the 2 July, following the concert by John Cage and David Tudor.[127]

In this “collective adventure”, to use the organising artists’ words, it was crucial that the Encounters were run by artists, as was also the lack of any “aesthetic creed”, with the exception of “what could respond to the demands of the work to be a true mirror held up to the moment in which we were living (…) to show some of its most representative facets (…) we also sought not to limit ourselves to the western artistic tradition. Every day the artificialness of the division between cultures is more evident, considering them to be mutually exclusive (…) a common view that embraces everyone in the world that makes what we call art (…).”[128]

One of the first echoes in the press in Spain following the Encounters came in an interview with Alexanco and De Pablo a few days after it closed,[129] in which they spoke about what their intentions had been, while at once defending that it should be viewed as the first biennial of the arts[130] conceived as such: “The Encounters were conceived as a series of informative sessions on avant-garde art. We were not trying to look for a relationship between artists and public, but rather a true integration and connection with art. It was a question of living with it. The most important thing for us was the massive turnout of young people. At the same time there were two cinemas in Pamplona full of people. In the John Cage concert there were six thousand people. When had that ever happened in an electronic music concert in Spain?”[131]

As a coda, we ought to mention other projects Alexanco worked on at this time, such as the stage design for Peter Handke’s play Kaspar, directed by José Luis Gómez with music by Luis de Pablo.[132] And also the film 138, a “lucubration”[133] in Alexanco’s word, also included in the exhibition.

 

EXERCISES, 1970-2019
[IN SEARCH OF NEW SIGNS]

A new landscape of forms (…) new signs
José Luis Alexanco, 1977[134]

Images are action.
Vladimir Nabokov[135]

 

Following his experimentation with film in the early-sixties, his time at the Computer Centre at Universidad Complutense de Madrid (CCUM) and the experience of the various presentations of Soledad interrumpidaand Historia Natural, and not forgetting his work at the Pamplona Encounters in 1972, José Luis Alexanco—who, as I pointed out before, has always had a notable activist side—undertook a no-return to painting. And if I say “no-return” it is because, though one might be tempted to say “return”, he had never in fact abandoned it, though critics at the time often spoke of the possibility of such a return. The previous chapters have provided ample proof of Alexanco’s belonging to the family of contemporary artists whose fertile complexity makes them unclassifiable, sticking out like a sore thumb in Spain’s art scene. Arriving at the seventies, we know that his work had unfolded along manifold paths in which, to sum up, he combined techniques generally considered conventional with music and film, slides, literary extracts, actionism bordering on performance, in short, a complex creative world, as sentient as it is unusual. On one hand, when he does engage with painting he also approaches it from a position in which he not only works with a simple support and pigments, but instead addresses them as a painting on different supports, mixing materials including fertile collage elements. Generally speaking, he combined techniques: for instance, serigraphy and painting, traditional pigments, often acrylics, with the addition of reprographic fragments and, in other works, the odd use of photosensitive paper, tracing paper or remnants left over from making other works. If it were not clear by now that Alexanco continued apace with his perennial quests, he began to reap the results of early experiments while undertaking new ones, sometimes starting out from earlier ones that advanced towards his own future as an artist, or sometimes inserting other inputs from chance encounters that he then filtered through his discipline as a painter. While always with his sights set on new horizons,[136] as we pointed out before, many of his paintings around this time in the seventies were further explorations of methods borrowed from prior research, as exemplified by works such as Cortes (1969-1976) or Rodajas (1970), recalling his time spent at CCUM. His diagrammatic world would become increasingly more abstract, until his paintings were almost exercises in a new landscape of forms, a signic world[137]with a strong writerly sediment which, as widely accepted, would lead him almost naturally towards the alphabets that will occupy another following chapter in this exhibition. This abstraction, mainly sign-based as we already said, would uphold the former ordered diagrammatic undergirding, removed from emotional overexcitation. Many of them would in principle be arranged in cells and grids, structures that often remind me of his imprisoned characters, where the forms are revisited in a search for their manifold formal possibilities. A special mention is deserved for his works on Valca photosensitive paper: his engagement with photographic supports used for painterly purposes, for example exposed film, was an experiment he had already taken years earlier, by means of scraping negatives with sharp instruments. Though in the eighties his painterly drive was towards greater abstraction, forms with fuzzy outlines contrasting with the more delineated ones of before, certain forms on his canvases resonate—like Bonet’s “internal thread”[138]—with his “men”, “postures”, “capsules” or “transformable movements” from the sixties which were the subject of our opening reflections.[139] Somehow, the encounter of his painting on the walls of galleries also had a nuance we should remember, again his restlessness as an artist is associated with a capital issue of the time, at which juncture we ought to cite the intense collaboration with Fernando Vijande, in whose gallery Vandrés he exhibited on several occasions, in 1974, 1977 and 1978, and then later in the gallery under his own name, in 1982, 1983 (ARCO) and 1986, even making architectural elements like, as I recalled in my conversation with Alexanco, those beautiful stairs going down to the garage-gallery, that damned Avernus of modernism, which have lingered as a kind of symbol of it.[140]

As Alexanco says himself, in his work from around this time there were a number of transformations, basically semantic, which referred once again to the idea of construction-deconstruction[141] in his painting: “Every new exhibition means, to a certain extent, a destruction of what went before it. However, I don’t renounce what I did previously. Now I am proposing a liberation—though by no means compulsive—from what I had been doing. I used to programme a series of functional drawings that I now, on the other hand, call signs, and which now I manipulate […] in those signs I find, to put it one way, my source of aesthetic inspiration, which, on the other hand, is like an add on. When I look at these drawings—these signs—I can see that each one has a kind of personal history and sufficient ambiguity to undergo another aesthetic treatment which I now submit to subjectivity.”[142]

A searcher for images in the wasteland, at times in praise of stability, other times able to couple stableness with what might seem like imbalance, to sustain one form and for the other to be sustained. The end result of this chapter we have called “Exercises” is a reflection that would seem prone to a new rethinking both of artistic concepts and the use of diverse languages and their properties, but it is also a reflection with a certain poetic,[143] semiotic and structural displacement, without overlooking a strong metapictorical component, something he would explore in greater depth in years to come. Accepting that painting is to establish an autonomous system of structural relationships and, with it, to try to elevate what could be called a territory of energy, by means of constant research and questioning of the varied visual properties found in the same work until slipping towards a borderline place: the space marked by the encounter, or perhaps the interregnum, between these signs or forms that, while shared, have a differentiated air. Accordingly, essentially combined, they establish diverse signic qualities, introducing perceptive alterations in manifold directions, as they construct and deconstruct, citing each other, or perhaps better put, that they exercise their making by constructing and deconstructing (and, as we said, citing each other).

The title of one of his works from 1975, Corrección (Correction), calls to mind (coincides with) Bernhard, or indeed Tachaduras (Erasures) from 1977, and now I believe that, sometimes overlapping images of past works, over which he would paint again, working on them, apparently veiling that past time in this seemingly creative negation, he would establish an empire of new forms or structures, as if analysing the extensive repertoire of possibilities, which would explain why the time span of works is sustained on experimentation from thirty years ago, in many cases resolved in recent years. This much can be seen in Aiwa (1969-2018); while Indien or Āwo (1970-2018) and Wi (1970-2019) are other examples. With a greater pre-eminence of nervous and somewhat automatic writing, as in Ako (1977-2018); Agar or Yog (1977-2019); Ja (1996-2018) or (1996-2019). Then further complicated in Kali (1999-2018) or in Ako (2004-2018). Cellular, organicist grids sometimes caught between compactness and fluidity, like that suspended world evoked by Paul Klee, for instance Ovi (1997-2019). With an atmospheric air, forms in the dream of flying: Ee(1996-2019) or Nai (1998-2019).

Like Kafka, and his inwards gaze, in Alexanco his “stories are a way of shutting my eyes.”[144]Impenetrable titles, with cryptic names now derived from various ways of affirming, “yes”, in different languages. Other times, composed by joining different words from different languages in the one title. A proposal to extract meanings: to title in order not to title, meaning escaping from meanings and, as such, it seems as if Alexanco eschews distractions, concentrating the painting by affirming visual phenomena and exercising formal revisions which the artist then considered as “Exercises”.

 

TENTHS (1980), 1998-2018

[TIME ONCE AGAIN]

Another interpretation of silences

José Luis Alexanco, on “Décimos”[145]

  

Where does the frame take place. Does it take place. Where does it begin. Where does it end. What is its internal limit. Its external limit. And its surface between the two limits.

Jacques Derrida[146]

 

 

The measure of life.

And there is something of an environment about this double-set of Décimos (Tenths), ten plus ten polyptychs aligned in the centre of the hall, like a passageway that occupies a symbolic place and seems to recall how a large part of Alexanco’s previous processes could help to explain these paintings, which the artist believes to be a summary of his practice to date. A summary of speaking and a labyrinth. The artist again showed me a sketch of the exhibition layout with an sinuous arrow, a drunken marking of the “voyage”, the necessary path of whoever contemplates this “temporary exercise”, until arriving at the polyptychs, the second and third iteration of the Décimos,[147] following the fantasy of the darkened hall where his Percursum palpitate. It is a proposal for an entropic journey that arrives—from external events of the world—to the true interior of Alexanco’s painting.

In his painting, from the nineties onward, we witnessed large formats and titles that appeared to bear greater legibility. Perhaps it evoked his youthful engagement with abstract expressionism, his admiration for Motherwell,[148] and at once, without eschewing the grounding in drawing, there was a kind of explosion of colour[149] in his works, at times verging on bustling, which does not refute the strong component of energetic introspection that leaves an indelible impression in his paintings, but also seeming to affirm how all his painting has sung the praises of the process, forms and figures wherever they arise. Sometimes emerging from a small format or concern that interested him and now returning to find a place on his canvases, over which a new world of transformations appear which are not independent from his previous work, of which this seems to be a corollary: wefts, layerings, convergences of colouring, chromatic studies, rhythmic templates, compartmentalisations, formal experimentation, variations, conjunctions of opposites between more organicist elements or other more structured ones, and even the mention of certain areas through which he eventually crossed, like some moments of greater geometric seriousness. And, as we all know, this led to the apparition of a set of new forms that, insofar as new, preserved the memory of the course of his life as an artist, in a process without any end.

The first Diez Décimos (Ten Tenths) from 1980 came about after his commission with the alphabet for the Constitution. The construction was based on layering two squares with different widths: one of these grids corresponded with the paintings, inasmuch as the other was made up of eighty-eight sheets of Japanese paper found in New York. Both factors conditioned the final size of the paintings. As Alexanco said: “I established two numerical sequences that also overlapped, delineating empty vertical bands that stood for silences. From the beginning I thought about making, allowing time in between them, ‘Twenty Tenths’, ‘Thirty Tenths’ and ‘Forty Tenths’, interested in seeing what happened with the same structure with the passing of time (time once again) and adding new materials. Eighteen years later, in 1998, I made ‘Twenty Tenths’, with the same use of grids but interpreting the silences in a different way and incorporating the families of materials that had formed over the intervening time. Both were exhibited at the Santa Mónica art centre in a square space located in the centre of the hall, with five facing five, surrounded by the rest of the exhibition.[150] The ‘Thirty Tenths’ took a new approach decades later. I believe that somehow these two works contain all the work of the last forty years, they contain the pictures painted in this period and that are not in our exhibition, a question of space. I didn’t forget the project but I believe that I will not get to ‘Forty Tenths’, at least not with the same difference of years, a question of time. I would insist that, somehow, these two works contain the whole work of the last forty years, that is, the pictures painted in that period, and that are not in our exhibition, is space.”[151]

The annotations which the artist has held on to, as processual notes on these finished Décimos, help us to understand his intentions, almost like an Alexanco-atlas: “layering of structures”; “alternation of colours”; “interspersing neutral colours”; “bands of silence” (emphasized); “size conditions elements structure”; “destruction original structure, division of spaces”; “gain ground and respect accidents”; “ordered disintegration” (with question mark); “increasing and decreasing densities”; “analysis of densities and frequencies”; “data transformed into colour”; “saturation”; “average randomness”; “life of its own” and “towards residues of the support that cannot be seen”. And another unsettling note: “silences increase as the sequence progresses, will they do away with it?”

This “life of its own” which Alexanco notes, a stability coming from instability, recalls how his work has referred to the generation of forms which, once created, continue to develop, transform and mutate in what one supposes is an evident mention of the space-time relationships of his creation, which would explain why his research takes place in successive processes and that, very often, the very cycles of his painting are also, at heart, generative, which is to say, one set of works generates another new cycle, one processual order leads to another, one found structure is later structuring, one colour influences the order and ends up in another. In the Spanish context, to write “generation of forms” forces us to consider the work of Pablo Palazuelo because, similarly to his case, Alexanco exercises a tireless quest for the generation of forms seemingly in search of repose, generated among the turbulence of space. Space is a refuge and, asPalazuelo wrote, “and so, deprived of repose, the idea of space seems to tirelessly search the infinite of august presence (refuge), shifting, in the infinite interior of human impotence obsessed with vision, sometimes troubled and other times pitiful, always inconsolably directed, in vain, towards the limitless.”[152]The generation of forms leads to another basic concept, lineage: those forms, rather than meeting and giving rise to stable images, reveal their troubled existence, their lineage, that is to say, the permanent begetting of some forms in others, in such a way that the resulting image preserves in its pictorial blood the lineage of another that was original, transmuted and now another, conserving the memory of what once was. As we know, the issue of the generation of forms had its own manifesto in the early sixties, which considered how the line or the image are able to originate, in their dynamism, a new form, a “projective” life able to produce “the sensation of entering and leaving, once again breaking the basic plane, not adhering to one single flat surface […] growing and diminishing, progressively GENERATING, they shift and vibrate, shift in their own form and vibrate when meeting. They produce contrast and chiaroscuro. They adopt a new kind of life, they take on a new identity in space.”[153] Or, in the words of Pirovano, filtered through the prism of Vantongerloo, the seed of that manifesto: “‘Engender new forms, reflect their generative process, the phenomena that provoke them or those very phenomena in motion, evolving in continuous transformation.”[154]

The issue of the extension of the generative requires us to mention the seminar on Automatic Generation of Plastic Forms, explored in a previous chapter, considering that it would have a singular epilogue in the “adoption” of Mac Entyre in the Pamplona Encounters (1972), where he took part alongside Alexanco in one of the major exhibitions on the issue: “Automatic generation of plastic and sound forms.”[155]

Alexanco’s creative process could subscribe to that manifesto that mentioned life, an event located somewhere between thinking and creating,[156] in praise of the immemorial power of silence.

 

 

CONSTITUTION, 1978

[ALEXANCO ALPHABET: THE EMPIRE OF SIGNS]

 

Sign (from Latin Signum). One thing which, by its nature,
or by convention, evokes the understanding of another.
José Luis Alexanco, “Terminología”, 1977[157]

Spaniards reach the age of majority at eighteen.

At the same time, they have the right to enter and leave

The law shall regulate the special features

 

With the exception of provisions
José Luis Alexanco, notes on “Constitución”[158]

 

 

 

José Luis Alexanco received a commission to design the editio princeps of the Spanish Constitution, published by Editora Nacional.[159] He immediately dismissed the usual tropes of illustration and then, having discarded complexity, he opted instead for (apparent) straightforwardness, basing the beauty of the book on simplicity and technical quality, for this purpose creating a new letter type, an unadorned Alexanco-alphabet based on the use of italics and inspired by the watermark used in the kinds of papers he considered.[160] In our opinion, and this is something which applies to his work in general, the process itself was perhaps the most critical part of the work, involving a complex distillation of variations and possibilities that eventually led to the work itself, as one can readily discern in the resulting investigation, called “Alphabet for a Constitution”, which was presented for the first time at Galería Vandrés, in winter 1978,[161]with the subtitle “Paintings and Drawings 1978”. Rather than an alphabet per se, it was more of an investigation of an alphabet. “The development of a development”, he wanted to call it, a new exploration of movement and variability, as Alexanco explained. He found in it the desire to discover a “new alphabet” through the evolution of the work, “primarily based on certain themes as they transform, deform and evolve … in other words, in changes or ‘movement’”. This Latin alphabet would be the starting point in which “the relationship between stroke and space would help to make it legible.”[162]

Of course, there is no need to point out that, ever since 1964—I am thinking of his Estudio de un hombre corriendo (1964) or his creations whose titles contain the word ‘project’—and thinking of how he turned diagrammatic images into forms,[163] his works were no longer just images but also a palimpsest of writing, a kind of model for arming images in which instructions, letters and numbers, sketches or signs, working guidelines, came to be a substantial part of the work itself, which is why, more than an “alphabet”, I would call it an Alexanco-atlas. We have already pointed out in previous texts how his experimentation at CCUM or the presentations of Soledad Interrumpida led to a series of large collage-on-cardboard works which, in a kind of impenitent diary-keeping, were the recipients of the insoluble memory of those complex projects. His works are images but also metatextual research,[164] a point he would always insist on in his catalogues in which, besides the works themselves, he also included the processes that produced them.

The texts and writing retained on those cardboards, while engaging with new alphabets, also inverted the process as they transmuted words and signs into images and dematerialized signs. His work could not be understood without the signs we know as letters, more than the glittering mask of the word. Ultimately, his whole work has been an act of speech, an attempt to express movement through signs, converting his ideas into computer languages, the word sited in the theatricalization of Soledad Interrumpida and the consideration of a painterly world indebted to pictorial graphics.

Following Après nous le letrisme,[165] as we know, the letter has been a constant travel companion of the art of our time: Picabia or Picasso, the itinerant Lettrism in the works on papers by Kurt Schwitters or the burning words of Cy Twombly, and so many others: Max Bill, Brossa, Ariel Gangi, Grilo, Martin Gubbins, Hausmann, Jonic, Lebel, Nöel, Millares, Pomerand, Tripier, Wols or Zush, the epigonal works of Art & Language, an endless list of which these names are just an example. Paroles, paroles, paroles, we can read by the hyper-lettrist, Henri Michaux, the pressing need of the letter that has illuminated creation since the Dadaists and phonetic poetry, like the disorder of words in surrealist verse. In the end we have the letter: in Dürer or Leonardo,[166] and I am reminded now of Torner and his “Resumen del decir”,[167] metagraphics have always been part of the history of art.

 

Alexanco transmutes letters into signs[168] that then stand, disordered, altered, alliterated, like a new alphabet, other times letters rising from a kind of mist as if probing a bright darkness, signs populating the surface like auras, like the discovery of an ancient script of some long lost civilization, bearer of an unknown immemorial language. A new elevation of assembled signs, altered dubitative writing erasing the written, the shards of letters scattered about the painterly space, a rewriting of the already noted, like Artaud’s paroxysm of the letter in the breath-taking The Theatre and Its Double: to break down language in order to touch life, a magical operation to free signs which, first withheld, are then flung suddenly into the air. Looking at this cycle by Alexanco, I am brought to mind of Dotremont’s logograms, contemplating the work of what claims to be grounded in the Latin alphabet, also leading towards Oriental worlds, graphic oceans[169] that eschew legibility to situate the contemplator in a non-reader readiness that is able to read his writings, as this script belongs more to an inner world than to the intellect. A sensual empire of the signs, prompted by Barthes’s Empire of Signs,[170] Alexanco sees a new language creeping into his signs, taking over canvas and paper. Hoping to say everything, to count itself, evoking On Kawara’s strange conceptual narrating from an extreme of time. A more immobile praise of narrated time, like Nabokov’s book on Van Veen, with time expressed in textures: “The Texture of Time”.

Letters have been one of his constant objects of attention: I am thinking of the aforementioned projection of extracts from Jules Verne’s Michael Strogoff in one of the presentations of Soledad Interrumpida.[171] Already in 1977, one of his exhibitions warned of an announced and radical semantic transformation of his painting: “When I look at these drawings—these signs—I can see that each one has a kind of personal history and sufficient ambiguity to undergo another aesthetic which I now submit to subjectivity. I don’t copy any of them. This exhibition is not made up of paintings made following the guidelines of a computer program. I now use previous signs that have passed through my experimentation with computers and other experiences. I am once again directly interested in aesthetics, in recreation, (a mutation has taken place) on a semantic level. The thing is that these signs have changed meaning.”[172]And another salient announcement from 1969: “Art as language, and its ability to communicate, the possible transformation of the future of this historical reality. A rethinking of the semantic structure of visuality, starting with the construction of an ‘alphabet’—a sign system—what I have been working on since 1965, when I started using expressionist forms to create a system of synthesis and analysis, with the hope of achieving elementary units—minimum elements—which could be ordered into sentences able to communicate certain stories.”[173]

Now I am contemplating paintings or process-based works on cardboard from 1978 that seem to be sustained on lightness, like his Notas (I & III), and other works in which the signs created patterns, aligned in variations: as in the case of Ejercicio (I & II). On other occasions, the appearance of the letter takes the form of loops, sometimes seemingly displaced towards incomprehension like texts subjected to mirror inversion: Ejercicio II or Notas II. Alphabets (imprisoned?) in grids, recalling the more writerly Baldessari: ABC… or Abypes III. Other works from this time, like Ubicación or Stripe sustitución, shift between presence and vanishing, texts of wise short-sightedness, either for their pictorial reverberation on the plane or perhaps for the mention of learning and unlearning, in a density that accentuates the illegibility: Dieciocho años (we are still in 1978) is a case in hand. This Alexanco-alphabet that seems to refer to the existence of tension between the letter and images has an element of subversive didactics, a confrontation or perhaps a conspiracy whose shards are used to compose Lecturas al azar (1977), the heading of the next chapter. Singing the praises of both persistence and fragility, this cycle of works seems to have been trapped by the tremor given off by this alphabet, like a mysterious personal voice slightly altered or transformed. And also by the word never said.

 

RANDOM READINGS, 1977-2019

[DESTROY-CONSTRUCT]

Every new exhibition means, to a certain extent, a destruction of what went before it.

José Luis Alexanco, 1977[174]

  

As the hand cannot let go of the burning object to which its skin melts and sticks, so the image, the idea that drives us mad with pain, cannot be torn away from the soul, and all efforts and attempts to put it out of one’s mind drag it away with them.

Paul Valéry[175]

 

Redes (1982) or Signos calcados (1977) are the names of some of the works included in this chapter, which in turn borrows its title from one of his paintings: San Francisco o lecturas al azar (1977), evoking his time in the USA,[176] coupling it with a newfound mention of his reflections on texts and signs. This particular work contains an evident interest in notes on the margins, burning images longing for meaning, somewhere between complexity and the apparently light, the concealed, signs that are expanded, and minimum structures built on what appeared to be just a breath of air. Alexanco, a frequent explorer of the complex, is also able to lighten it to the extent that it acquires an air able to halt the course of knowledge, redirecting us to another space of reflection, those Rothkian pockets of silence.[177] In the end, speaking and silence are not opposite poles but the one same fertile language, as one can glean from the trembling stillness in that antiphonal reticular painting now on exhibit which is as important as the voice or, as happens in Signos (1977), the shadow of the forms is as germane as the openness of the work, with some lines and planes approaching the edge of light: “the central emptiness (…) is true madness.”[178] His work is then a meditation on forms and space, what we know as the visible, a fearless exploration on “the immaterial nature of the idea”[179] with his work evolving amidst those constant interrogations, a whole world of ambiguities, analogies and relations, a voyage between what seems to a permanent construction and deconstruction of forms, oft cited tensions, a world of singular forces that seem to cast light on one another, modifying each other in a constant mutation that seems to make hermeticism compatible with what, at times, one takes to be a later revelation. A traveller in quest of totality, a kind of concentrated expansion even in the knowledge of the proverbial failure involved in the very conception of an image, on a road shaped by coherent mutations, even loops, routes and interrelations that went towards generating his work, what once was or what was unforeseeably transformed.

In the hope that the unknown will alleviate the known, confronted with those signs or networks, the contemplator is caught in a vision of relations, almost like an extension of the same questions, the true object of art, like a narration that would reveal a truth or the possibility of its negation, perchance its dispossession, essence or illusion or, and why not, the exhibition of loss. An image striving to be revealed, enigmas hovering over the real, enigmatic signs populating space, some of his creations preserve a certain air of effort in the struggle to emerge, alluding as much to time as to space. Something must remain in the abyss of our shared origin, everything ephemeral and changing, Alexanco would seem to conclude the world of his painting could be the end result of the movement of opposites, when the renouncement of one’s eyes will be followed by an opening up of horizons of limited vision.[180] Many of his questions are posed on the limit and interrogate that effort made on the appearance and presence of images in the space of painting, displaced in the complex enigma of the visible.

As previously underscored, in Alexanco there is a strong residue of intellectual investigation into construction, almost the appearance and presence of the form in space, and creating is almost like a waiting for unveiling. A glaring explosion and source of energy, as Kant said, an enigma hovers over reality. In the end, his titanic effort to reveal forms has something of the aporia about it, given that it suggests the narrative of the ungraspability of the representation of forms, and therein perhaps the mention to how a work also means the destruction of what went before it, endlessly generating other new readings. The creative work of a celebrant of concentrated thinking of space, from within,[181] obsessive and disciplined, a work which emerges as a result of a declared and unrepentantly entropic practice, a painter’s journey, as said before, obsessive, in and around his own reflections. And so an image exceeding fragility, striving to be unveiled, glaring explosion and source of energy, hovering enigmas… Alexanco has never stopped referring to how creative thinking and the aforementioned striving to be unveiled is, in essence, an act of profound poetic content.

 

____________________________

NOTES CHAPTER 1

[1] José Luis Alexanco, in: VEYRAT, Miguel. “Alexanco y el arte del futuro”. Madrid: Nuevo Diario, 21 December 1969, [n.p.].

[2] Various. Terminología. In Nueva Generación 1967/1977. Catalogue for the exhibition at Palacio de Velázquez. Madrid, 1977, pp. 7-22. The entry “dynamismo” [dynamism] on p. 13, “movimiento” [movement] on p. 19.

[3] PIGLIA, Ricardo. Las tres vanguardias. Saer, Puig, Walsh. Buenos Aires: Eterna Cadencia Editora, 2016. The first citation, p. 31; the second, p. 36.

[4] His current studio, since 2012. His first studio was located in calle Meléndez Valdés, Madrid (1965-1984) and he had a studio in New York between 1975 and 1979 (shared with Muntadas and Miralda). Then in Navalagamella (1985-1990), Vallecas (1990-1999), before moving to Arganda del Rey (2000-2012). Conversation with the artist, 28 January 2020.

[5] I am referring to the opening of the text: CALVO SERRALLER, Francisco. Alexanco. Proceso y movimiento. (An epilogue in the form of prologue). Madrid. Fernando Vijande Editor, 1982, pp. 11-13. We will point out only once, in this footnote, that it was published in two versions: one in text only, which we are citing, and another illustrated with the same text: CALVO SERRALLER, Francisco. Alexanco: Lectura en imágenes (with the subheading of the other book), logically with a different pagination. I believe that these publications, especially the illustrated one, as Alexanco’s magnus opus, even today. In memoriam Paco Calvo.

[6] Duro-blando (hard-soft) is the title of drawings from 1970.

[7] LEWIS, Wyndham. Wyndham Lewis. The Asrtist. From ‘Blast’ to Burlington House. New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1971, p. 346.

[8] The issue of John Dunne’s book can be followed in: BARABTARLO, Gennady. Vladimir Nabokov. Sueños de un insomne. Experimentos con el tiempo. Girona: Wunderkammer SLU, 2019. Dunne maintained that dreams are made up of images of past experiences as well as others that mysteriously arrive to us, in the present, from the future.

[9] “To a certain extent, it is then a return of the future”, claimed Santos Amestoy on the occasion of the exhibition at Vandrés, 1977: AMESTOY, Santos. “Alexanco: El pintor que regresó de la cibernética”. Madrid: Pueblo, 23 March 1977, [n.p.].

[10] Galería Círculo 2, Alexanco (Catorce pinturas, ocho dibujos y una tirada de cien ejemplares de diecisiete serigrafías sobre la gente), Madrid, 22 March -3 April 1965. Chronologically, his first exhibition was the group show “Siete jóvenes pintores”, at Galería Toisón in Madrid in 1961.

[11] DE LA PUENTE, Joaquín. Reflexiones para un pintor. Madrid: Galería Círculo 2, 1965.

[12] This courage would often be underlined by critics: “El arrojo de José Luis Alexanco para crear situaciones artísticas absolutamente desusadas es realmente notorio”. FERNANDEZ-BRASO, Miguel. “La obra computada de Alexanco”. Madrid: ABC, 9 March 1974, p. 57.

[13] As stated in the exhibition title, mentioned in the programme.

[14] AGUIRRE, Juan Antonio. Arte último. La “Nueva Generación” en la escena española. Madrid: Julio Cerezo Estévez Editor, 1969. The illustrations by Alexanco are on pp. 75-79. Aguirre’s reflection was widely reproduced. See. AGUIRRE, Juan Antonio. “ALEXANCO movimiento transformable”. Artes, no. 96, 1968, Madrid, p. 3.

[15] The ones called Correr, Caer, Girar (1964) which open this exhibition. They were shot with a Kodak Super-8 camera. In Alexanco’s words: “it was all about showing a certain idea of movement through the use of colour filters and moving spotlights, in which the figures and their shadows are important.” ALEXANCO, José Luis. Trabajos 1965-1968. Madrid: Edición de José Luis Alexanco, 1968-1969.

[16] AGUIRRE, Juan Antonio. Arte último. La “Nueva Generación” en la escena española. Op. cit., pp. 77-78. It is strange that Aguirre’s entry should overlook this work on film, so pioneering of the future.

[17] Ibid., p. 78.

[18] Drian Galleries, ALEXANCO Graphic Work, London, 15 February – 1 March 1966, and Drian Galleries, ALEXANCO Paintings Constructions Silkscreens, London, 7-20 January 1968. The catalogue for the latter exhibition once again contained a prologue by Juan Antonio Aguirre in which he underlined the “bright colouring and spectral tones”, the use of “organic and geometric” forms and structures with a systematic use of series.

[19] “[…] he reacts against the reigning colourism of the moment, against Castilian, baroque “Spanish” colours, and opts instead for bright ranges, while at once taking an interest in film or, what amounts to the same thing, to engage with a problem he would never abandon: that of time and space”. AMESTOY, Santos. “Alexanco: El pintor que regresó de la cibernética”. Op. cit.

[20] AGUIRRE, Juan Antonio. Arte último. La “Nueva Generación” en la escena española. Op. cit., pp. 75, 77 & 78. The words “slippery and shimmering” in bold in original text.

[21] Museu de Arte Moderna, 9 Bienal de São Paulo, São Paulo, 22 September-8 December 1967.

[22] The site of the Museo de Reproducciones Artísticas, where students practised their drawing skills. In the case of Alexanco, while he waited to be of age to enrol at the San Fernando academy: RUIZ, Javier. José Luis Alexanco: Cronología. Marbella: Pedro Peña Art Gallery, 2003, pp. 23 & ff.

[23] With whom be coincided while they were both doing their Milicias Universitarias military service for university students. It is related with the serigraph Militar en el espejo (1965) and the aforementioned Villalba (1964) on exhibit.

[24] ALEXANCO, José Luis. Texto. Bilbao: Galería Grises, 1969.

[25] FIGUEROLA-FERRETI, Luis. “En las últimas salas del Pabellón Velázquez. Xerigrafias de Alexanco y pinturas de Monreal”. (sic.) Madrid: Arriba, 10 July 1966, p. 24.

[26] CIRLOT, Juan-Eduardo. “Millares y la ‘muerte’ del hombre”. Barcelona: La Vanguardia, 4 July 1968.

[27] Various. Terminología. In Nueva Generación 1967/1977. Op. cit., “Abiogenesis” on p. 9, Alexanco cites Huxley.

[28] Ibid., “evolution” on p. 15. As we said before, in Spain, writing “generation of forms” brings Palazuelo to mind because, like him, Alexanco exercises a tireless search for the generation of forms, as if looking for repose, forms generated in the turbulence of space.

[29] Besides classes in Fine Arts, he studied chalcography printing at Casa de la Moneda in Madrid, with the renowned printer and artist Manuel Castro Gil (Lugo, 1891 – Madrid, 1963).

[30] “Victoria & Albert Museum Department of Prints and Drawings and Department of Paintings Accessions 1966”, published in HMSO, 1967. Title: The Ceiling (1965).

[31] Together with the work of Sempere and Martín, Alexanco was also well conversant with the print work of Vasarely. Conversation with the artist, 27 January 2020. On the origin of serigraphy in Spain, the relationship with Wifredo Arcay and how it was imported by the first-named artist, see: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. “Eusebio Sempere: otro caballero de la soledad [Y vuelta al Paris de los cincuenta]”. Alicante: Canelobre, no. 69, Instituto Alicantino de Cultura Juan Gil-Albert, 2018.

[32] ALEXANCO, José Luis. Cuestionario para Alexanco. Bilbao: Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, 1995, p. VIII. This publication compiles his print works.

[33] Ibid., p. VI: “In the print, the ideas become more intimate […] the choice of theme […] much more careful”.

[34] “Like in prints, I was interested in the fact that the process forces one to adopt a certain approach and to wait, it forces you to meditate and allows you to do proofs with colour. It allowed me to self-publish some books”. Conversation with the artist, 27 January 2020.

[35] As explained in the text, this is the case of Movimiento transformable, I – III, from 1967.

[36] ALEXANCO, José Luis. Trabajos 1965-1968. Op. cit.

[37] Conversation with the artist, 27 January 2020.

[38] PABLO, Luis de. Alexanco. Madrid: Galería Biosca, 1969.

[39] Galería Biosca, Alexanco, Madrid, 13-30 January 1969.

[40] DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. “Alexanco. Desde dentro”. In Los otros (artistas). Madrid: “Ámbito Cultural”, 2016, pp. 64-86.

[41] “Alexanco is a thoroughly formed artist who takes independent decisions, which as a result makes his practice free”. GIRALT-MIRACLE, Daniel. “José Luis Alexanco”. Madrid: ABC de las Artes, 17 July 1998.

[42] The figurative meaning of “entropy” used in reference with Alexanco alludes to his permanent gaze inwards as a sign of his practice, in which chaos and creative balance, order and complexity come together naturally, obtaining his singular creative order from that difficult equilibrium. The term’s relationships with science and Alexanco’s interest in science and technology, with the key experience of his time at CCUM, were also important when bringing it up, as is the frequent concomitance in his work between order and aperto (disorder). Worth recalling at this juncture is the conceptual revision undertaken by ARNHEIM, Rudolf. Entropy and Art: An Essay on Disorder and Order (1971): in which the author argues that revising the complexity of the real can lead to another kind of harmony. This question is addressed in: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. “Torner, sí elogio de la entropía”. Text in Torner entrópico. Cuenca: Semana de Música Religiosa, 2015.

[43] Explaining it rather personally: “And if we call the general environment (with its dawns and sunsets, sunshine and rain, the coming and going of the seasons…) first nature, then we could well use second nature for our surrounding environs which, for better or worse, is being introduced by our no less all-encompassing technological media (with their relationships and electronic orientations, signs and signals, television or radio codes and messages…) […] the second nature of their free interpretations. All the data, signs, relationships and forms dictated yesterday by the computer are now the object of other reconformations and meanings exclusively of the order of sensibility, free will and the hand of the painter”. AMÓN, Santiago. “Alexanco”. Madrid: El País, 3 March 1977, [n.p.].

 

NOTES CHAPTER 2

[44] Various. Terminología. In Nueva Generación 1967/1977. Catalogue for the exhibition at Palacio de Velázquez. Madrid, 1977, pp. 7-22. “Lenguaje” [language], on p. 16; “Ordenador” [computer], on p. 19.

[45] José Luis Alexanco, cited in: VEYRAT, Miguel. “Alexanco y el arte del futuro”. Madrid: Nuevo Diario, 21 December 1969, [n.p.].

[46] “I am in a phase of pure research. I am working with a computer. I’m not sure that what comes from this will even be art. Art… what people understand as art. I no longer know what art is. But it definitely is no longer what we thought it was at the beginning of the century. To be honest, I don’t know how to define it.” José Luis Alexanco, cited in Ibid. With regards what we call “end of process”, as shall be understood later, it refers to how, once Alexanco understood the infiniteness of variables offered by computing, he ruled out continuing to execute all variables.

[47] See DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. “Juan Antonio Aguirre y la reivindicación conquense. ‘Arte Último’ un libro multicolor”. In Arte Último. La ‘Nueva Generación’ en la escena española. Cuenca: Fundación Antonio Pérez, 2005. Preface for the reprint of Arte Último. La “Nueva Generación” en la escena española, pp. 27-43.

[48] Which came to a close with the exhibition at Palacio de Velázquez, Nueva Generación 1967/1977, Madrid, July-September 1977.

[49] The exhibitions associated with “Nueva Generación” were held between 1967 and 1977, and were brought to an official end with the exhibition at Palacio de Velázquez, Nueva Generación 1967/1977, Madrid, July-September 1977. The term “non-group” or the heteroclitic mention has to do with its varying composition, with its lack of any manifesto, the diversity in creative typology of the participants in the exhibitions, and other factors. We should look on it, instead, as a gathering of heteroclitic artists sharing a longing for change in the direction of Spanish art, a new generation of artists who were, for the most part, looking at international Pop and constructive art, leaving Alexanco comfortably installed in difference. The “Nueva Generación” exhibitions in 1967 were held at two galleries in Madrid: Amadís, between 2 and 21 May, and at Edurne between 3 and 30 November. The exhibition NG was held as part of Los Festivales de España in 1967 in Badajoz and at the Museum of Fine Art in Bilbao, and in 1968 in Zamora, Cuenca, Zaragoza, Pamplona and Barcelona.

[50] VEYRAT, Miguel. “Alexanco y el arte del futuro”. Op. cit.

[51] AGUIRRE, Juan Antonio. Arte Último. La “Nueva Generación” en la escena española. Op. cit.

[52] Officially opened on 7 March 1969.

[53] Various. Terminología. In Nueva Generación 1967/1977. Op. cit.

[54] Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado, Arteonica, São Paulo, 1971; Galerije Grada Zagreba, Tendencije 5, Zagreb, 1973; SIGMA 9. Contact II, art et ordinateur, Bordeaux, 1973; University of Southern California, Computers and Humanism, San Diego, 1975. As a coda to those years we ought to mention his frequent trips to California between 1974 and 1979, as well as his meeting with Grace C. Hertlein (1924-2015), a lecturer at the Computer Science Department at California State University, associated with the Computers and Automation journal and later editor of Computer Graphics and Art and keenly interested in his work at CCUM, who visited Alexanco at California State University, Chico (California), where he was invited to be a guest lecturer (which he declined), or also the meeting at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with Nicholas Negroponte.

[55] He learned to program with Fortran IV with the help of the centre’s analysts, creating for a second generation IBM 7090 a program able to generate information for the creation of sculptures and topological transformations, in infinite number, working with perforated files. The result was obtained in a Tektronics 2250 offline plotter, which was then used to manually construct the resulting sculptures in perspex. In 1972 the program was adapted for a 2250 cathode ray screen, in such a way that it could interact with the spectator following the appropriate instructions.

[56] The first meeting was held on 18 December 1968 with the participation, among others, of Alexanco, Barbadillo, Sempere, Yturralde and Soledad Sevilla, as well as several analysts and programmers from CCUM. Conversation with the artist, 29 January 2020.

[57] In 2010, Miguel Vallejo transformed the Fortran IV program to C++, commissioned by Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, thus allowing interaction with spectators in this new iteration.

[58] Conversation with the artist, 29 January 2020.

[59] They were listed in Alexanco’s solo show in 1974, called Movimiento interminable. Ciento veinticinco piezas generadas automáticamente por un ordenador IBM 7090. Construidas en metacrilato de metilo transparente. Galería Vandrés, J. L. Alexanco, Madrid, 25 February-23 March 1974.

[60] Compared with the 125 foreseen, finally there were forty-one three-dimensional perspex figures which were ultimately of interest, when Alexanco could “see the program in the IBM 2250 cathode ray screen, where one could see the process of transformation, I lost interest in making more sculptures”. Conversation with the artist, 11 February 2020. This connects with the beginning of this text and the arrival at what might be considered the end of the process.

[61] FERNANDEZ-BRASO, Miguel. “La obra computada de Alexanco”. Madrid: ABC, 9 March 1974, p. 57.

[62] CRESPO, Ángel. Primer salón de corrientes constructivistas. Madrid: Galería Bique, 1966.

[63] CECATTO, Silvio. “Estética y cibernética”. Valencia: Suma y Sigue del Arte Contemporáneo, no. 7-8, April 1965, pp. 11-17.

[64] “[…] to study which activities take place in our mind, especially when one reads or writes, and to then build machines to repeat them […] the role computing offers the artist is that of an analyst, the anatomist of observation and of aesthetic judgment […] a cybernetic experiment based on modelling.” Ibid.

[65] Exhibition curated by Jasia Reichardt at ICA-Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 2 August -20 October 1968. At this juncture, we should also highlight the foundation of the Computer Art Society (CAS) (1968, Alan Sutcliffe, George Mallen & John Lansdown) and the following exhibition Event One (1969, Royal College of Art). And also, in Germany, Komputer Kunst (Hannover, Munich, Hamburg. 1969-1970), or Arteônica, which was held at Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, in 1971, promoted by Waldemar Cordeiro.

[66] I am thinking of legendary exhibitions like Le Mouvement (1955) or the one dedicated to Groupe de Recherche d’art Visuel-Proposition sur le mouvement (1961).

[67] DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. La sombra de Oteiza (en el arte español de los cincuenta). Alzuza-Zaragoza: Fundación Museo Jorge Oteiza-Ibercaja, 2009-2010.

[68] See DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Francisco Sobrino. L’art du visible. Paris: Éditions Dilecta, 2019.

[69] Galerija Suvremene Umjetnosti, Nove Tendencije, Zagreb, 3 August-4 September 1961. The “Nove Tendencije” exhibitions, examining the work with computers, continued throughout the decade until the seventies.

[70] Musée d’Art Moderne, Lumière et mouvement, Paris, 2 May-31 August 1967.

[71] Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven, Kunst Licht Kunst, Eindhoven, 25 September-4 December 1966.

[72] MENTE (Muestra Española de Nuevas Tendencias Estéticas). Various exhibitions by the group were held between 1968 and 1970: MENTE 1 (Galería René Metrás, Barcelona); MENTE 2 (Rotterdam); MENTE 3 (Santa Cruz de Tenerife); MENTE 4 (Bilbao) and MENTE 5 (Pamplona). The input of Daniel Giralt-Miracle and Jordi Pericot was critical in its creation. We should also underscore the Salón de Corrientes Constructivistas, at Galería Bique in Madrid in 1966, supported by Ángel Crespo, mention in the preceding note.

[73] The first exhibition was held in the exhibition hall at Colegio de Arquitectos in Valencia, called Antes del Arte. Experiencias ópticas perceptivas estructurales (26 April – 11 May 1968). The second was held in Madrid, with the same title, in Galería Eurocasa (10 October – November 1968). The final of the three exhibitions, held thanks to the support of Daniel Giralt-Miracle (Galería As, Barcelona, 11-16 February 1969) could be considered an epilogue of the show in Madrid.

[74] More widely discussed in: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Enrique Salamanca en el Centro de Cálculo de la Universidad de Madrid (Circa los años setenta). Pseudodimensión y misterio. Madrid: Galería José de la Mano, 2014.

[75] José Luis Alexanco, cited in: VEYRAT, Miguel. “Alexanco y el arte del futuro”. Op. cit.: “(Art) will transform it, of course […] I believe that we will help to transform it. Both art and the Apollo flights, as well as the atomic bomb have transformed it. It is like following the opposite path to creation.” In Ibid.

[76] AMESTOY, Santos. “Alexanco: El pintor que regresó de la cibernética”. Madrid: Pueblo, 23 March 1977, [n.p.].

[77] José Luis Alexanco, cited in Ibid.

[78] ALEXANCO, José Luis. “Posibilidades y necesidad de un análisis de un proceso intuitivo”. In: Ordenadores en el arte. Generación automática de formas plásticas. Madrid: Centro de Cálculo de la Universidad de Madrid (CCUM), 1969, pp. 25-27.

[79] FERNANDEZ-BRASO, Miguel. “La obra computada de Alexanco”. Op. cit.

[80] “Elements from calculus are transferred to the world of chance, and random forms are, at once, the object of free play grounded in calculus. Thus a whole new world is opened up based on so-called second nature, affording us a glimpse of the enigma of nature par excellence, the scope and measure of all others. In short, an apparently cold language has the strange virtue of transporting us to a densely warm spectacle”. AMÓN, Santiago. “Alexanco”. Madrid: El País, 23 March 1977, [n.p.].

[81] ALEXANCO, José Luis. “Procedimientos para la transformación o deformación de una forma dada”. In: Trabajos sobre generación automática de formas 1968-1973. Madrid: Edición de José Luis Alexanco, 1973.

[82] CCUM, Formas computables, Madrid, 25 June-12 July 1969, with the participation of José Luis Alexanco, Amador Rodríguez, Elena Asíns, Barbadillo, Equipo 57, Tomás García Asensio, Lily Greenham, Luis Lugán, Manuel Quejido, Abel Martín, Piet Mondrian, Eduardo Sanz, F. Javier Seguí de la Riva, Soledad Sevilla, Eusebio Sempere, Victor Vasarely and José María López Yturralde. CCUM, Generación automática de formas plásticas, Madrid, 22 June -4 July 1970, with the participation of José Luis Alexanco, E. Robert Ashworth, Manuel Barbadillo, Gerardo Delgado, Tomás García Asensio, José Luis Gómez Perales, Auro Lecci, Luis Lugán, Leslie Mezei, Petar Milojevic, Frieder Nake, Georg Nees, A. Michael Noll, Manuel Quejido, Zoran Radovic, Roger P. Saunders, Eusebio Sempere and Soledad Sevilla. On the occasion Alexanco gave a paper on 23 June 1970. Also worth mentioning are the exhibitions at Palacio Nacional de Congresos y Exposiciones, Computer-Assisted Art, Madrid, March-April 1971, which included José Luis Alexanco, Ana Buenaventura, Gerardo Delgado, Teresa Eguibar, Lorenzo Frechilla, García Asensio, Gómez Perales, Lugán, Abel Martín, Manuel Quejido, Enrique Salamanca, Javier Seguí de la Riva, Eusebio Sempere, Soledad Sevilla and José María López Yturralde. At Ateneo de Madrid-Sala Santa Catalina, Formas Computadas, 12 May-June 1971, also called Generación automática de formas plásticas. With the participation of José Luis Alexanco, Gerardo Delgado, Tomás García Asensio, José Luis Gómez Perales, Luis Lugán, Abel Martín, Manuel Quejido, Enrique Salamanca, Ana Seguí, Javier Seguí, Eusebio Sempere, Soledad Sevilla and José María Yturralde. On 10 March 1972, as part of the exhibition held at the Instituto Alemán de Madrid, Impulsos: arte y ordenador, José Luis Alexanco spoke about the research at CCUM: “Transformación automática de formas tridimensionales”. Finally, also worth recalling is the exhibition Generación automática de formas plásticas y sonoras during the Pamplona Encounters, Hotel Tres Reyes, 26 June-3 July 1972, which we will deal with later, with a special mention for the inclusion of the generative Mac Entyre.

 

NOTES CHAPTER 3-A

[83] ALFONSO, Carlos. “Luis de Pablo y J. L. Alexanco interrumpen nuestra soledad. Sábado Gráfico, no. 776, 15 April 1972, Madrid, pp. 22-23.

[84] NABOKOV, Vladimir, “Franz Kafka: ‘The Metamorphosis,’” in Lectures on Literature. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980, pp. 251-283.

[85] GOMBROWICZ, Witold. Diary. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2012, p. 78.

[86] BONNEFOY, Yves. Together Still. Trans. Hoyt Rogers. London: Seagull Books, 2017, p. 89.

[87] As one could glean from this article: CADIEU, Martine. “Les Rencontres de Pampelune, une solitude interrompue”, Lettres françaises, 9 July 1972, Paris.

[88] “(…) The title could be a political symbol if the intentions of the work were not devoid of all historical reference. The composer Luis de Pablo and the sculptor Alexanco have imagined an image-sound composition that seems more like a meditation than a closed proposal”. DANDREL, Louis. Soledad Interrumpida. Paris: “Le Monde”, 30 December 1971. The expression “thistle and ashes” is borrowed from: SAURA, Antonio. Viola y Oniro (1936). Reproduced in Cuadernos Guadalimar, no. 31, 1987, Madrid, p. 6.

[89] FAVRE, Louis-Paul. Palazuelo. Chevalier de la solitude. “Combat-Le journal de Paris”, no. 3327, 14 March 1955, Paris, p. 7.

[90] “[…] the curious spectators, subjectively scared by the unexpected flashes, were the protagonists of a harrowing drama of our time […] there were spectators who, to ingratiate themselves with those creatures, embraced them with tenderness, kindness and anxiety […] they had to be experienced by touch, hearing, sight and our life itself”. AMESTOY, Ignacio. “Soledad Interrumpida”. Madrid: Arriba, 4 August 1972.

[91] CALVO SERRALLER, Francisco. Alexanco. Proceso y movimiento. (Un epílogo en forma de prólogo). Madrid. Fernando Vijande Editor, 1982, p. 85.

[92] ALEXANCO, José Luis; PABLO, Luis de. Soledad Interrumpida (handout at opening of exhibition in Madrid). Madrid: Alea, 1971.

[93] Por diversos motivos (1969), by Luis de Pablo, classified as musical theatre for two soprano actors, mixed choir and two pianos, was finally premiered in 1970 at the Royan Festival, and directed by François Weyergans. “In 1968 Luis and I received the first proposal to work together; we conceived a project that ultimately never saw the light of day. It was called Por diversos motivos. Then later, we did Soledad Interrumpida (…) we started out from a structural idea we had both internalised in our own way. Imagine a given structure, but which has mobile parts that fit together. This would be translated to music in recorded and combinable parts, plus others which would be reserved for improvisation, and created using synthesisers. The plastic visual component, which was mine, consisted in the use of mobile inflatable figures which I would control. Luis was in charge of what you hear and I of what you see. The problem lay in achieving a multiple dialogue between the two parts through the mediation of the audience. And that is why the work had so many variations, as many as the times it was presented. It changed from the premiere in Madrid to the one held at the twelfth-century abbey in France, or in the radio station in Bavaria. Each presentation was a new adventure”. AMESTOY, Santos. “Alexanco: El pintor que regresó de la cibernética”. Madrid: Pueblo, 23 March 1977, [n.p.].

The sequence of presentations of Soledad interrumpida is as following: Palacio de Cristal, Parque del Retiro, Madrid: 6-9 December 1971. Three sessions daily; Musée d’Art Moderne, Palais Wilson, Paris (1972): a coproduction with ARC, 1er Festival d’Automne, 13 October – 19 November 1972, Paris, 7-13 November 1972; Sala de Armas de la Ciudadela-Pamplona Encounters (1972): 2-3 August 1972, 10:00 pm; Bayerische Rundfunk, Musik-Dia-Licht-Film-Festival, Munich (1972, with the title Historia natural): 29 August 1972, sessions between 3:00 and 5:00 pm; Abbaye de Sablonceaux, Royan (1973, with the title Historia natural): 20 April 1973, sessions between 4:30 and 6:30 pm; Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon (1974): 14-19 May 1974; Université Laval, Quebec (1975): 20 February 1975; Université d’Ottawa (1975): 24 February 1975; Université de Montreal (1975): 28 February – 2 March 1975, sessions between 8:00 pm and midnight; and The Kitchen, New York (1980): 1-2 April 1980, at 8:30 pm.

[94] 138 (1972), produced by Elías Querejeta, based on an idea by José Luis Alexanco and Luis de Pablo. Cast: José Luis Gómez, Jeannine Mestre and Sylvia Valdés. Camera: Luis Cuadrado. 16 mm. 41’48”. Collection of MNCARS, Madrid. ‘Lucubration’, very much a term used by Alexanco, shall be explained later.

[95] In two nightly sessions (8:00 and 9:00 pm), on 20 and on 21 July, though some press articles reported a total of nine. It was premiered in the aforementioned location following the closure of Instituto Torcuato Di Tella, where it was initially scheduled to take place. The musicologist Jacobo Romano was involved in the search for a new venue. The wonderful programme printed for the occasion was done by Juan Infantidis Andralis (1928-1994), one of Borges’ first printers and a surrealist painter who coincided in 1950s Paris with André Breton, Benjamín Péret and Tristan Tzara. Conversation with the artist, 31 January 2020.

[96] This was the usual duration of the work, depending on where it was presented. Its lengthening in Historia natural shall be dealt with later.

[97] DIE, Amelia. “Luis de Pablo y José Luis Alexanco, ante sus ‘Encuentros’”. Madrid: ABC, 8 August 1972, [n.p.].

[98] ALEXANCO, José Luis; PABLO, Luis de. Soledad Interrumpida (handout at opening of exhibition in Madrid). Op. cit.

[99] “It was more of an ending than a beginning; an ending in the sense of finishing with a way of understanding the avant-garde, interpreted as a device of extreme randomness.” CALVO SERRALLER, Francisco. Alexanco. Proceso y movimiento. Op. cit., p. 85.

[100] It was presented from 6-9 December, in twelve sessions at the rate of three per day: “over the course of the twelve sessions, on four different days, he himself layered and played this quintuple sound source, in such a way that there is always variability and a random result in every session”. ALFONSO, Carlos. Luis de Pablo y J. L. Alexanco interrumpen nuestra soledad. Op. cit. These three daily sessions were also discussed in: MATÍAS LÓPEZ, Luis. “Muñecos de goma para hacer música. “Soledad Interrumpida””. Madrid: Arriba, November 1971.

[101] In the words of Luis de Pablo: “It is a show that could also be adapted for film or television but not the theatre, at least not as we normally understand it. There are no actors, but as it is a total spectacle, it is conceived to be added to, and that includes a theatrical element with ‘live’ actors. One could also add slide projection, ‘ballet’, etcetera,” to which Alexanco added the pertinent proviso: “But right now, if there is an actor, it is the spectator himself.” Ibid.

[102] As explained in the following note, the number of people allowed access was the same as the number of elements or “Rooks”: one hundred and thirty.

[103] This was the name most often used by Luis de Pablo. Conversation with Alexanco, 2 February 2020.

[104] ALFONSO, Carlos. “Luis de Pablo y J. L. Alexanco interrumpen nuestra soledad”. Op. cit.: “On a small dais, De Pablo and his assistants controlled the tape recorders, the mixing desk and synthesiser. Alexanco looked after the lighting and the air compressor. The space was divided with screens and, thanks to the working of the compressor, the little red men inflated and deflated in different areas with a sluggish movement, at once fantastic and stereotyped yet very familiar to anyone. At certain moments, a small group of these homunculi lie still, erect, lit by spotlights and with all the obstinate and incomprehensible persistence with which, for thousands of years, we are born, live and die on this planet lost in a corner of the galaxy […] One of them, which I always saw in shadows—no spotlight was focused on him—quivered and bucked the whole time without ever reaching a state of fullness. I pitied him, like a brother”.

[105] DANDREL, Louis. Soledad Interrumpida. Op. cit.

[106] “I don’t remember exactly the schedule in Madrid, it was winter, or almost, it was night-time, the Palacio de Cristal is transparent, it lasted 22 or 23 minutes and we presented it several times in continuous session (four times). We let one hundred and thirty people in, the same number as ‘Rooks’”. Conversation with the artist, 4 February 2020.

[107] DANDREL, Louis. Soledad Interrumpida. Op. cit. In this case we will return to the original: “L’oeuvre dure à peine vingt-cinq minutes; on la quitte dans un état d’hébétude” [the work lasts barely twenty-five minutes; it was abandoned in a state of confusion].

[108] DIE, Amelia. “Luis de Pablo y José Luis Alexanco, ante sus ‘Encuentros’”. Op. cit.: “If I, as a painter, need sound for my pictures or my sculptures, why should I not let them have sound? It is absurd to stop making noise if I need them to have noise.”

[109] “[…] the music distributed through a dozen speakers filled the whole space, while scattered here and there on the ground human silhouettes arose from shreds of red plastic material. Thin transparent tubes channelled the air that animated this confusing mass, drawing geometric figures and rampant arabesques. All these inflatable bodies are identical, either isolated or closely bunched together, which slowly, silently take on life. They seem to have met there by chance: absurdly. This world of sleepwalkers is contrasted with dense music that stirs the air with force but without causing harm: in a wide sustained movement; long blasts of white noise, hoarse roars, ample and deformed voices, like in the dense world of deafening dreams. The work lasts barely twenty-five minutes; one is left in a dazed state. The inflatable bodies seem insignificant in the face of the avalanche of music, one of the most beautiful electroacoustic scores ever written by Luis de Pablo; and yet, it is they who give the measure of solitude […] what is taking place still belongs to another world.” Ibid.

[110] In Munich and in Royan the title was changed to Historia natural, reflecting the modifications applied to Soledad interrumpida, such as the inclusion of actors. There were musical and visual changes in these new longer-lasting presentations. And apart from the actors named in the text, there were visual changes like the projections of extracts from texts by Jules Verne in Munich, while in Royan the audience was filmed and reproduced on a television screen placed on the altar, as well as requiring the musicians to move through the transept to reach the instruments which had been moved. Conversation with the artist, 2 February 2020.

[111] An extraordinary appendix to the exhibition New Images from Spain, 21 March – 11 May 1980, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, (and then at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 5 October – 30 November 1980), was the exhibition (with the same title) at Hastings Gallery/Spanish Institute, New York, 19 March – 3 May 1980, in which Alexanco took part. A complement to this project, in my view, was the presence of José Luis Alexanco with Luis de Pablo, or the presentation by Muntadas, in another fundamental and legendary space for performance in New York, The Kitchen, in which Alexanco and de Pablo presented Soledad interrumpida (1971) (The Kitchen. Center for Video, Music and Dance, Performance. J.L. Alexanco and Luis de Pablo, New York, 1-2 April 1980). The idea was Fernando Vijande’s, with a private viewing on 25 March. Conversations with the artist, 2 and 13 November 2018. He also coincided at The Kitchen with work by Muntadas. Personal/Public. See. DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Aquellas nuevas imágenes [Una reflexión en torno a la exposición New Images from Spain, Guggenheim Museum, 1980]. Madrid: Galería José de la Mano, 2018-2019, pp. 2-6.

[112] The recording in Brussels took place in several different locations (corridors, garages and offices) at RTB and without an audience, and was completed with a recording of another work by Luis de Pablo, amounting to around fifty minutes. The filming in Buffalo consisted in Ed Emshwiller (1925-1990) (underground filmmaker and colleague of Jonas Mekas (1922-2019)) including a couple of “Rooks” and making three films conceived to be viewed simultaneously, altering the concept of Soledad interrumpida. Conversation with the artist, 2 February 2020.

[113] Cited in GÓMEZ SOUBRIER, Juan. “El lienzo ordenado”. Madrid: Opinión, no. 23, 12-18 March 1977, p. 58: “When it was presented at the Abbey in Sablonceaux (Royan) the critic from Le Monde said that it was the ‘cathedral of the great beyond’ while another espied a blasphemous air where there was only timeless ceremony and ritual, prior to the non-pagan.”

[114] “As far as the necessary arsenal was concerned, it varied depending on the presentation (the fixed elements were the ‘Rooks’, rigid perspex tubes, PVC tubes that channelled the air, a compressor, air control, spotlights, spotlight control, speakers, two tape recorders, a synthesiser, a mixing desk…) and the characteristics of the individual venue (slide projectors, visual material from previous presentations). In the case of Royan, Luis de Pablo invited Les Percussions de Strasbourg, without letting them listen to the tapes beforehand which meant they had to improvise. In addition, we created a kind of labyrinth with the church pews and, despite their protests, we arranged the instruments at the end of each transept, distributed by type: in one place, the leather instruments, in another the metal and on another the wood. It means that each percussionist had to run whenever they changed instrument which led to races, including the audience, which were recorded with a camera and relayed to the screen on the altar… In New York I added, to act as screens, some triangles of phosphorescent material I had found on Canal Street and slides were projected of exposed film on which I had made drawings with a sharp instrument. In Munich we added texts from Jules Verne’s Michael Strogoff which, on the audio level, was mixed with what Cage was doing in the hall on the right and Nam June Paik on the left; this was the presentation that lasted the longest”. Conversation with the artist, 4 February 2020.

[115] Galería Vandrés, J. L. Alexanco, Madrid, 25 February – 23 March 1974.

[116] “Forty units was my goal when I started working on it, but I never got that many. I was stuck for time. Finally, I made about twelve to fourteen which were exhibited”. On the technical process: “we used normal sand to fill the inflatables, using more or less quantities in each. I then shaped them by hand and made a plaster mould of each piece. I removed the sand through the bottom and the flaccid doll came out without any problem. Then came the resin and fibreglass. The mould was broken and the piece was cleaned and polished. It was like freezing a movement, like film stills of a continuous action.” Both paragraphs from a conversation with the artist on 11 February 2020.

[117] On this point, see DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. José María Moreno Galván: montando nuevamente la estructura de nuestra modernidad [o, mejor] del vertedero a la modernidad, La Puebla de Cazalla, Ayuntamiento de La Puebla de Cazalla, 2014-2015: “After Maruja Mallo left for Buenos Aires, the junkyard found its best contemporary champion in Millares”. DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Manolo Millares. La atracción del horror. Madrid: Genueve Ediciones, 2016, p. 98.

[118] ALEXANCO, José Luis. Ante dos procesos paralelos. Madrid: Galería Vandrés, 1974.

[119] In the collection of MNCARS, Madrid.

[120] NABOKOV, Vladimir. “Marcel Proust. ‘The Walk by Swann’s Place’” in Lectures on Literature. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980, p. 210.

 

NOTES CHAPTER 3-B

[121] “Mysterious and secretly there prowl at the walker’s heels all kinds of beautiful subtle walker’s thoughts, such as make him stand in his ardent and regardless tracks and listen, so that he will again and again be confused and startled by curious impressions and bewitchings of spirit power, and he has the feeling that he musk sink all of a sudden into the earth, or that before his dazzled, bewildered thinker’s and poet’s eyes an abyss has opened (…) Earth and heaven suddenly stream together and collide, rocking interlocked one upon the other into a flashing, shimmering, obscure nebular imagery; chaos begins, and the orders vanish”. WALSER, Robert. The Walk. London: Serpent’s Tail, 1996.

[122] Held between Monday 26 June and Monday 3 July 1972.

[123] Félix Huarte Goñi (Pamplona, 1896-1971).

[124] “We do not pretend that the art of other cultures is more important than our own; all we wish to do is to put them on an equal footing”. DIE, Amelia. “Luis de Pablo y José Luis Alexanco, ante sus ‘Encuentros’.” Madrid: ABC, 8 August 1972, [n.p.].

[125] Conversation with the artist, 5 February 2020.

[126] The programme for the Encounters assigned 2-3 July to what it called “image-sound work”. the poster includes the title Soledad interrumpida, scheduled for 10:00 pm, a “crepuscular” hour, as we say in the text.

[127] At the Labrit fronton court, Pamplona, 6:00 pm.

[128] The notes of this paragraph: ALEXANCO, José Luis; DE PABLO, Luis. Alea-Encuentros-1972-Pamplona (Introducción). Pamplona: 1972.

[129] DIE, Amelia. “Luis de Pablo y José Luis Alexanco, ante sus ‘Encuentros’.” Op. cit.

[130] This is what they called it in Ibid. It is obvious to point out that the term “biennial” referred to the artistic event. There had been no prior Encounters, nor were there any afterwards. The following note refers again to the term.

[131] Ibid. In Luis de Pablo’s words: “I wonder whether it bothers anyone to admit that this was the first art biennial ever held in Spain and one of the most important in Europe.”

[132] Premiered in April 1973 in Madrid.

[133] Conversation with the artist, 11 May 2018.

 

NOTES CHAPTER 4

[134] José Luis Alexanco in: AMESTOY, Santos. “Alexanco: El pintor que regresó de la cibernética”. Madrid: Pueblo, 23 March 1977, [n.p.].

[135] NABOKOV, Vladimir. “Gustave Flaubert (1821 – 1880) “Madame Bovary” (1856)” in Curso de literatura europea. Barcelona: Ediciones BSA, 2016, p. 238.

[136] AMÓN, Santiago. Alexanco”. Madrid: El País, 23 March 1977, [n.p.]: “Elements borrowed from calculus are transported to a world of chance, and forms associated with chance are at once the object of free play based on calculus. This is how one opens up new horizons.”

[137] “The computer has given him a new landscape of forms that the artist’s subjectivity can turn into new signs”. AMESTOY, Santos. “Alexanco: El pintor que regresó de la cibernética”. Op. cit.

[138] “If we were to try to sum up the last ten years of José Luis Alexanco’s work, there is no doubt that the two most characteristic aspects are constancy—there is an internal thread running through the different parts of his work—and the pursuit of seriousness.” BONET, Juan Manuel. J. L. Alexanco. Madrid: Galería Vandrés, 1974, [n.p.].

[139] In the cases, for instance, of: Mendocino (1976); 1158-D; 1161-D; 1162-D (1982).

[140] Galería Vandrés, Alexanco (Pinturas-Dibujos-Obras sobre lienzo), Madrid, 1 March – 6 April 1977.

[141] I am always reminded of Millares and his world, when I mention this term. MILLARES, Manolo. “Destrucción-construcción en mi pintura”. Acento Cultural, no. 12-13, 1961, Madrid.

[142] “If it has taken place, he responded, it is on a semantic level. The thing is that those signs have changed meaning.” Alexanco in: AMESTOY, Santos. Alexanco: El pintor que regresó de la cibernética. Op. cit.

[143] This poetic element was underscored by AZCOAGA, Enrique. “Alexanco, ante sus ‘Encuentros’”. Blanco y negro, no. 3386, 23-29 March 1977, Madrid, [n.p.]. Coinciding with the exhibition at Galería Vandrés (1977), he said “the openly poetic dimension and (…) that expressive tension, in this case delicate, evocative, subtle, exquisite, (…) well born and developed poetics (…) with the most legitimate mysteriousness (…) what he is trying to do is not a reference to anything specific, but that miraculous world (half playful, half pensive), in which a series of forms poetically sublimated to the extreme feel the obligation to free us from mediocrity, as is the goal of any expressive remit worthy of the name”.

[144] JANOUCH, Gustav. Conversations with Kafka. New York: New Directions, 1971, p. 180.

 

 

NOTES CHAPTER 5

[145] Conversation with the artist, 7 February 2020.

[146] DERRIDA, Jacques. The Truth in Painting. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987, p. 63.

[147] As the artist would explain later, the series Veinte Décimos (Twenty Tenths) from 1998, alludes to the second of the Décimos, after conceiving the first in 1980, and in 2018 he would conceive the third, with the Treinta Décimos (Thirty Tenths) needing no explanation.

[148] Narrated by: RUIZ, Javier. José Luis Alexanco: Cronología. Marbella: Pedro Peña Art Gallery, 2003, pp. 23 & ff.

[149] For Corredor-Matheos, “1985 was a significant moment for chromaticism. The paste was sensuously applied. It is a painting animated by great visual feeling”. CORREDOR-MATHEOS, José. La creación, proceso sin término. Barcelona: Centre d’Art Santa Mònica, 1998.

[150] The source of Javier Ruiz’s text “Interior de un cubo y exterior del mundo”. He is referring to the text from the exhibition catalogue mentioned in the previous note. Centre d’Art Santa Mònica, Alexanco-Percursum, Barcelona, 1998.

[151] Conversation with the artist, 7 February 2020.

[152] Pablo Palazuelo, “Cuaderno de Paris”, 1953. Unpublished. Courtesy of Fundación Pablo Palazuelo.

[153] The aforementioned quotes in this paragraph are taken from MAC ENTYRE, Eduardo and VIDAL, Miguel Ángel, “Manifiesto Arte Generativo” [1959] in: Arte Generativo, exhibition catalogue, Buenos Aires, Galería Peuser, 1960, the uppercase comes from the original. The name was borrowed from an essay by Ignacio Pirovano (1909-1980) on the work of Georges Vantongerloo. His influence led to new geometric, kinetic and optical movements popular in the art world.

[154] PIROVANO, Ignacio. Georges Vantongerloo (1886-1965): el gran creador belga de nuestro tiempo. A paper given at Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, on 11 November 1965. It continued: “when meditating on these propositions of Vantongerloo able to engender beauty in themselves instead of, like before, already existing themes and motifs, already generated forms, already formed, I proposed on returning from Europe in 1950 to use the term “generative art” for creations following these motivations, this virgin field in which Vantongerloo is one of the first to dare explore.”

[155] Pamplona Encounters (Hotel Tres Reyes), Generación automática de formas plásticas y sonoras, Pamplona, 26 June – 3 July 1972.

[156] MAC ENTYRE, Eduardo. Proyección del arte generativo. Buenos Aires: Estudio de Arte, 1984: “In aesthetics and ethics combined to perfection in a complete expression one can perceive the unity,” Ibid.

 

NOTES CHAPTER 6

[157] Various. Terminología. In: Nueva Generación 1967/1977. Catalogue for the exhibition at Palacio de Velázquez. Madrid, 1977, pp. 7-22. The entry “signo” [sign] on p. 21.

[158] José Luis Alexanco, extracts from his reading of the Spanish Constitution.

[159] The editio princeps of the Spanish Constitution (27 December 1978) consisted of ten thousand numbered copies. It was photocomposed by Fototec S.A, with a type called “Constitución”, font size 18. It was printed by Astygy on Guarro Casas paper. It was sewn by hand and inserted in cloth-bound covers with pages in Hilo Valores paper. The colophon acknowledged that Alexanco had conceived the alphabet, the watermark, typesetting and artistic direction.

[160] “In approaching the book on the Constitution, I immediately discarded any kind of conventional ‘illustration’ as being inadequate to the purposes at hand. I decided to do something very simple and base the beauty of the book on simplicity and quality, both in materials and in printing. For instance, the paper I found readily available on the market was not suited to the purposes and so I started investigating into different kinds of paper. In the end we commissioned Guarro with a special kind, heavier and with a different texture to the good handmade papers. Then I decided to create a new type which would be used here for the first time. A letter without adornments, which led me to the idea of the italic. The watermark on the paper gave me the idea for the calligraphy. And I started doing tests”. José Luis Alexanco, cited in: LOGROÑO, Miguel. “Alexanco: ‘Alfabeto para una Constitución’”. Madrid: Diario 16, 3 January 1979. The subtitle “calligraphy and pictorial signs” was highly appropriate.

 

[161] Galería Vandrés, Alfabeto para una Constitución, Madrid, 19 December 1978 – 25 January 1979.

[162] ALEXANCO, José Luis. Introducción a “Alfabeto para una Constitución”. Madrid: Galería Vandrés, 1978.

[163] This is the case of Dilataciones, Traslaciones, Superposiciones and Giros, from 1969, which, in turn, I believe are related with works like Nerea, Risa I, Uriel, Miguel or Chelsea, from 1975.

[164] Recalling, if necessary, that during his whole career he has been involved in the publishing and edition of numerous catalogues, both of his own exhibitions and those of others, including those for the memorable cycle associated with Fernando Vijande. The posters for the Pamplona Encounters, now exhibited, comprise another key corpus of works.

[165] On 20 June 1947, in the congress organized by the Dadaists, Après nous le lettrisme, Iliazd, Ilia Mikhailovich Zdanevich, attributed himself with the paternity of Lettrism.

[166] As recalled in: CALVO SERRALLER, Francisco. Alexanco. Proceso y movimiento. (Un epílogo en forma de prólogo). Madrid. Fernando Vijande Editor, 1982, p. 96.

[167] Gustavo Torner, “Resumen del decir-Laberinto-Pauta para un abecedario (Homenaje a Jorge Luis Borges)”, 1970. Suite of serigraphs by the Lettrist designer and illustrator Ricard Giralt-Miracle.

[168] “(…) let’s say that, instead of using curves, or angles, I do it with letters. It amounts to the same thing. For me, letters are signs. The only logical demand is that these signs should articulate works with a readability in line with the usual code of communication. Otherwise, they are still modules, diversely combinable elements, once respecting these logical limits”. Alexanco, cited in: LOGROÑO, Miguel. Alexanco: ‘Alfabeto para una Constitución’. Op. cit.

[169] Shitao, “Dadizi tihuashi ba” (Meishu Congshu III, 10).

[170] BARTHES, Roland. L’empire des signes. Geneva: Albert Skira, 1970.

[171] Bayerischer Rundfunk, Musik-Dia-Licht-Film-Festival, Munich (1972).

[172] AMESTOY, Santos. Alexanco: “El pintor que regresó de la cibernética”. Madrid: Pueblo, 23 March 1977, [n.p.].

[173] José Luis Alexanco, cited in: VEYRAT, Miguel. “Alexanco y el arte del futuro”. Madrid: Nuevo Diario, 21 December 1969, [n.p.].

 

NOTES CHAPTER 7

[174] José Luis Alexanco in: AMESTOY, Santos. “Alexanco: El pintor que regresó de la cibernética”. Madrid: Pueblo, 23 March 1977, [n.p.].

[175] VALÉRY, Paul. Mauvaises pensées et autres (1941). Paris: Gallimard, 1960, p. 812 (Ed. J. Hytier, Œuvres, II).

[176] Dealt with in a previous text.

[177] ROTHKO, Mark. Acceptance of Yale University honorary doctorate, 1969. In: Mark Rothko Writings on Art. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006, p. 157 (from Bernard J. Reis papers, 1934-1979, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.).

[178] MALLARMÉ, Stéphane. Un golpe de dados. Version by Agustín O. Larrauri. Córdoba (Argentina): Editorial Mediterránea, 1943.

[179] BARNATÁN, Marcos-Ricardo. Alexanco. Miengo: Sala Robayera, 2001.

[180] MAILLARD, Chantal. La razón estética. Barcelona: Galaxia Gutenberg, 2017, p. 124.

[181] DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. José Luis Alexanco: desde dentro. Madrid: Ámbito Cultural, 2016, pp. 64-86.