Fernando Aguiar has published five anthologies of Visual Poetry and contributed to over thirty international anthologies worldwide. In the last twenty years he has participated in hundreds of individual and collective exhibitions, as well as poetic performances. paulo da costa interviewed him this winter in Lisbon, Portugal.
paulo da costa: What inspired the use old illustrations in your recent work of Visual Poetry?
Fernando Aguiar: Fifteen years ago I found a bunch of old magazines with fine quality illustrations. They had been passed down from my grandfather to my father and eventually to me. I loved the illustrations. Beautiful wood cut prints impeccably pressed. It would have taken months for someone to engrave them. Even after one hundred and twenty years the paper itself was in mint state. A paper which does not deteriorate, unlike today’s paper.
I found the whole thing interesting and about fifteen years ago, when it landed in my hands, I decided to base two or three visual poems on those illustrations. But it’s only two years ago that I rediscovered them and began an extensive series of poems. I intended to connect two languages spanning more than a century between them. The illustration on one side, the computer on the other. I drew the letters in the computer. Then, I cut the letters and pasted them on the illustrations, ending up creating more than sixty visual poems. Some of those poems were made over a serigraphic background. Some of the serigraphies were unfinished projects which were put to good use in this project. So, at times, I ended up using three different techniques and languages.
pdc: What drew you into the world of Visual Poetry?
FA: I found my first book of Visual Poetry when I was sixteen. It was a book by António de Aragão. In fact that same day I bought another book, “Poemas Possíveis” by a writer then unknown, José Saramago. Those two books would mark my life. Aragão’s book, because I loved the way he combined images and words. Aragão, who would later that year create a series of collages using cut outs from magazines and newspapers. Saramago’s, because he inspired me to compose music to accompany those poems. From that day on I remained involved in the field of Visual Poetry and in 79 began taking part in exhibitions.
I also find the traditional and lineal poetry less appealing than Visual Poetry although I too write it. Visual Poetry is not only capable of communicating through the content but also through the form and its inherent innovating capabilities.
pdc: For better or for worse Visual Poetry is entwined with the fast moving technologies of our times. How do you see that relationship?
FA: It’s a poetry strongly connected to the image. With the advent of television, advertising, computers and the net, the image has a force that outweighs the word.
Traditional poetry, which has always been in the background, even before these technologies, has become even more invisible. Visual Poetry has theoretically stronger possibilities of communicating and of reaching people.
pdc: Would it be possible then for Visual Poetry to infiltrate the day to day business of the mass media, their languages of manipulation, control and consumption?
FA: I have a project in mind which would spread Visual Poetry through the city. I would place it on billboard locations where people would normally only expect to find daily advertising. However those advertising spaces carry a market price and are financially inaccessible to me. Although last summer, in Sintra, outdoors, I showed Visual Poetry of large dimensions and it was a step in that direction.
Another project in mind is to publish poetry as ads in the newspaper. The poetry would mix among every sort of ad and intending to have the reader literally stumble upon it. The idea is to subvert that day to day encounter with advertising. I’ve always believed that Visual Poetry could more easily attract people to poetry.
pdc: Could Visual Poetry then be more accessible to larger segments of the population because it doesn’t require the alphabetization of the citizen?
FA: I think so. A person who cannot read would be able to react to a visual poem. In fact it is a poetry without frontiers. A Japanese person and I could understand each other’s poems. Maybe not fully but at least the idea could be apprehended.
pdc: Not to underestimate the distinct cultural contexts which stand along the interpretation process…
FA: Yes, that experience, association and reaction always exists. Although my work and the work of other Portuguese visual poets is more appreciated and exhibited abroad. It’s a poetry that circulates with Portuguese words beyond the Portuguese speaking world. Traditional poetry would obviously require translation. The visual component seems to captivate people.
In the specific case of my work using the old illustrations, there are no words per se, however in other works in which the word appears, the visual treatment is a complement to the written message.
pdc: Where do you find Visual Poetry most accepted?
FA: As far as Europe, and with work being published or shown, Italy is by far where you find more Visual Poetry. They also organize festivals every year. Outside Europe, Brazil has a significant underground circuit of magazines with reasonable circulation. Perhaps a hundred which publish Visual Poetry and anthologies. In fact Brazil was an exponent of concrete poetry. Visual Poetry evolved from that. In Spain there is a small movement and in Portugal Visual Poetry is mostly experienced through exhibitions, not books.
pdc: And finally, how do you foresee the future of Visual Poetry now that we live in a time where the power of the image has become established?
FA: I’ve always thought the tendency was for Visual Poetry to be more and more promoted and accepted. Its growth has been slow, although Sarenco has organized two worldwide exhibitions from which resulted a thousand page book, split in two volumes. In one he shows the works, in the other Sarenco speaks of the theory of Visual Poetry. At one point he states that Visual Poetry is the last movement of vanguard, both at a literary and visual arts level. Previous movements of vanguard were eventually recognized. In the case of Visual Poetry – which is already 40 years old Sarenco finds it strange that it is yet to be integrated and fully accepted. He ends up questioning if it will ever be.
It’s a paradox. The image has proliferated but Visual Poetry has not taken a hold in proportion to the penetrating strength of the image.
©1999 paulo da costa&fernando aguiar